In India, preschool is sometimes also referred to as playschool or nursery school. It is a place a child goes to before kindergarten/primary school (typically before beginning Kindergarten or Upper KG).
Importance of a quality preschool
The first five years of life are that of rapid and critical development in a child. We all know that preschool is an important foundation for learning and life.
In India, there are no accrediting or licensing agencies for teachers and preschools. Anyone can start a preschool anywhere. Hence there are ton of garage preschools everywhere. This makes it all the more important to ensure that the preschool has the right teachers, facilities, outlook and curriculum for your child.
Key goals of preschool education (First things first...)
- Physical, social, intellectual and emotional development of young children.
- Boosting self-esteem, confidence, and social skills.
- Foster independence and good behaviour
- Tapping and building on the child’s inherent curiosity, creativity and thinking abilities.
- Reading and math readiness foundation (informal and formal means)
What is the right age to send your child to preschool?
In India, parents typically send kids to preschool at ages ranging from 18 months to 5 years. The ideal age really depends on your needs, your child and the kind of preschool. For example, some parents might send children to school to play with other children, working parents might want children to be in preschool for a longer time etc.
But it is important to note that for young children till age 3, preschools should have only play and unstructured and social activities and no formal instruction. They are not ready for it yet and premature forced instruction can even hinder their natural flair for learning.
Start talking to folks and researching preschools about one year before you want your child to start. This will ensure that you have ample time to research and select an appropriate school and ensure timely admission for your child.
How to select a preschool
Here are some pointers on how to go about selecting an appropriate preschool for your child.
Before you visit preschools:
- First ask your friends, family, even your paediatrician for leads (especially folks you feel have asimilar outlook on parenting). Check Parentree preschool reviews or check and other Parentree parents
- Ask them what they like / liked and what they did not
- First target preschools in your vicinity. There is no point in making the child travel unnecessarily. Move farther only if you cannot find good preschools nearby.
- Ensure quality. Remember that preschool can give your child a positive foundation for learning and life. So, unless the preschool is way above your budget, do not be “penny wise, pound foolish”.
- Check if the timings are appropriate for you. Remember that for very small children (less than 3), it is best to ramp up preschool timings slowly. Start with a couple of hours, let them adjust and later increase the timings if you need to.
- Once you have a list, check out their websites. These days many preschools have slick websites and reading too much into the website can be misleading. But websites can give you a decent idea of the school’s outlook and methods.
- Learn about some popular preschool philosophies and methods that preschools apply in India
- Schedule an appointment during the school time.
- This way you can observe the school in action.
- In fact you can even try and coincide your visit with when current parents might be there (dropping or picking up kids). This way you can even chat with current parents.
- Make a selection checklist and questions to ask during your visit. Plan to ask the principal and teachers specific probing and hypothetical questions. You can glean a lot of real and useful information. Some examples:
- What would you do if a child hits another child?
- NO: Time-outs, scolding kids in front of others—“Ravi is a bad boy”, punishing kids
- YES: are firm and gentle. Focus on the behavior and not the child. Hitting is not good. “When you hit Reena, it hurts her and she feels hurt”. And then distracting the kid.
- What will you do if my child refuses to write or draw?
- Of course a preschool that forces a young child to write or even draw is a big NO NO. They should gently encourage and give the child some time.
During the visit: What to look for...:
- Small class size. Typically, in Indian preschools the acceptable teacher/child ration should be at least 1:12. Ideally the teacher/child ratio should be 1:4 to 1: 8. Remember that little children need a lot of attention and caring.
- How are the children?
- Do the kids look happy and engaged? The children should not look bored and sad.
- Make sure that you see older kids (above 3) interacting and there is emphasis on group play.
- It might be okay to see younger kids (till 2) playing by themselves since they do mostly individual and parallel play (and not as much of cooperative play).
- Children learn a lot from each other and building social skills is an important objective of preschools.
- How is the staff?
- Do at least the lead teachers have any training in early childhood education? What is their experience level? Does the school continually train the teachers?
- Do the teachers stick around? Most Indian preschools have a problem with teacher turnover but a quality preschool will ensure teacher continuity better than the rest.
- If there is a high turnover of teachers, prod about why the teachers are leaving: leaving to get married, jumping to another school etc. You might detect some relevant patterns.
- Are the teachers warm and caring? How do they interact with the kids?
- Do the teachers look happy?
- How is the support staff? Do they look clean and happy?
- Paediatricians and early childhood experts emphasize that children learn best through play.
- Make sure that the school has ample time and opportunity for unstructured play (even if the school is a traditional and academic)
- Emphasis on reading and books
- Do the teachers read aloud to the children?
- Are there books that kids can pick up and read or play with?
- Preschool curriculum and methods for learning.
- In India since there is no licensing agencies
- It is difficult to maintain a totally unstructured play-based program unless the teachers are highly qualified, experienced and well-trained in the preschool methods (Montessori, Reggio etc.)
- It can help to have a broad curriculum with thought and method to it. A good preschool can have a curriculum and some structure to the routine and also be able to accommodate spontaneous activities and child-initiated themes.
- A good preschool (even an academic one) should never be coercive or critical. For example, teachers should never force young kids to write etc. The informal incentives and environment for learning are important.
- The teachers and curriculum should be consistent. Consistency is very important for kids to learn and thrive. For example, if they teach kids to learn lower case first, they should not keep changing.
- The environment and policies
- Is the school clean, safe and secure? Be sure to check if the bathrooms are clean. Safety examples: the play area does not have areas for kids to get hurt , there is security or someone at the gate to prevent strangers from getting in etc.
- Does the preschool have ample outdoor and indoor space for kids playing?
- Is there any kids art or “work” on the walls? This is a sign of a pre-school that is child centered. Seeing their work on the walls boosts the children’s self-esteem.
- The environment should be welcoming and stimulating. There should be ample interesting and educational toys and materials like blocks, manipulatives, puzzles, building materials, art materials etc. within the reach of children.
- What is the sick-child policy? Good preschools do not allow sick kids to contaminate the rest.
- How does the school foster good habits and behaviour? Examples:
- Healthy eating habits
- Washing hands before eating
- Good manners
- Setting clear and consistent limits and positive (not punitive) discipline
- Does the school encourage parent interaction? Is the school open to feedback from the parents? Good preschools encourage feedback, interaction and even participation from parents. They might do this in different ways.
- Some might have a public forum to exchange information or some will encourage individual information exchanges.
- Some might allow parents to walk into the preschool any time while some will allow parents to walk in only when they pick up the kids.
- But at the minimum the preschool should be open to working in partnership with parents and willing to discuss their concerns and listen to what they know about their child.
After visiting preschools
- Before your child joins, visit the preschool at least twice.
- Talk to other families whose child is / has attended the preschool. Good preschools should be willing to give these contacts to you. Ask them probing questions of what they liked and do / did not like.
- Remember that no place can ever be perfect. Focus on what is important for your child and you.
- Go with your gut. After all the analysis, you need to just listen to your instincts. Does the preschool feel good for your child? Can you picture your child being happy and thriving there?
Good luck! And enjoy this time with your child.
Popular preschool philosophies and methods
Early brain development - science