How do I choose the best pre-school for my child?

National Parents Council Early Years

How do I choose the best pre-school for my child?

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It is widely understood that pre-school care & education offers many long-term benefits to a child’s overall development throughout their primary school years and beyond.  However, it is also said that the full benefits of pre-school can only be felt if it is quality pre-school care and education.  As a parent then it’s important to be able to recognise what quality looks like.  This can sometimes be puzzling particularly if this is the first time for your child to join or visit a pre-school.

Here we have covered key areas for you to consider which are linked to quality care and education in pre-schools.

It is always a good sign in a pre-school when children and their parents are made to feel welcome every time they visit.  When pre-schools work in partnership with parents and value parents being present in the pre-school, it can improve how and what your child learns now and into the future.

Listed below are some examples of quality early years care, and how parents can become involved in their child’s early years education. 

Supportive and Caring Relationships are Encouraged

Key worker or key person programmes are often used in pre-schools to promote a good relationship between pre-school teachers, children and parents. When key worker programmes are in place it can be a sign that the pre-school values their relationship with children and their families.

So, what is a key worker programme? In a pre-school having a key worker programme means that there is one designated pre-school teacher who oversees your child’s care, learning and development. Most pre-school teachers will have a group of children for who they are responsible, but it means that the children will usually have the same teacher each day.

 This pre-school teacher will usually be introduced to you and your child before or on your child’s start date, so they can start to support you and your child throughout the year starting with the transition from home to pre-school.

Why do pre-schools use a key worker programme? Key worker programmes are all about building warm and caring relationships and strong bonds so that your child can feel secure by knowing who will be there for them while they are in the pre-school. This is important because when children are happy, secure and have a sense of wellbeing they are more likely to learn and develop.

Key worker programmes allow pre-school teachers to really get to know the children they are caring for and often they will learn the special individual things about your child. These often include things like knowing the name of your child’s favourite teddy or game to play, right through to recognising that your child is maybe a little tired and is not feeling quite themselves.

This dedicated person is usually just as importantly responsible for building a relationship with you by regularly talking to you and having conversations with you about how your child is learning and developing in pre-school.

Children's learning and development is shared with parents

As parents you can tell your pre-school teacher lots of things about your child which can support their learning and development within the pre-school. You know your child’s personality, strengths, likes, dislikes and the areas where they need a little help, so it’s both important for your child’s learning and development and for the pre-school teacher that you share this information.

For example, your child may love to climb and can reach the top of any climbing frame in seconds, but they may need help zipping up their coat or be nervous about using the bathroom.  An important quality of a pre-school is that they can see a child’s strengths (what they enjoy and are good at) and assist a child with any needs they may have, so they can learn new skills.

There are lots of ways that you can share details about your child with the pre-school. Here we have come up with just a few of them, but if you have ideas of your own share them with your pre-school.

Getting to know your child through you!

Pre-schools will often ask you for information about your child and their family, so they can get know your child better. Knowing unique things about each child, like a favourite pet’s name, languages spoken at home and the names of brothers, sisters and grandparents help pre-school teachers develop a relationship with children and understand them more. The pre-school may ask you to fill out a short form, so you can share this type of information with them, it is sometimes called a Settling In, or Getting to Know You form. It’s useful to have a think about what information do you have that would support your child’s time in pre-school? You may even prefer to talk to your child’s pre-school teacher about this information, so it may be useful to make an appointment.

Open door policy

Some pre-schools have an open-door policy, this is where no appointment is necessary for a parent to visit the pre-school. This can give parents the chance to have regular chats with the pre-school teacher upon drop off and collection and not just on appointment with the Pre-school teacher. Being able to chat informally to your child’s pre-school teacher is useful because often as parents you can have pieces of information about your child which will really help their day in pre-school go well.  For example, you may wish to tell your child’s pre-school teacher they didn’t sleep very well so could be tired, or they are excited to finish off a Lego building they started yesterday. It can also be reassuring to know that you can see your child at any time, particularly if it is their first time away from you or your family.

Learning journals

Some pre-schools have more organised activities to help pre-school teachers and parents to both be a part of children’s learning and development in a combined way. For example, some pre-schools have a special teddy that goes home with the children at weekends and the children have the chance to share stories of what they did together.  Many pre-schools also have Learning Journals for each child. This is a handmade book that follows the child’s individual learning and development throughout the year. It uses items such as photographs and maybe paintings that the children have done and sometimes photographs or art work from home are also included if the child wishes.

When there are chances for parents and pre-schools to come together and share children’s experiences it supports children to feel a sense of belonging, and parents and teachers can both feel more involved.

There is a parent handbook

A Parent Handbook is a collection of useful information put together by the pre-school that will help you understand how the pre-school works on a day to day basis. This should tell you about the service and its policies procedures such as opening and closing times. Some pre-schools have a Partnership with Parent’s policy in the handbook. This Policy will explain how the pre-school will go about building a relationship with you and your family, and how you and your child can have a meaningful voice in your child’s early education and become involved in the pre-school. There are a number of policies that your pre-school is asked to share with you as a requirement of their registration. Contact our helpline or follow this link to Early Years Quality and Regulatory Framework for more information on policies.

The voice of the child is valued

It is important that your child is seen as an individual in their pre-school and each child’s individual voice is heard.  The word “voice” is a term which refers to more than just your child’s spoken voice, but also includes your child’s preferences, choices, thoughts and feelings. For this to happen the surroundings that children play in should be able to offer children choices about important things like who they play with, what they play, where they play and for how long, also giving them opportunities to rest if they wish.

When choosing a pre-school for the first time it may be difficult to decide if the pre-school is doing this.  However, some clues that a pre-school thinks your child’s individual voice is important is when pre-school routines are flexible, for example children can finish an activity or game, even if it runs a little over time or they have an opportunity to go back to it.

Another sign is when children’s work is displayed around the pre-school at their eye level with paintings or drawings showing children’s imagination and creativity. For example, some children might like to paint a purple pumpkin in December or a Christmas tree in March! This shows that what children are thinking about and what they like to draw, or paint isn’t always the same as other children or adults, or as tradition might tell us.  So, when you see this in children’s art it shows that children are supported in being creative and given the time and opportunity to figure things out for themselves.

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