What should you look for in a high-quality early childhood education program? Your child is ready to start preschool, but you may not be sure which option in your area is the best choice. Before you tour schools, take a look at what you need to know about early child education and the markers of a quality pre-k program.
There isn't one standard curriculum for all early childhood programs. But this doesn't mean a program or school shouldn't have or use one. A high-quality pre-k or early childhood program will use a curriculum that meets the young students' developmental needs, encourages exploration, focuses on each area of development (social, emotional, cognitive, and physical), and includes a diverse mix of subjects. It should align with your state's or local area's early childhood/preschool standards as well.
What does a classroom look like in a high-quality early childhood program? Like the curriculum, you won't find one standard type of classroom. The size, shape, decor, and contents of classrooms will vary. Even though there isn't one universal "best" pre-k classroom, quality programs should have warm, inviting spaces that are filled with easily accessible and developmentally appropriate materials.
Many early childhood programs divide classrooms into centers. The center-based approach separates areas for subjects such as art, science, literacy (reading and writing), and math. Some classrooms may have specific centers or areas for block play, dramatic play, messy art activities, writing, books/reading, eating, resting/napping, and gross motor play.
Along with content-based centers and educational materials, the classroom should also include plenty of print. You may see labels on materials/toys, posters with words, or other similar types of environmental print language use. These displays are more than decorative parts of the pre-k classroom. Environmental print helps the young child to develop crucial literacy skills.
The Social Setting
Early education is much more than just reading, writing, science, math, and other academic areas. Your young child is rapidly developing social and emotional skills during the first few years of life. The school environment provides children with the chance to learn and practice budding interpersonal skills with their peers (other like-aged children) and their teachers.
A high-quality program should provide plenty of opportunities for the children to interact with each. These could include free play times, teacher-led group activities, games, outdoor play, and meal times.
Along with child-child interactions, your preschooler should have the opportunity to talk to their teacher. Pre-k programs that use a lecture-based or teacher-focused format may not help the young students to learn, grow, and develop critical-thinking, social, and emotional skills. Look for activities or play periods that include two-way conversations or discussions.
Contact an educator to learn more about early childhood education.