There are so many preschool options nowadays, so which to choose? Here are some suggestions for you to consider before placing your toddler into your chosen organisation.
Facilities, hygiene, surroundings. No matter how strongly your friends may recommend you to send your child to a particular preschool or childcare, it's essential that you visit the premises yourself and have a good idea of the facilities that the school provides, the condition of the facilities, and the level of hygiene of of the school compounds. Everybody's level of acceptance is different so even if the place seems awesome for your friend and her child, it might not be for you.
Some schools have a playground of swimming pool within their premises and that's a big plus because it means there's outdoor activities for the students without the teachers having to bring them out of the school compounds. I've witnessed two childcare teachers bring a group of about 20 students to a playground in the neighbourhood and it was an absolute nightmare for me. I was there with my 3 year old, and when the group came, the kids were so rowdy, the teachers don't seem to be managing them very well. I had to stop-short my son's playtime and head home earlier.
While choosing a preschool for my son, I visited one that was located at the basement of a HDB block. I stay in a HDB so no bias there. But I really didn't have a good feel about the place because the ceiling was low, the lights were dim, and being at the basement means there weren't any windows. The place was also very cramped with many tables and shelves. This particular preschool functions as a kindergarten as well as after-school care for primary level students. I felt the place was too stuffy and unkempt. The worst was a cockroach scampered past my feet as I was finishing my tour of the place!
If you have to send your child by car, you might also want to consider availability of parking and ease of picking up and dropping off your child especially in wet weather. This might be low in priority, but still something to take note.
School curriculum. It's definitely important to look into the school curriculum. The students in my children's kindergarten start their day with an assembly, singing worship songs, in both English and Chinese, listen to bible stories and pray together before they start their lessons. The school engages external vendors to provide music lessons and gym classes once a week for the children within school premises as part of the curriculum. The nursery children also get to try their hands at gardening at the church garden, have water play and outdoor play at the school's playground on alternate weeks. For K1 and K2 children, the school also has partners who provide enrichment lessons like music and movement, math and astronomy. These enrichment classes are optional and are conducted either before or after school. I find the curriculum very enriching and it makes me wish I could go to school again!
It's also helpful to find out how you can receive feedback from the teachers with regards to your child's performance and behaviour in class. Do the teachers provide term progress reports? Of course not about grades, but more about what your child does in school, how is he interacting with his peers and expressing himself. Are there meet-the-parent sessions? And if you have any questions about your child or the school's programme, what are the available channels for you to enquire?
Teacher-student Ratio. As stated by Early Childhood Development Agency, the revised teacher-student ratio with effect from 1 Jan 2013 is as follows:
Every preschool is expected to follow the recommended guidelines but as part of your decision making, it is also important to verify that your child is not placed in an "overcrowded" class. The truth is many schools face the issue of having insufficient qualified preschool teachers, therefore as stated by ECDA, staff also includes para-educators. If you are concerned, you could therefore enquire the school about the relevant qualifications of the staff to have an idea of how many teachers and para-educators (or teacher assistants) there are.
MOE Kindergarten. As announced on 27 Nov 2017, MOE Kindergartens will be given priority to enter the primary school that shares a compound with their kindergarten. MOE said this will involve 12 kindergartens as part of a pilot scheme. Kindergarten children applying for admission to the respective primary school will be eligible under Phase 2A2 of the Primary 1 registration scheme, which currently applies to children whose parent or siblings had studied in the primary school, but had not joined the alumni association. So if you are planning ahead for primary school admission, this would be a major consideration.
Conclusion. When I was choosing a preschool for my son, I called up almost 20 centres to enquire about school fees and schedules and shortlisted 3 to visit before deciding on one. Don't worry about being picky. Your child is afterall, going to spend several hours a day for 3-4 years at the place. It is therefore ideal to spend some time to shop around before settling on the place where you feel most at ease. It's also a good idea to plan at least 6 months in advance, and bring your child along when you visit the various premises. Some very popular preschools and childcare centres have long waiting lists queuing up 3 years ahead of time! It's definitely good to have friends who can provide you with some recommendations. But at the end of the day, you know what's best for your child, so trust your maternal instincts!
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