11 things to note when choosing a preschool

Use our handy checklist to compare different preschools, so as to make the right decision for your little one.

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So, it’s time for your peewee to take his first step into formal education ― preschool!

A new bill was passed in parliament in February this year mandating that all preschools will have to renew their licences within three years, to ensure that they maintain their standards.

And whether your child is 12 months old or 36 months old, we are sure that you, as a parent, would like to have assurance that you pick the right preschool for your child.

Your choice preschool facility could feature caring teachers, a comprehensive curriculum, state-of-the-art facilities, and be priced decently. Or perhaps it’s a particular learning style you’re looking for ― such as the Montessori or the Reggio Emilia approach.

Take a look at our checklist of factors to consider, so that you can whittle down your preschool choices.

1. Location
One of the most crucial factors that parents consider is where the preschool, or childcare centre is located. You may want to pick a preschool that is located closest to your home ― for the convenience of dropping your child off and picking her up at the end of each day. Or perhaps, if you have another caregiver to do the preschool runs, like your mum-in-law, you might want to pick a preschool that’s located closer to her home.

Another option is to opt for a school that is located close to your workplace. Cynthia Loo, mum to Declan, 4, placed her son in a childcare centre next to her Bukit Timah workplace. “Most preschools penalise you for picking your child up late ― I didn’t want to stress over that, so I picked the preschool located in the same building as my office. I can even pop down to check on him during my lunch break,” she explains.

If this is the first time your child is entering a classroom setting, or leaving you for more than a couple of hours, you may worry about things like separation anxiety.

2. Duration
Determine the type of hours you’d like your child to spend in school. Preschools in Singapore offer either half- or full-day services. A day-long programme usually runs from around 7am to 7pm, while a half-day programme is from 7am to around 1pm.

If this is the first time your child is entering a classroom setting, or leaving you for more than a couple of hours, you may worry about things like separation anxiety. So, a half-day option may suit him better till he becomes more familiar with the preschool environment.

Or consider a kindergarten, which feature programmes that usually last for about 3 hours every weekday, such as from 8am to 11am. The exact timings in each preschool varies.

3. Budget
The cost of preschool in Singapore can vary anywhere between $300 a month, to over $2,000 a month, so pick something that is within your price range. There are also subsidies available for full-day and half-day childcare ― from $300 for a basic full-day programme subsidy, and from $150 for a basic half-day programme subsidy. Find out more about how you can reduce your preschool costs here.

4. Accreditation
To ensure that preschool you are keen to register your child in meets certain standards, you might want to ensure that it is accredited under the Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework (SPARK) mark. The Ministry of Education introduced the SPARK certification to raise the quality of preschools in Singapore. So, supervisory checks on areas like health, hygiene and safety are conducted before certificates are issued.

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5. Values
It’s a good idea to pick a preschool that promotes values similar to the ones you teach at home. Talk to the school teachers and principals about how they deal with things like conflicts between students, and discipline. Ask about the core values of the school, how they promote or teach things like kindness and forgiveness. Some kindergartens also have religious affiliations – you may want to explore those if you want your child to pick up certain religious values.

6. Teaching methods
Confused by all the educational jargon and methodology being thrown around? Here are three common ones that some preschools may subscribe to:

* The Montessori method Besides kids getting a hands-on approach to learning, the method believes that each child learns at his or her own pace (no comparing to the other kids).

* Reggio Emilia approach A method that’s driven by the child’s innate curiosity to learn and understand the world around them. In this child-driven approach, if your toddler asks about the ocean, the teacher will spin a lesson around it.

* Waldorf approach A structured approach to play-based learning. Your child spends certain days of the week doing things like baking, role-playing and gardening. It emphasises no screen-time and opts for natural wooden toys instead of battery-operated ones to inspire creative thinking.

Even if the preschool you are eyeing doesn’t follow a specific teaching philosophy, you may want to find out about their curriculum, and how much emphasis it places on completing worksheets and being graded in tests.

7. Class size
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has certain requirements for the ratio of the number of teachers to students in preschool. It is currently 25 children to 1 teacher for Kindergarten 2 classes, and 20 children to 1 teacher for Kindergarten 1 classes. Of course, the numbers may be smaller in certain preschools, so keep that in mind if you are prefer a more interactions between students and teachers.

If the school has teachers who have been there a long time, it points to a low staff turnover rate.

8. School staff
When picking your child’s preschool, find out about the school’s teaching staff ― how long have the teachers been there, and what qualifications do they have? If the school has long-serving teachers, it points to a low staff turnover rate. This benefits the kids, as it takes time for teachers to build a trusting relationship with the students ― something that is difficult to develop if there is a revolving door of teaching staff.

9. Extras
These days, many preschools have add-ons and enrichment classes beyond the basic programme. These could include sports, dance, art, science and abacus classes. Find out if these classes are conducted in-house, or if the preschool engages third-party vendors to conduct the programmes. Are the classes incorporated into curriculum time, or are these extra lessons conducted after regular school hours? By the way, such classes usually require additional fees, so do take that into account when calculating preschool costs.

10. Safety and hygiene
As your child’s safety is of paramount importance, you should find out what child safety measures and precautions the preschool has put in place. For instance, does the school do daily temperature checks? What happens if a child has a suspected contagious illness like HFMD? Where are the first-aid kits in the preschool located, and are there preschool staff who are trained in basic first aid and CPR?

You may also want to find out what the preschool’s policy is on reviewing CCTV footage, and how it organises pickups and drop offs. How does the school ensure that the caregivers are verified before releasing a child to them?

A school visit or tour will give you an insight into the school’s level of hygiene, whether the premises are child safe, and how daily meals are prepared. If your child has allergies, it is a good idea to find out how the school practises food safety.

11. The environment
Take your child along with you when you visit the preschool ― it will give you an idea how she will take to the new environment. Is she excited or hesitant? Let the teachers interact with her ― are they able to connect with her?

Check out the classrooms. Do children’s art pieces adorn the walls? Are there educational posters mounted at your child’s eye level? Are the kids in the classrooms contented and enthusiastic about what they are doing?

Watch how the teachers interact with the kids ― do they talk at them? Or do they come down to the child’s level, make eye contact and talk to the child?

What kinds of playthings are available around the school? Are the kids welcome to tinker with them? Are there outdoor play facilities? These give an indication as to how much emphasis the preschool places on play – which is extremely important in your child’s development.

12. Your instinct
Above all, go with your gut feeling when it comes to choosing the ideal preschool for your little one. You may not be able to check all the boxes that meet your requirements, but it often comes down to this question ― can you picture your child being happy at this school? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should consider registering junior in this preschool.

Photos: iStock

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