Pick Your Perfect Preschool

Montessori or HighScope? Public or private? Morning or afternoon? Dayton area parents have many tough decisions to make when sorting through preschool options. Here we help you consider which program is right for your child to get them off to a great educational start.

The importance of preschool

To adults, preschool may seem like child’s play. However, “The early years are the best time to teach and expose [children] to language, social interactions, and new concepts and experiences,” says Robyn Lightcap, Director of the Dayton region’s ReadySetSoar initiative. “Our children are born ready to learn.”

Preschool can also play a key role in preparing children for future educational endeavors. Lightcap reports that local data indicate “children who attend preschool score on average 7-10% higher on the state’s kindergarten readiness test.” Kids who enter kindergarten fully prepared, in turn, are more likely to be proficient in reading in third grade, to become high school graduates, and to pursue higher education.

Your preschool short list

Ready to start narrowing down your options? Kyle Snow, Director of Applied Research at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, believes six components are particularly important in identifying a high quality early education program.
Teachers and staff members are well-trained and prepared.

Children learn in a safe, healthy environment.

The school offers small group sizes as well as a low ratio of kids to adults.

The curriculum recognizes the diversity of children, as well as “the diversity within a child,” says Snow. Classroom activities facilitate students’ cognitive, social, emotional, physical and language development.

The program welcomes and engages families.

Teachers use multiple strategies to work with kids. They should show “flexibility, but also intentionality” when managing their classrooms, says Snow.
Of course, there are many other important factors parents should consider when evaluating a preschool. Find more detailed information plus other standards at families.naeyc.org.

In addition, the state of Ohio awards licensed preschool programs “Star Ratings” ranging from one to five stars. In order to earn a particular Star Rating, programs must meet certain “benchmarks of quality” related to teacher qualifications, curriculum, assessments and more, explains Lightcap. Read about the rating system and search for area programs at www.stepuptoquality.org.

Preschool curriculum options

Diverse preschool philosophies from Waldorf to Reggio Emilia get a lot of buzz these days. When it comes to choosing a preschool, however, “It’s really important to not just rely on the label,” says Snow. He encourages parents to research the curriculum option they are considering and also to observe the school’s execution of it. “You have to go and see the place,” he says.

Lightcap notes that parents must make sure the model they choose is a good fit for their particular child. “One size does not fit all,” she says.

Easing your child’s preschool path

Once you’ve settled on a school, take steps to make your child’s first day – and the ones that follow – a little easier. Parents should work to prepare their children before school starts, so they aren’t surprised by the first drop-off, says Snow. If a child is struggling, let the school’s director know. Preschool teachers have valuable experience working with students making the transition from home to school.

Lightcap recommends taking the Readiness Check-up available at 5tothrive.org to understand what skills your child should be developing and find tips for working with him at home. She also encourages parents to read regularly with their children and promote solid preschool attendance.

Whichever high quality program you ultimately choose, you can feel confident that you’ve taken an important step toward a bright future for your child. As Lightcap says, “We know preschool is one of the best ways to build a strong foundation for success now and later.”

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