Parents often find themselves making countless decisions when it comes to the education of their young children: What type of environment is best for my child? What type of preschool is going to prepare my child for kindergarten? Where is my child going to thrive when I am not around? Is my child really better off going to preschool or staying home with me?
Understanding the EnvironmentPreschools of our current society range from the state sponsored Pre-Kindergarten programs, to Private Preschools, to University Laboratory schools. State sponsored pre-K programs are generally provided for children who are socio-economically challenged or have some form of limitation that needs attention prior to entering a formal education environment. State sponsored pre-K programs offer a Head Start curriculum, which began in 1965 as a program to provide economically disadvantaged children a “head start” to their education. Since that time, Head Start programs are serving over 900,000 children nationwide. Additionally, many states are offering universal pre-K programs, which offer free preschool education to all children over the age of four prior to entering Kindergarten. Currently Georgia, West Virginia, and Oklahoma offer universal pre-K, while other states such as Florida and North Carolina are in the process of offering these services. Universal pre-K does not admit children solely on the basis of socio-economic status or ability; rather it is a service available to all four-year-old children in that state.
Private preschools operate often as for-profit, independent non-profit, and programs sponsored by religious organizations. Often times, private schools will have a lower school campus or preschool attached as a transitional experience for the K-12 environment. The educational quality and curriculum varies from preschool to preschool and there are no specific state or federal guidelines for teacher qualification or certification. However, most private preschools do make the effort to hire certified teachers to work with their preschool children and hire those with some teacher training to serve as “aides” in their pre-Kindergarten classrooms.
The university laboratory school is a concept that began in the late 1800s at The University of Chicago by John Dewey. Since that time, many universities have established a laboratory setting on their campus as a way to offer educational experience to their education and human studies majors. Laboratory schools can range in enrollment from birth-12th grade. Most university lab schools offer a preschool, or preschool-Kindergarten environment. University laboratory schools offer a curriculum that is deeply grounded in developmental theory and are staffed by teachers with Masters, Specialists, and Doctoral degrees.
The university laboratory school offers a different sort of environment in that it serves as a teacher preparation environment for pre-service and often advanced certification teachers. Instruction is prepared by pre-service teachers and approved by a professor with advanced training in the area of specialization. Lessons are conducted by the pre-service teachers and evaluated consistently by the professor for immediate modifications and areas of elevation suggested.
Making The Choice
When choosing what environment is best for your child and your family you must ask yourself what you hope to accomplish through enrolling your child into a specific environment. Are you looking to make sure your child has the proper social skills to easily assimilate into a Kindergarten environment or is your goal more to expose him to academics? Each of these various environments can do both of those things. What you need to review are a few specifics:
• Is this preschool one that has a positive reputation in the area?
• Is this preschool accredited by NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children]? DHR?
• What is the student: teacher ratio (for the state of Alabama, the recommendation is no more than 6:1.)
• What are the credentials of the teachers that will be teaching your child?
• Is information about the preschool readily available? Do they have a website where parents can find general information?
• Do they offer tours? Are they open to meet with you and address your concerns?
• Are the hours of operation conducive to your home/work schedule?
Your child’s education is one of the most important decisions you will make for him. Giving him the right start is the best way to ensure success in later academic endeavors. Knowing the facts about any and all schools you may be considering is half the battle. Talk with neighbors and community members. Research the school online. Take a tour. Get to know the people you will be leaving your child with. Choose an environment that will allow your child to be as happy and well adjusted away from home as he is at home. Then you will know that you’ve made the best decision for your child, and ultimately, your family.
Barbie Norvell has a PhD, an EdS, MS and a BS in Early Childhood Education and 26 years of experience as a classroom teacher and university professor.