Sue Horne, Head of EYC, Garden International School, gives her advice on what to expect from an early years education and what parents should consider when looking for an early years setting.
Choosing the right school for your child can be a hugely stressful, challenging task. There are a plethora of early year settings all claiming to do this and that, offering something that is just that little bit different from any other school and claiming to be the best for your child. How do you choose the right setting and how do you know that it will be right for your child?
A child's early years is a time when it is essential to ensure the foundations of learning are firmly in place. Strong foundations provide a secure base for the rest of our children's education just as they do in any building. Get it wrong and the building comes tumbling down, the same will happen with their learning.
Choosing a Preschool
Is there ever a correct answer to getting it right in choice of schools? The gut feeling is a good tester, that feeling that you get when something just feels right and everything just seems to fit. The following though, are a few things that should be considered when choosing a school or setting for your child to attend.
It is important for you to work out what you yourself value in a setting and what you want for your child. No one knows your child better than you do. You know his personality, his strengths and weaknesses, you know what makes him excited and what works for him. Make a list of the things that are most important to you in considering a choice of school and put them in order of priority.
Make appointments with various schools and settings to look around and chat with the principal or teaching staff at the school. Look at their website and see what their school vision is, their message from the principal and/or head teacher and what curriculum they cover. This way you can really see for yourself what the school has to offer, how the school feels, and, if what they say on their website, really is the case in the setting.
A setting that concerns itself with the child's health, safety and wellbeing is paramount. Without the child feeling safe, secure and with a sense of well-being, learning will not take place no matter how good the curriculum, teaching staff or resources are.
Curriculum and Approaches
Find out about the school's curriculum and approach to learning. A school that brings out the best in each child by considering them as individuals and planning accordingly is vital at this very early stage of their educational life. Research and ask questions about what they do to ensure that this happens. Talking to others, parents at the school, on the internet and other forums, and finding out how the school is regarded in the community is a another great way to get a 'feel' for the school.
The most important thing to do is to visit the setting during a school day with your child to really get to see everything for yourself. If your child is with you, you are able to take cues from him as to how he feels about the place. Visit classrooms, get a feel for what is going on, see how the children are in the setting, ask your child what he thinks. Try to talk to the teaching staff. Staff who build a great rapport with their students, those who really know each and every child and take time to ensure that each child's well-being is catered for - these are some of the things that make a good setting into an outstanding one. Ask about any routines, structures and schedules for the day, as well as how adaptable they are in the way they can change things around if the need arises. Young children can be unpredictable and may need certain things at different times to ensure that they are able to function positively.
Looking for a place which has a team of qualified, experienced teaching and support staff is important. Another major factor is to see how every member of staff that you encounter reacts to you and your child, from the time that you enter the setting; the greetings from the security team, meeting the office staff, teaching staff and also the ancillary and maintenance staff around the building. You should be looking for positive, professional, happy relationships and a sense of teamwork and community. If everyone who works in the school feels respected in their position then your child will feel this also.
To conclude, above all, whatever the setting you choose, it must feel 'right' for both you and your child. A setting where you are able, on arrival, to see, hear and sense a happy 'buzz' of busy, excited, motivated learners who feel safe, secure and valued is one that you should be looking for.