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As your toddler approaches his/ her second birthday, it's time to look out for a preschool. It is always a good idea to start early. Give yourself at least three months or so to find a preschool that suits you and the needs of your child.
With so many pre-schools mushrooming in and around cities, choosing the right preschool for your little one is often a difficult choice to make.
Most kids start school when they are around two-and-a-half years old. Make sure they do not have to travel long distances to reach school; else, they will be tired by the time they reach there.
"Though young children are very energetic, a long tiring ride to school is certainly not a good idea," says Rani Shirodkar, a teacher working with preschoolers for the last 20 years.
Not a cr�che
"Many think of preschools as a cr�che or a day care centre; a place where your child will be taken care of so that the mother can complete her chores," says Jyoti Pillai, a preschool teacher who conducts workshops for preschoolers in Hyderabad.
"The child will learn through fun at the preschool, which will act as a base for his further education. Make sure you make that distinction when you choose a preschool," she adds.
Teacher and staff
Maneesha Ashtaputre, a teacher at the cr�che and pre school management diploma course run by the SNDT, Pune, says it is imperative to make sure the staff is trained to handle the preschool children.
"This apart, the staff must be warm and caring. They must be open to having discussions with you about the child and must treat the children with respect, flexibility and patience," she says. "Experienced teachers, who are paid well and are happy with their jobs, will create a healthy and lively atmosphere in the classroom."
The ratio should not exceed 1:20; this will ensure personalised attention and proper caring for your child.
Anita Mahajan, principal at a Pune centre of a pre-school chain, adds that at least two visits to the school are a must before you select any preschool. "You will get a good idea of what a preschool is by visiting the school, speaking to the teachers and the principal."
"Get details about everything, starting from hours fees, and daily activities, to vacation schedules. Pay attention to your gut feelings about the place and how the director handles your questions," she adds.
Apart from brochures, websites and information pamphlets, rely heavily on the parents of children who have studied in these schools. Ask school teachers, and daycare centres in the vicinity for references.
Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful endorsement. If a certain preschool is very popular, ask parents and kids what makes their preschool so special.
"If you are looking for a specific curriculum like the state board, central board curriculum, etc, choose the preschool which imparts the same syllabus," says Anita.
Ask the teachers if the curriculum is age appropriate, well researched and structured to challenge the kids in a particular age group. Check if the teachers stress on competition-free environment where children are not pressured or compared with others.
"A school may have the best facilities, but if it is cramped with children and offers little space to move around, it is useless," says Jyoti.
"During your visits to the school, look around and see if the rooms are spacious, bright and airy. The building, and more importantly, the toilets, should be clean. The work areas should be clean and safe.
Seek answers to questions like...
~ Are the classrooms well ventilated?
~ Are the seating arrangements conducive to a good posture for your child?
~ Does the school have spacious playgrounds?
~ Are the fire or disaster management plans in place?
Take a look at the activities planned by the school; pasting, dough play, sandwich making, for example, which will give you a fair idea if the activities are suited to each age group.
Also take look at the teaching aids used in the classroom. Does the use of puppets, story books, pictures, make the day more interesting for them?
Accreditation and licensing
There is no standard licensing body for preschools, which means anyone can start a preschool without any standard infrastructure, curriculum or trained staff. Hence, it becomes all the more necessary to ensure facilities are in place and that your child will be safe and enjoy his time here.
No place is perfect. Prioritise your wishes. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut feeling. If, after visiting a preschool, you love the idea of having your child there, it's probably the right place for your child.
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