Q: How do I choose a preschool or early childhood program for my children? A: Look for meaningful interactions between teacher and student.
Parents often ask how to choose a preschool for their child. As an early childhood teacher and educational consultant, I have been privileged to see a wide variety of preschool programs in Chicago and other cities around the U.S. I answer, “How do you choose a perfect preschool?” with the suggestion to look for interaction between adults and children. This may seem like the simplest of criteria, but it is crucial.
When Harvard University did a study on what makes an excellent preschool program, they included my classroom at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago in their study. As the Harvard observer left my classroom, clipboard in hand, I asked him what they were learning. He said it was clear that adult-child interaction is key. “So it is just the quality of the interaction that is crucial for success?” I asked him.
“No, just adult-child interaction at all,” he said. I was astonished.
When parents are faced with the decision of choosing the perfect preschool, they should remember that the business of schools is built around relationships. Good schools and pre-schools teach content through relationships. In my recent observations of successful preschool classrooms at Francis W. Parker School, Mary Meyer School and Catherine Cook School in Chicago, I can say without hesitation that ongoing, meaningful, and thoughtful interactions between adults and children are omnipresent.
For example, I recently co-taught a pre-school math lesson on symmetry at Catherine Cook School, helping small groups of students use my iPad game, Snowflake Station, to explore the topic. Not only was this lesson masterfully interwoven into their preexisting math and science curriculum, but the setup (semi-circular table with four iPads) was effective for interacting with each group. Whenever visiting a school as a prospective parent, I suggest that you look for these types of small-group learning situations.
Their small-group setting allowed me and another colleague to be nearby as children described their observations about their symmetrical designs created on Snowflake Station. Student comments like “look how it cuts through the middle” or “I counted eight sides. Is that an octagon?” deserve thoughtful adult responses. In this classroom, on the cutting edge of iPad education, talented adults and talented children are constantly learning from one another. That’s the richest kind of preschool educational experience, and the kind you should want for your children when choosing a preschool.