What should a parent consider when choosing a preschool?
First, a parent should understand the brain of a young child (0-7ish years old) is fabulously different. The high plasticity of the lobes allow for children to take in great amounts of information through their senses. They apply their senses through initiation, exploration, and creation. Yet, to learn this information, you need language. If you think about it, humans cannot know and retain information without language. Language is the key to identifying and categorizing knowledge. Are there any concepts you know for which you have no language to describe them?
So what does language have to do with the brain? The language center of the brain is found in the convergence of all of the lobes (which makes sense since a child sees someone speaking, processes the noise they hear, memorizes the significance connected to the noise, and thinks about what to communicate, and then moves her vocal cords, mouth, and lips- ultimately using the whole brain!). Therefore the malleability of the brain allows infants, toddlers, and young children to acquire language with excitement and not stress as they explore the world.
The high plasticity of the brain keeps children from being reasoning thinkers, but allows them to learn language to organize and retain all of the information they are learning. As a result, preschoolers are concrete thinkers and language geniuses (to learn more about preoperational verses reasoning thinkers read our blog How should a parent think about preschool). Once the lobes in the brain begin to solidify, children’s capacities to think multidimensionally takes off, yet at the same time, their ability to acquire language at the native level decreases.
So with this understanding of the child’s brain, what are the 4 most important questions a parent should ask when looking for a preschool?
Is a child safe and loved well? Children will not learn nor want to learn if they do not feel safe and loved. A child should both love preschool and be loved at preschool (no exceptions). It might take a short transition for a child to grow accustomed to the preschool, but if he remains unhappy there, the parents has the responsibility to remove him. I often joke in saying- let middle and high school kill a child’s desire to learn, but not preschool!
Does the environment encourage exploration, initiation, and creation? A concrete thinker is invigorated by independence and settings that pique their curiosity. Does the preschool’s inside and outside environments elicit curiosity? Even more importantly, does the teacher create spectacular opportunities for student exploration, initiation and creation?
Does the environment encourage reflection, socialization and collaboration? Preschoolers are learning to know the world around them, themselves, and others. Yes, independence and initiation are extremely important at this age, but collaboration is tantamount. These early years are pivotal for children to learn independence (initiation), interdependence (teamwork), and obedience (following instructions). Therefore, the parent should get a sense of the teacher’s leadership, intentional focus on both reflection and collaboration, as well as what kinds of children the parents want their child to know and learn about? As a parent, do you want your children to meet and know children who only come from the same culture, or other cultures? It is important to note that early exposure to multiple cultures has lasting impact on a person’s acceptance and enjoyment of cultures different than his own.
Does the preschool intentionally develop language? Parents need to realize they are making a life long decision for their child in the area of language? If they only want their child to be proficiently fluent at the native level in one language, then they should pursue a preschool (or other learning environments) that intentionally develops that language. If a parent prioritizes the ability for her child to speak more than one language at the native level, then she must pursue an immersion based preschool. Language classes are too little, and elementary, middle, and high school opportunities are way too late. Basically, if you want your child to achieve fluency, you have to drop them off in a foreign country several days a week for 4-7 years. A dual-immersion preschool, in essence, provides that foreign language experience without having to put your toddler on a plane.