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Preschool education has been pegged as a foundation to successful education and even success in adult life. But not all preschools are created equal, not even the most expensive ones. Here are characteristics and features a good preschool should have:
- Clean and secure location. This is a non-negotiable for preschools. We are talking about kids younger than six years old who will be regularly attending classes. It is crucial that even on the way to school they feel secure. No health and safety hazards should be anywhere near the school. A good preschool should not only attend to the mental well-being of a child but also his or her physical well-being. Kids must be able to associate positive feelings and images with the school.
- Complete and safe facilities. Setting up a room won’t be enough if we want quality public preschools. There are basic facilities kids need round the clock and facilities that are required to keep the school kid-friendly and hazard-free. Simply put, a preschool must have a toilet room, a sanitary area for eating, a separate area for trash, a clinic or medicine cabinet, a no-slip flooring and cabinets for toys and other materials. Furniture and any equipment must have no sharp edges. Electric outlets must have covers and anything else that pose harm to kids should be kept out of their reach and eyesight.
- Feel-good atmosphere. A preschool should have an atmosphere welcoming to young children. It should not seem boring, rigorous or threatening. The classrooms should be well-ventilated and well-lit. Positive and colorful images and designs should be visible for kids. Staff and teachers should be helpful, friendly and accommodating. Kids must be able to see that they are going to have fun in class and that the school is a place where they can both play and learn.
- Trained and caring teachers. It is no joke taking care of young kids, what more to teach them. A serious endeavor into preschool education must be accompanied with willingness to invest in teacher training or re-training. If kids are taught the wrong things in preschool, it defeats the entire purpose of the program. Preschool teachers must know how to teach the alphabet and counting, how to read stories and sing songs, how to motivate kids through games, and how to manage a class of young children. They must be caring and nurturing, and should never resort to coercion or physical punishment.
- Low teacher-student ratio. Studies on the effects off preschool education on academic and life success all say the same thing regarding its potency. Preschool education cannot achieve its goal if it is of low quality, and a factor in quality is the teacher-student ratio. Ideally, one teacher should only handle seven to ten students. The maximum for each class is twenty. Sometimes, having teacher aides or assistants also helps in managing a large class. Young learners need a lot of supervision and personal interaction. If the government is serious with putting up public preschools, the current teacher-student ratio in public elementary schools should not be tolerated in the preschool level.
- Holistic approach and curriculum. A preschool must not only prepare a child intellectually for entrance into the big school. It must also help children develop their other aspects. Preschool cannot be too focused on academic subjects. It must also address the development of social skills to prepare kids for a bigger group or class. As early as preschool, good qualities and values like self-confidence and love of country can already be introduced. Creativity and self-expression should also be a priority in the curriculum, keeping kids motivated and interested in schooling. In the words of Dr. Barbara Willer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Your 3- or 4-year-old will learn the fundamental building blocks of reading, writing, math, and science, as well as how to interact with teachers and classmates…[but] the overarching goal of any preschool should be to help a child feel good about himself as a learner and to feel comfortable in a school-like setting.”
- Some structure or routine. What differentiates a preschool from a daycare center is that it has a more defined structure. A good preschool has a set schedule for activities, from writing lessons to play time to nap time. It also requires regular attendance-it is not mere babysitting. In the class, routine chores may be done to instill in kids a sense of capability and responsibility. These can be as simple as helping out in distributing materials or in tidying up the room. This structured quality of a preschool ascertains that the kids are not wasting time but are learning each day.
- Variety of Instructional Materials. Kids need a lot of stimulation-their intellectual stimulation is highly dependent on sensory stimulation. A good preschool has to have a wide variety of instructional aides. Pictures, storybooks, recorded songs and models or realia are some of these. Kids are also very tactile learners. Manipulatives such as puzzles and peg-boards help kids develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination essential for writing and other tasks. Buttons or marbles are less expensive items which can be used for teaching counting. The idea is for children to have fun while learning.
- Play area and materials. It is but natural for kids to play. Therefore, there should be an area or time for play. Aside from the usual toys, blocks should be available. These help develop spatial and problem-solving skills as well as creativity. Play can also come in the form of art (children love to draw). The school should never run out of paper, crayons and clay. The idea is for children to learn while having fun.
- Physical activity. You heard it right! A good preschool is not afraid to get physical. Kids must have the opportunity-everyday-to move about and play, whether indoors or outdoors. This helps them practice their motor and other physical skills.
- Language-sensitive, language-rich. Since kids will learn more about language-and learn a new one, at that-in preschool, they must be as exposed to it as possible. Whether the new language is Filipino or English, there should be materials available everywhere. Posters on the walls, labeled objects and storybooks should be staples in class. On the other hand, the preschool must also be sensitive to the community’s mother tongue. Many countries have multi-lingual education, and preschools must care not to ban children from using their mother tongue. Moreover, teachers should not hesitate to use the mother tongue in explaining and teaching.