Research to Real World: Preschool Prep… for Parents

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Indy’s Child Parenting Magazine. Flip through it here or pick up a copy today at your local Marsh or Kroger store, YMCA, public library or community center.

“Have you registered for preschool yet?”
These days the pressure to start off with the “right” preschool is overwhelming. There are so many choices as well as an unreasonable expectation that your child’s preschool will be the deciding factor between a Notre Dame grad or a 25-year-old couch potato living in your basement. In reality there is no one right choice, every child is different, the needs of every family are different, and over time it will all change anyway. Getting into the “best” preschool is not the goal. Getting into the best preschool for your child is a better goal.
A little preschool prep can relieve some pressure. The first step is actually fun and easy because it involves simply observing the one person you know better than anyone, your child. Here are a few questions and observations you can experiment with as you prep for preschool:
Is my child ready for preschool?
Next time you are at the park, library or play space, observe your child’s behavior while playing with unfamiliar children. How easily does he separate from you? How much does he rely on you to help with toys and social exchanges? How does he respond when another child grabs a toy from him or pushes him? Or is he doing the pushing? Try a Parent’s Day Out program and drop your child off for a couple hours once a week. Sneak in an observation without him or her knowing and pick the teacher’s brain about their strengths and areas for improvement. Enroll in a class that requires your child to follow simple directions from an adult, cooperate with others and communicate. Once you identify trouble spots, experiment by putting him or her in situations where you can help them improve. 
What preschool classroom is right for my child?
Use the data gathered through your observations to interview preschools that differ in educational approach (e.g., Montessori, Co-op, Reggio-Emilia or play-based). Go to their website, visit an open house and observe classrooms in action. Ask for your child to have a practice day in the classroom. Meet with teachers one-on-one, ask for a referral to a currently enrolled family, and inquire about daily and weekly schedules. Match what the preschool offers with what you know about your child and your family. If it isn’t the right match, and it might take a month or two to know for sure, prepare to be flexible. Select a back-up option, keep working on gathering observations, and remember the incredible opportunities you can provide outside the classroom.

RELATED POST:  What is the purpose of kindergarten?

Research in developmental science shows us that children enrolled in preschool and kindergarten environments that provide opportunities for them to practice perspective- taking and controlling their own behavior and emotions in child-directed play-based programming show better academic skills several years later. Why is this so important? A couple years practicing these executive functioning skills will put your child in the best position to succeed in a traditional academic classroom. Bottom line: Don’t rush the academics!
Whether it’s your first child or your fourth, every child is different, and there are so many great preschool options in the Indianapolis area. Try your best not to compare what other parents are doing with their child and don’t be swayed by what some believe is “the best preschool in the city.” Rather, have the confidence that comes with knowing you did your prep to find the best preschool environment for your child.

Urban Chalkboard Founders - Tonya and Jessica - Indy's ChildDevelopmental psychologist Jessica Beer combines her real world experience as a mother with her professional training as a researcher to provide parents with a practical way to apply the most current findings in childhood development research to their everyday life.

Jessica {along with frequent Indy’s Child Magazine contributor Tonya Bergeson-Dana} is also a co-founder of The Urban Chalkboard playcafe located in Carmel, Indiana, and welcomes questions and feedback from readers at [email protected].

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