2016 the year for you to drop your child off with a perfect stranger…
and leave her there?! For some families, it’s when mom goes back to
work; for others, it’s when a toddler is ready for further stimulation.
There are world-class playschools and pre-schools available in South
Africa, and, regrettably, too many badly managed schools as well.
Newspapers regularly report on horror stories about actual experiences.
And for us as parents, this is very, very scary! You want to make
absolutely sure that you are leaving your pride and joy in an
environment where they are safe, stimulated, happy, and well cared for.
Since the first seven years are vital to your child’s development, you
want to make sure that by making the right choice, you will give your
little one the best possible start to “big school”.
Playschools usually take kids from age 2 to 3. The emphasis is on
play, socialisation and enjoyment. You often find home-based playschools
with one owner-teacher, and a helper, looking after a group of
children. These playschools often offer a morning’s only option; some
only operate 3 or 4 times a week. Larger, commercial playschools may
offer longer hours as well as aftercare, and they’re sometimes combined
with a pre-school.
Pre-school usually take kids from age 3 and up, some include Grade R.
This is slightly more formalized with more focus on preparing kids for
‘big school”. Kids are exposed to a variety of activities including,
music, singing, art, puzzles and so on.
Choosing the best playschool (or pre-school, for that matter!) does
not have to be overwhelming. We have a few tips to make your job easier:
• Visit a few schools in your area and take note of word of mouth.
Spend some time interacting with the teachers and the kids. Happy kids
are always a sign of a well-run school. Choose a school where your child
will be happy. You know your child better than anyone. Trust your
instincts on this one.
• Proximity is important.
Close to home is usually
ideal, the friends that your child will make will likely live close by,
making playdates easier. Or, maybe you prefer a school close to work, so
you are able to get to school quickly if they are hurt, or maybe you’ll
want to nip out to share cupcakes with the class on birthdays.
• Is the school registered?
According to law, any
establishment that cares for 20 or more children must be registered with
the Department of Social Development. When registered the Department of
Health is often involved, in terms of food preparation, bathrooms etc.
Peace of mind, right?
• Meet the teacher that will be teaching your child.
Patience, commitment and passion are so important.
• Are the equipment and toys clean, safe and age appropriate?
They don’t need to be fancy. Don’t be impressed by iPads for three-year-olds!
• Ask about the curriculum.
What do the children do in a
typical day? There should be some structure in the programme. The
activities should be broadly directed at the developmental milestones of
the age group, exercising gross motor skills as well as fine motor
skills. Many teachers will post a lesson plan for the week to help
parents engage with their kids at home.
• Ask about the teacher child ratio; the younger the child, the smaller the ratio should be.
The recommended ratio for toddlers is no more than 8 children to one teacher. Check supervision outside and inside.
• Class size.
Watch out for overcrowding. Each child should have 1,5m of unobstructed play area inside and out.
• Holidays could be tricky for full-time working parents.
Enquire about aftercare and all year-round care.
• Discipline policies.
How do they deal with conflict?
The way the school handles social and emotional issues should be similar
to your approach at home. Listen for positive discipline, “Remember to
walk in our classroom” instead of “Stop running!” Or “I want you to use
your indoor voice” instead of “Stop shouting!” What about the noise
level? Is there a lot of crying, tantrums or shouting?
• What about potty training?
When a child has an accident, how is it handled?
Are teachers trained in CPR? Is there a plan in case of emergencies?
Parenting is all about instinct; it has to feel right from the word
go. So, start early, do your homework, and apply to the school that you
feel most comfortable with.