Is 2016 the year for you to drop your child off with a perfect stranger… and leave her there?! For some families, it’s when mom goes back to work; for others, it’s when a toddler is ready for further stimulation.
There are world-class playschools and pre-schools available in South Africa, and, regrettably, too many badly managed schools as well. Newspapers regularly report on horror stories about actual experiences. And for us as parents, this is very, very scary! You want to make absolutely sure that you are leaving your pride and joy in an environment where they are safe, stimulated, happy, and well cared for.
Since the first seven years are vital to your child’s development, you want to make sure that by making the right choice, you will give your little one the best possible start to “big school”.
Playschools usually take kids from age 2 to 3. The emphasis is on play, socialisation and enjoyment. You often find home-based playschools with one owner-teacher, and a helper, looking after a group of children. These playschools often offer a morning’s only option; some only operate 3 or 4 times a week. Larger, commercial playschools may offer longer hours as well as aftercare, and they’re sometimes combined with a pre-school.
Pre-school usually take kids from age 3 and up, some include Grade R. This is slightly more formalized with more focus on preparing kids for ‘big school”. Kids are exposed to a variety of activities including, music, singing, art, puzzles and so on.
Choosing the best playschool (or pre-school, for that matter!) does not have to be overwhelming. We have a few tips to make your job easier:
• Visit a few schools in your area and take note of word of mouth.
Spend some time interacting with the teachers and the kids. Happy kids are always a sign of a well-run school. Choose a school where your child will be happy. You know your child better than anyone. Trust your instincts on this one.
• Proximity is important.
Close to home is usually ideal, the friends that your child will make will likely live close by, making playdates easier. Or, maybe you prefer a school close to work, so you are able to get to school quickly if they are hurt, or maybe you’ll want to nip out to share cupcakes with the class on birthdays.
• Is the school registered?
According to law, any establishment that cares for 20 or more children must be registered with the Department of Social Development. When registered the Department of Health is often involved, in terms of food preparation, bathrooms etc. Peace of mind, right?
• Meet the teacher that will be teaching your child.
Patience, commitment and passion are so important.
• Are the equipment and toys clean, safe and age appropriate?
They don’t need to be fancy. Don’t be impressed by iPads for three-year-olds!
• Ask about the curriculum.
What do the children do in a typical day? There should be some structure in the programme. The activities should be broadly directed at the developmental milestones of the age group, exercising gross motor skills as well as fine motor skills. Many teachers will post a lesson plan for the week to help parents engage with their kids at home.
• Ask about the teacher child ratio; the younger the child, the smaller the ratio should be.
The recommended ratio for toddlers is no more than 8 children to one teacher. Check supervision outside and inside.
• Class size.
Watch out for overcrowding. Each child should have 1,5m of unobstructed play area inside and out.
• Holidays could be tricky for full-time working parents.
Enquire about aftercare and all year-round care.
• Discipline policies.
How do they deal with conflict? The way the school handles social and emotional issues should be similar to your approach at home. Listen for positive discipline, “Remember to walk in our classroom” instead of “Stop running!” Or “I want you to use your indoor voice” instead of “Stop shouting!” What about the noise level? Is there a lot of crying, tantrums or shouting?
• What about potty training?
When a child has an accident, how is it handled?
Are teachers trained in CPR? Is there a plan in case of emergencies?
Parenting is all about instinct; it has to feel right from the word go. So, start early, do your homework, and apply to the school that you feel most comfortable with.