Five key things to look out for when choosing a pre-school for your infant/toddler
Starting your child on their pre-school journey could bring a bout of jitters for both you and your child. With the wide range of pre-schools in the market, choosing a suitable one for your infants or toddlers can be difficult and overwhelming.
Taking the time to visit the pre-schools you have shortlisted is important as this gives you the opportunity to interact with the staff. During your visit, keep in mind to “look, listen and feel”- look at the physical infrastructure and resources; listen to the sounds and conversations; and feel the atmosphere in the centre. With this approach, here are some of the key things to look out for when choosing a pre-school for your young ones.
Young children thrive in secure and trusting relationships. Such relationships with significant people in their lives promote growth, healthy development, and a positive sense of well-being. In an early childhood environment, educators play a crucial role in developing secure relationships with each child. Observe the interactions between the educators and children. Is it warm and respectful? Are there one-on-one interactions? Are children addressed by their names? Are there conversations about what children do and see? Does the educator talk to or sing with the infant during a diaper change? While educators work as a team to care for the children, it is beneficial for each child to have a key person whom they feel comfortable and bond with and act as a secure base to give them the confidence to explore and learn new experiences.
NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool recognises the importance of early experiences. The heart of our birth-to-three program is the Relationships-Based Curriculum (RBC) where each infant and toddler has a primary caregiver or key teacher who observes and plans meaningful experiences for the children based on their interests and development. This gives children an overall sense of security and well-being and in turn, fosters their learning.
Sense of Agency/Control
A quality early childhood environment fosters a sense of “I can do it”, where infants and toddlers have opportunities to make choices and recognize that they can influence everyday decisions. Do you notice educators doing things with children, rather than for children, recognizing even the youngest children as capable? Are children participating in everyday routines, such as a toddler retrieving an item from his or her bag? Do you hear remarks that encourage children to try things out? Asking children simple questions, such as ‘which shirt would you like to wear today?’, or ‘what book would you like me to read?’ show respect for their feelings and opinions. Even very young infants express their preferences, such as by gazing or pointing. My First Skool’s RBC is designed to help children develop their thinking and communication skills, psychosocial and physical self and aims to develop a child with the “I can do it” spirit.
Sense of Self
The profound question, “Who am I?”, begins from infancy. Supportive early childhood environments help children develop an awareness of who they are as individuals, and in relation to others. Every child is different, each with a unique temperament, or a set of biological traits, that contribute to one’s emerging personality shaped throughout life. In your conversations with centre staff, do they talk about children positively, and as individuals, with unique strengths, interests and needs? Are there differing approaches based on each child’s temperament? Does the centre reflect the creativity of the children’s works rather than take a cookie-cutter approach?
Sensitive and intentional responses that value children as individuals significantly contribute to their positive self-image and foster healthy social relationships. Besides adopting the Relationships- Based approach and having educators who facilitate quality interactions with children, My First Skool’s learning environment is designed to build and display our children’s competence and autonomy. For example, we showcase the children’s various artworks within our centres.
Health and Safety
A healthy and safe environment supports young children’s active exploration. Infants and toddlers interact with the world through their senses. Their sense of curiosity makes them touch and feel almost everything within their reach. Look around the centre and see if you are comfortable with its level of hygiene and cleanliness. Do you notice practices such as health checks, washing of hands, etc.? Speak to the centre staff to better understand the centre’s approach on managing a sick child and emergencies.
Are the centre and the furniture well-designed to be safe for children? Are the children well- supervised during play and routines? The learning environment of My First Skool is designed with the well-being of children in mind. Our pre-school spaces and equipment are designed to be well- ventilated, ensure children’s safety and suit each developmental stage so that children will enjoy spending time in their classrooms. The environment is clean and uncluttered to give children a sense of space and calmness to play in. There are also cosy nooks and corners for children to rest and read a book.
Young children are like scientists, with an innate drive to find out how the world works. Play is a window to understand what infants and toddlers are thinking and trying to figure out. Does the centre encourage both indoor and outdoor playtimes for the children including the infants? Are there open-ended materials, such as balls, blocks, and boxes? Though seemingly simple, these items are often what children find the most fascinating as they can play with them in a variety of ways. Also, the freedom to explore the increasing physical capabilities of their bodies builds confidence and enables them to pursue their curiosities. Do children have opportunities to use their whole bodies for unrestricted, large muscle movements such as crawling, pushing and pulling, climbing and running? With conducive conditions for play, learning naturally happens with children being inquisitive and engaged in what they are doing. This is why My First Skool emphasizes and encourages indoor and outdoor play through engaging and enriching activities. For example, My First Skool’s Early Years Centre (EYC) at 2 Punggol Drive which is our largest EYC to date with five big playscapes, provides ample outdoor play opportunities. It has interesting elements such as various outdoor and indoor play areas to provide children with more opportunities for socializing and learning.
When choosing a pre-school for your child, remember the above-mentioned key points and you’re one step closer to providing a happy, healthy early years’ experience for your child! Find out more about what My First Skool has to offer here.
About the Authors
With 30 years of classroom teaching as Early Childhood childcare teachers and leadership experience collectively, Yong Foong Ling and Cynthia Tan are currently Education Development Specialists in NTUC First Campus. They are involved in curriculum development, conducting professional development workshops and providing onsite support to principals and teachers on curriculum implementation. Both are also pursuing their doctoral studies, specializing in infant-toddler care and education.