How to Choose a Great Preschool for Your Family

"Children in high-quality preschools display better language, cognitive, and social skills." An expert weighs in on picking the right preschool.
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The time has come. Somehow, your child has turned two or three, and you are trying to find the perfect preschool.

You want preschool to be a fun and engaging place where your child can grow, learn, and find lifelong friends, but exactly how important is this decision? In the grand scheme of things, the decision you make about your child’s first school is “very important,” according to Elizabeth Gilleland, Ph.D., Developmental Psychologist and Early Childhood Specialist.

“While children’s experiences at preschool may (and should!) look like simple play,” Dr. Gilleland says, “they are creating the foundation for their identities as learners and as human beings.” She has served as the Director of the Preschool Division of The Raleigh School since 1997.

Decades of research have led the U.S. Department of Education to declare that “children in high-quality preschools display better language, cognitive, and social skills,” and these strengths produce positive outcomes well into adulthood. In fact, young children who attend high-quality preschools are more likely to become adults who graduate from college, work at careers they enjoy, and report having satisfying friendships and marriages.

Sounds great, right? The trick for parents is figuring out what a quality preschool really looks like.

 

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7 Signs of a High-Quality Preschool

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), if you want to pick a good school for your child, you should visit schools and make sure to look for certain things.

NAEYC outlines a list of signs that are important to see in the classroom, such as:

  1. Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials and other children.
  2. Children have access to various materials and activities throughout the day—blocks and construction materials, pretend play props, books, art materials, and table toys.
  3. Teachers play and work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times.
  4. Outdoor play is valued; children have opportunities to play outside in a rich, natural environment every day.
  5. The curriculum is adapted for the needs and interests of the children in the class and includes input from children’s families.
  6. Children work on projects and have long periods of time to play and explore according to their own interests. 
  7. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snacks provide the basis for math and literacy activities.

Raleigh School2In addition to these signs, Dr. Gilleland says, “teachers should be reading with children and including varied and diverse stories that represent different perspectives,” and the classroom should be decorated with children’s original artwork. Both the parents and children should look forward to school.

One easy way to be assured that a preschool program is “high-quality” is to ask if the program is accredited by NAEYC. NAEYC-accredited programs complete a rigorous self-study and external review to prove that they meet the highest standards of excellence in early childhood education.

The Raleigh School (TRS) was the first school in Wake County to attain NAEYC accreditation, and it is one of only a few dozen schools across the nation to have successfully maintained continuous accreditation over the past 30+ years. TRS has limited availability for the 2020-2021 school year; click here to learn more.

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