Preschool Shopping? What to Look for in 2018 and Beyond

We have a great deal more knowledge today about how young children learn best and deeply than we had even five years ago.  We all did letter-of-the-week.  We all hung up those well-marketed, one-dimensional preschool calendars and made them a focus of circle time.  We all had children created crafts – rows of nearly identical penguins and houses and farm animals were hung in our hallways as if they were evidence of learning and not actually evidence far less meaningful memorization.  We were taught that way when we were young and many of us became teachers in a time when all of that was valued.  We didn’t know better.  In 2018, we know much better. 

You want your children to become critical thinkers who can make decisions, have confidence in their own ability to analyze, can try and reflect and who have had opportunities in early childhood to learn key socialization skills.  You need them to know that they can experiment, make a mistake and change course.  They are growing up in a different world than we did, and they will be entering a world that you and I cannot imagine.  There has been so much change in such a short amount of time and there will continue to be advances in technology in a world that is ever connected and filled with both real and not-so-real news.  They need the thinking skills that rote memorization or copying the perfect teacher-made paper giraffe cannot give to them.

It is early childhood education shopping season.  It’s time for you to look around to ensure that your child is getting the best foundation possible in 2018 and not what we thought was the best foundation in 1970, 1990 or even 2010.  Here are some signs that the school you have entered embraces the process of early childhood learning as it is understood today:
  • The curriculum should have themes or investigations of topics that last at least one month.  Topics that are less than one month long do not allow for in depth activities based on student interest. 
  • Themes should be based on topics that are part of the students’ real world so they can manipulate them, dig deeply and have them be very relatable to their real lives.  Dinosaurs and outer space are nice stories that can be talked about but do not lend themselves to hands on investigation and problem solving.
  • When you walk in, you should see more child-created art than crafts and schedule of the day cards rather than the one-dimensional monthly calendar.  Children cannot relate to the calendar yet, but they can relate to the time segments in their real day.
  • More and more preschools are instituting research-based curriculums such as The Creative Curriculum, High Scope and Tools of the Mind.  If the school touts their research-based curriculum, ask if their staff has been trained in its use.  It is true that today’s formal curriculum for early childhood centers is far superior than the various curricular methods of the past, but it is only truly effective if the staff has been trained and/or has ongoing support in its implementation.
  • Health and safety should still be a priority.  Watch for a system in which children are never, not ever, left unattended.  They should not be in a hallway for a moment alone.  They should not be in the restroom alone. Preschools with bathrooms in the classroom have half-doors because the restroom is the riskiest place in an early childhood setting and it is the place where they often need the most assistance.  Teachers should use gloves for bodily fluids and touching your child’s food.  Every state has regulations related to cleaning.  Check out those regulations and be sure to observe them being done while you are touring.  Want to try to avoid epidemics?  You should smell bleach or an equivalent disinfectant.  Hands as well as furniture and toys should be washed often.
  • The class schedule should have large chunks of time for free choice center time when children choose what they will explore, small groups when teachers can work with students on a more individual basis and outdoor/indoor gross motor time.  Circle time or large group time should be the shortest segment of the day. We now know that far less learning takes place in large groups than in small groups or during play.
  • Adults should be having meaningful interactions with students when you tour.  They should be playing with children and asking open ended questions.  They should be introducing new vocabulary as they speak with children.  They should be giving children new ways of thinking about their actions.  They should not be saying, “Glue that here.”

Remember, what looks like learning to you is simply how you relate to the concept of school.  We grew up in a different era.  Crafts are cute but not evidence of learning.  Rote memorization is not evidence that your child is being asked to think.  Large group time looks like a productive class to many adults but time playing is when children are most competent, learn the most about thinking and get to hone socialization skills that are not honed in front of screens or in adult-led activities. 

Enjoy your early childhood center tours!  Seek what children in 2018 really need.

You may also want to read:
“Shopping for a Preschool” (other tips and hints)


“Teach the Whole Preschooler:  Strategies for Nurturing Developing Minds,” my book, is available NOW from WW Norton (publisher) on  AmazonBarnes & Noble.

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Copyright 2018 © Cindy Terebush
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