Top Questions to Ask on a Preschool Tour: A Parent's Guide

Before I get into this week's post, I wanted to share a wonderful podcast I found just this week. It's called Dream Big and it's actually hosted by 8-year-old Eva (with a little help from her mom). My kids and I just started listening to it in the car and it is really inspiring and entertaining. In each episode, Eva interviews a person who dreamed big and is now living their dreams with a cool job like neuroscientist, astronaut or entrepreneur. If you're looking for non-screen time entertainment that actually inspires your kids and sparks conversation, check out Dream Big!

The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

Now on to this week's post...
You walk into a pre-K classroom and you see several groups of 4-year-olds playing at different areas in the room. One group of students is playing at a pretend grocery store. They are deeply immersed in "buying" and "selling" toy fruits and vegetables. A teacher stands nearby and asks them open-ended questions like, "what does the cashier do?" or "how much does a banana cost?" 
Another group of students is building with blocks on the floor. They are working together to build a tall tower. Another teacher is asking probing questions like, "how many blocks do you have stacked so far?" and "what will happen if we stack another block?"

As a naive bystander, you wonder if the kids here are really learning anything? I mean, aren't they just playing? What are the teachers doing just playing with them? You start to wonder if preschool is really worth the money you are paying for it.

As a parent, you may have had an encounter similar to this one. Maybe you were touring preschools in search of the right one for your child. Perhaps you saw this as you watched your child at preschool prior to pick-up time.

As adults, we often have preconceived notions about what "schooling" should look like and include. Doesn't preschool mean a teacher in front of a group of kids instructing them in the ways of ABC's and 123's? What is often missed is the subtlety of how children learn and the beauty of children's development. Research and real-life experience tell us that all people learn best when they are actively engaged with whatever it is they are learning. This is especially the case for young children.

And what engaged kids more than anything else? Play! Although kids can learn through worksheets and flashcards, the lessons that benefit them the most and that they will keep in their little brains for years to come are those learned through hands-on engagement, which usually happens through play.

The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

In her new book, The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children, author Suzanne Bouffard brings to light these issues of learning, play, and child development. As I mentioned on my Facebook Live last week, this book is must-read information if you have a child approaching pre-K's why:

** Packed with research, but still approachable. It takes real skill to pack lots of research into a book and it not sound like a textbook. However, Suzanne Bouffard does it! She uses a wonderful storytelling style and incorporates the top research in the field in such a way that it's enjoyable to read. You feel like you are just following along with a few families as they visit preschools.

** Explains play-based education. For me, this was one of the big highlights of the book--a detailed explanation (with examples!) of play-based education and WHY it is the preferred method for teaching young children. As a parent, this is what you want to know--how is my kid learning through play and what does it look like in real life. This book delivers on this point.

** Why education policy matters. I think many parents struggle with understanding how national education policy and funding affects their local schools. This book explains in real-life examples how national policies towards early education and K-12 education impacts preschools in our country. If you want insight into how schools in lower SES neighborhoods struggle or why staffing in preschools is so difficult, this opens the door to all those issues.

The Value of Play-Based Learning (at School or Home)

All these points are wonderful, but perhaps the best lesson I learned from the book was one that may not be so easy to see. Her discussion of how preschoolers learn and examples of play-based learning gave me more confidence as a parent that I can help my child learn through play at home. Many of us send our kids to preschool (myself included) but the other 5 or 6 hours of the day I sometimes struggle to know how to engage him in play and not allow him to zone out in front of a screen. This book really offers insight into the use of open-ended questions, open-ended toys and an understanding of how preschoolers learn to help parents incorporate guided play at home. After reading this, I realized all the little things I do with my 4-year-old at home or while running errands really do help him learn important lessons. Singing songs, asking him questions, teaching him about how things work in the world, are not just wasted words...this is actually the best way for him to learn.

This video explains the benefits of play for learning:

Hopefully, you will find this aspect of the book helpful as well and gain confidence in your ability to parent your preschooler in such a way that incorporates a bit of playful learning.

Are you searching for a preschool or pre-K program for your child soon? Not sure what to look for?

Sign up and download this FREE Parent's Guide to Pre-K. Take it with you on your preschool tour!
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Click below to see related posts:

The Hidden Effects of Early Childhood Programs

Why Preschoolers Don't Follow Instructions (and ways to help)

The Subtle Beauty of Child Development: What is Lost When We Push Too Hard

The Most Important Year

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What to Look for in a Preschool Program--A Parent's Guide

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