I recently went on a very important shopping trip--one for a preschool for my son. I wanted to check out the different preschools around our area. Although some people don't think preschools are necessary for their children, I am quite convinced that exposing my son to preschool will help him in his social, physical, intellectual and spiritual growth. My husband encouraged me to post what I had to say about shopping around for preschools since it may help other mothers in their search. I wish to share some things I learned about preschools and a set of questions parents can ask the principals to better help in their decision-making process.
Traditional vs. Non-traditional Setup
To make things simple, it would be a good gauge to assess current preschool setups as either traditional or non-traditional. Of course, there are so many other terms used such as progressive, integrated, learner-centered, multiple intelligences, etc. Basically, the difference lies on the curriculum.
For traditional setups, it is normally handled the way we were handled during our nursery school days. There were various subjects and lessons are taught on a per subject basis (i.e., science, math, language, chinese, etc.). Usually, young kids are expected not to be too boisterous in class ( i.e., to sit down when told, etc.). Those who are a bit more of a challenge may be given special attention but will probably be taken out of the group. The classes are very much structured and numerical grades are given based on the number of correct or incorrect answers achieved by the student on a prepared test. Tests may be a common scenario and assignments are to be expected.
In a non-traditional setup, most of the curriculum is integrated. This means that the school usually follows a thematic approach to teaching based on a given theme (i.e., usually monthly). Their subjects will contain topics or content related to a given theme. For example, if the theme for June is "Family", teachers will plan their lessons in science, math, language, chinese and other subjects with the theme family in mind. This means that in science, the kids may be taught the topic members of your family. In math, they may be taught to count using number of siblings, etc. Integrated curriculum simply means that all the subjects are taught through an approach where they all make sense together since it is not topical. Experiential learning is also given priority. As such, do not be surprised if your kid is exposed to cooking, field trips, and other activities that may not be found in traditional setups. Given that this type of setup takes more effort on the part of the teacher, a lower student-teacher ratio is expected. This also translates to higher fees. I found that the non-traditional schools usually have about 2:15 teacher student ratio. They usually have a teacher and a teacher's aide. Chinese teachers are also available in some schools.
While doing the rounds, I visited the following schools and they are more or less the same in terms of curriculum and teacher-student ratio.
Apples and Oranges (I was impressed with the facilities but not the directress. She didn't know how to answer my questions)
Mind Specialists (I was impressed with the directress but not the facilities. I was also concerned that I was able to go inside the school with ease. Security did not get my ID or anything...)
Kinder Minds (I was impressed with the directress but not the facilities. I also noticed that their school is small and they had very few students)
Early Achievers (I was impressed with the directress and the facilities were apt).
In non-traditional setups, the teachers do not give numerical grades but progress reports in qualitative form. This means that they prepare reports to show what your child has learned and how you can help your child. This is more of a partnership between the parents and the teachers.
Some Questions to Ask Principals When Shopping for Preschools
1. What is the educational philosophy of your school?
2. How old is your school?
3. Normally, after graduation, where do your graduates go for big school (i.e., elementary)?
4. Do you offer enrichment classes (i.e., E. Nopi, Chinese Classes, Taekwondo, etc.)?
5. What is your tuition fee and what are the inclusions (i.e., uniform, meal, etc)?
6. What is your teacher-student ratio?
7. What is your fetcher's policy?
8. Can you describe your curriculum?
9. What is the profile of your faculty?
10. How do you involve parents in the child's education?
I decided to send my child to Early Achievers (formerly called Granny Goose) for the following reasons (not in order): (1) They had been around for 20 years, (2) The school is close to my house, (3) The directress was impressive when I asked her my questions, (4) The facility looked good, and (5) They were caring and competent when they assessed my son.