Through my years working in my own school, I have personally taken many walk-ins to my school and fielded numerous questions and concerns that parents have. Through these questions, I get a sense of the varying expectations and requirements that every parent has. Are these concerns valid or reasonable? Well, absolutely yes! If it mattered enough for you to make a decision to put your most precious one, then it is absolutely important. Obviously, we are all made different and here is the lowdown on the things which I personally feel is the most important.
1. The overall "feel"
Needless to say, I am always curious about the parents who eventually chose us (we have the most inconvenient location amongst all the Hillview childcares, no joke). Many have said this - "I like the feel of this place. It is bright and clean". So yes, the initial feel is important. The moment you step into the school and you think to yourself, "Yes. This is it". It isn't based on any any early childhood theory. It is the same feeling you have with your loved one when you decided that he/she is THE ONE or that same "mother instinct" that tells you that you need to bring your child to the doctor instead of trying to self-medicate at home.
2. The second most important "feel"
The person walking you around the school (usually me) and your feel of the teachers' interaction with the existing children. The school can offer you the best curriculum and the best physical amenities but what cannot be offered to your child (not you) on a daily basis is a teacher's warmth and commitment. They are the ones who deliver the curriculum to your child and the ones who give a hug to your child when he/she is upset or misses you. So, I would safely rank this as one of the top things that you should keep a lookout for. Needless to say, at Little Kinder Montessori, I work tirelessly to make sure all the teachers treat every child with love and respect. I always say these to my parents at the door just before they leave - Check out as many schools as you can. It is only through this meeting that you know who you are comfortable getting updates from and who you think will be able to carry out your daily instructions on the nitty gritty caregiving duties.
3. The pedagogy
No parent has ever asked me about pedagogy. They have asked me about curriculum. How is it different? The curriculum states the learning objectives that is spelled out for every child to achieve - for example one of the learning objectives stated in my curriculum is that 4 year olds will pick up free hand writing. It is 2-dimensional. It doesn't say how I am going to teach your child to reach this milestone. However, my pedagogy will tell you that we start building the foundation of this skill through Montessori practical life activities (to strengthen the fine motor skills) concurrently with Montessori sandpaper letters (to build muscular and visual memory). This is all done at the playgroup and nursery level even before your child has the requisite physical strength to attain that pencil grip. Then, at 4 year old, it is a combination of the readiness of these two skills for him/her to write freely and confidently.
So the next time you visit a preschool, ask for the pedagogy instead of the curriculum. You will be surprised that the answer will be closer to what you initially had in mind.
You can readily observe this during your visit. The cleanliness of the school and how the school maintains the cleaning schedules would be one of the factors that directly affects the health and safety of the children.
There are many other questions that I have gotten before which does not mean much (in my humble opinion) because it could be a facade. But hey, if it matters to you then it is important right?
I will list these in a separate blog entry. For now, happy preschool hunting!