Music lessons, art programs, soccer clubs, karate classes…the range of enrichment options available to the under five crowd seems to grow and grow. The benefits for enrolling preschoolers in these types of activities can be numerous – helping to develop cognitive, motor, social and language skills – if the program is a good one. With all the choices available out there, what should parents be looking for when evaluating an enrichment class or program for their child?
1. Does the program have a good track record?
Jody Wyss-Treadwell, owner and teacher at Kindermusik of Indianapolis, recommends looking for three main factors when searching for a quality program: engagement, consistency and longevity. She also says, ‘“You want a program that continues to help your child grow even outside of the specific class.”
2. Will your child be interested in the program?
What types of activities does your child naturally gravitate to? Music? Art? Sports? Select an enrichment program that falls in line with what they like to do and see how their interest and ability develops.
3. Does the program come with good recommendations?
Friends, family, neighbors and teachers can be great resources for possible programs to investigate. When asking for an opinion, find out what was specifically liked or disliked about a certain place. Kelly Barbee, local mother of two, says she wasn’t even sure where to start looking when considering preschool enrichment programs in her area, but turning to friends for their input helped her find a good match for her three-year-old daughter. “They were a great help in letting me know the programs their kids had enjoyed, which made my search a lot easier. We found a gymnastics program which my daughter loved.”
4. Is the curriculum developmentally appropriate?
A program that has been planned with reasonable expectations for preschoolers will help kids be successful and have fun. If the program also includes older children, ask how information or activities will be modified for younger children. Also consider if your child’s developmental level tends to be ahead or behind their peers and relay this information to the person leading the class or program.
5. Are the staff experienced – and do they enjoy working with young children?
Jamie Sellhorn, Founder and Director of Education at Montessori Garden Academy, recommends making sure that staff are not only experts in the field they are teaching, but also have a love for working with young children. “Staff should be getting down to your child’s level and engaging the child in conversation. They should also have realistic expectations of skills for that child’s age and developmental level.” Ask to observe a class to see how the staff interacts with the children in their care.
6. What is the staff to child ratio?
Young children need adequate support and supervision at all times to be safe. Ask how many adults are present to supervise children, understanding that some activities (like swimming for instance) may require higher staff to child ratios than other activities. Also inquire about safety procedures that are in place to protect children and how you will be notified if there is any problem.
7. Are children with special needs allowed to participate?
All children have the right to participate in programs that allow them to experience new learning opportunities. Check with the program director to see if children with special needs are encouraged to join, and how the staff supports preschoolers who may need modifications and adaptations to participate.
8. What is the discipline policy?
Children can, and will, act differently around unfamiliar adults. How will the staff inform you if your child misbehaves and how will it be handled? Consider if these discipline policies align with your own practices.
How will you know if you’ve found a good match between your preschooler and enrichment program? It may be hard to tell after just one session. Before making a final decision, give your child time to adjust to their new teacher, peers and activity. If he or she seems engaged in what they’re doing, wants to go back and is learning new skills, chances are you have found a good fit. Enjoy watching your preschooler grow and learn – and give yourself a pat on the back for giving them the opportunity to start expanding their horizons in this way!