If your child is already in a care setting that has a preschool program that you like, that’s great news. For many Nebraska families, however, their 3- and 4-year-olds will be starting preschool after being in a home-based setting. For those looking for the right preschool, it’s important to know the terms that preschools use in order to choose the approach that’s right for your child and family, as well as reliable indicators of quality.
No one knows your child better than you do. Take time to familiarize yourself with some of the terms used to describe preschool programs. Check out this list of terms from Get Ready to Read.
- Child-centered – This term is often used to describe settings that take the children’s interests into consideration when planning activities. For example: in a child-centered setting, the classroom activities are based on the interests of the students, not on pre-scheduled topics chosen by the teacher. These settings often offer increased opportunities for children to choose activities throughout the day depending on their interests.
- Teacher-led – The opposite of a child-centered setting is a teacher-led setting. Teacher-led often means that curriculum and supplemental activities are implemented based on a set schedule developed by the teachers in the setting. This type of setting usually provides children with a structured learning environment.
- Child-led – These settings believe children learn best when they are engaged and interested in learning. Child-led settings wait for each child to initiate or ask for new activities and experiences, fostering individualized learning experiences rather than group experiences.
- Faith-based – This term is used to describe preschool programs that are run through faith organizations such as churches or synagogues, according to their faith’s philosophies. Nebraska Children and Families Foundation
- Co-operative – These settings often ask parents and families to assist in the running of the preschool. Parents and family members may build community by signing up to volunteer during the week, or by assisting in the day-to-day management of the preschool as well as helping with advertising, upkeep and fundraising.
- Developmentally Appropriate – This term means the preschool plans the curriculum and activities based on activities that are appropriate for the age of the children in the class.
- Pre-kindergarten (pre-K) – Sometimes this term is used interchangeably with preschool. In general, a pre-K program is one that has children enrolled in the year before kindergarten, usually at age four. These settings are often more structured than traditional preschools.
- Licensed – Preschools and child care centers that are licensed meet the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ standards to be considered a child care/preschool facility. Licensing is not at all an indicator of quality, just that the facility has legal permission to call itself a preschool or child care facility. There are four types of licensing:
- Provisional or Operating Family Child Care Home I – up to 10 children, one provider, in the provider’s home
- Provisional or Operating Family Child Care Home II – up to 12 children, two providers, either in the primary provider’s home Or in a separate building
- Provisional or Operating Child Care Center – 0ver 12 children, provider-child ratio determined by ages of children
- Provisional or Operating Preschool – primarily an educational setting
- Accredited – Child care centers and preschools can choose to get accredited by an accrediting organization. This means they have to meet higher standards than licensing rules. The program must offer the kind of care, attention, and educational activities parents look for in quality child care programs. It must offer activities and experiences that will aid in a child’s growth and development, and that will help them prepare for school. Accrediting agencies include:
Once you know what you’re comfortable with in terms of approach and quality, it’s time to build your short list.
Decide who you want to consider based on the criteria that’s most important to you. What programs do friends that you trust recommend? What reviews are you seeing online? Who has an educational philosophy that matches what you’re looking for? Who’s close to your home or work? Who’s high quality AND still in your price range?
Finally, see for yourself.
Once you have your short list, make appointments to visit the programs you’re considering. Seeing really is believing. When you’re visiting programs, ask yourself if you could see your child fitting in there. If your culture will be honored. If the children seem happy and engaged. Stay and observe as long as you need to. Some questions to keep in mind on your visit include:
- What is the turnover rate for staff members?
- What percentage of the staff hold degrees in early childhood?
- How does the setting handle discipline?
- What are the safety procedures for picking up and dropping off children?
- Is the setting accredited?
- What are the payment options and procedures?
If you’d like a more structured approach to selecting the right preschool, consider this checklist from PTA and Pre-K Now.
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