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Even though it’s “only preschool,” what happens before kindergarten matters. So how can you tell if your child’s preschool is good enough? What should you look for?

The first thing to look for is that a child is enrolled. According to Barnett, even poor preschool  is better than no preschool. Children who get no preschool start kindergarten already a year behind. This is because what matters in kindergarten is not so much academic ability – things parents may think they’re providing at home –but habits of mind necessary for school. Children who come to school knowing how to work in a group, how to follow complicated directions, how to do school work, and how to pay attention in the midst of distractions, these children are ready to learn.

The second thing to look for is a teaching staff that knows how to work with children and enjoys teaching them. A good child care or preschool teacher should know how to develop children’s skills in pre-math and pre-reading. She should know how to guide children’s behavior without squelching their curiosity. She should be respectful of children’s ideas and she’s got to be nice. She has high standards but she knows her job is to help children reach them.

In a preschool run by a school district, teachers should all have a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate. They will be well-paid and will have access to lots of professional development. If your school district doesn’t offer a preschool program or if your child is ineligible for your district’s program (some are limited to children with low-income and other risk factors), then find the very best preschool you can with the very best support of its teachers. Ask about a teacher’s college preparation. Ask if the school closes for professional development days (even though this is an inconvenience for you, it’s something you want). Ask about the number of children per teacher. Ask how long teachers typically stay and how quickly they leave.  If you can, watch teachers in action. You are looking for the same professionalism that teachers display at your local elementary school. Are teachers proud of what they do or are they always on the lookout for a better job?

Third, find a place where play is center-stage. Play is the medium by which children learn. Sit down instruction, with children filling in worksheets and memorizing facts, is not a positive thing. It’s inappropriate for young children. In a good preschool, children are moving around, doing interesting things together, as their teachers observe, guide and ask questions.

Noticing a quality preschool or child care center isn’t difficult – the signs are obvious or can be discovered by asking a few questions. Finding a quality preschool may be more difficult. But the results are worth the search.

Your child’s school success is determined in large part by what happens at age three and four. Choose quality for your child.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.


Child care centers do not accept babies younger than six weeks. Does that mean that it’s okay to place your baby in child care at age six weeks?

Well, what is meant by “okay”? Okay means “acceptable” but it doesn’t mean “ideal.” In an ideal situation your baby spends his time during the day with an attentive, caring and intellectually stimulating adult, and with the same adult every day.

Certainly, this ideal situation can happen at home with loving and attentive parents who are not stressed financially, have many social supports, and are content with being full-time caregivers to their children. If this describes you and your situation, then do stay home with your baby. Babies do not need child care. Your child will not miss anything (at least not until age three or four, when children benefit from some sort of group situation away from home).

Here are some infant facts:
•   Babies hear their parents’ voices even before they are born and they can recognize your voice immediately after birth.
•   Babies as young as three days recognize their mothers by smell (and mothers also can recognize their babies by smell even though they might not be aware of doing it).
•   Babies as young as six weeks recognize their mothers on sight and express excitement to see them. Fathers and other family members are recognized too.
•   Babies as young as six months can become depressed when they are separated too long from their families. Depressed babies don’t gain weight and are slow to learn.

At any age, your child will notice that you’re missing. Keep that in mind when you settle on an age to begin childcare.

However, in most families today, the ideal situation combines parental care with care outside the home. Some families need two incomes to get by. For many parents, being home alone with an infant is socially isolating, especially in neighborhoods where no one else is staying home. And for some parents, being home all day makes them crazy. They just can’t handle the caregiving role on a full-time basis. The ideal situation is found in a stable child care environment, where a caregiver can provide the developmental support a baby needs.

So back to the six weeks. The longer you can keep your infant home with you, the better. Six weeks is okay, but 10 weeks is better and 12 weeks is better still. The older your infant is, the more established are feeding routines and the bond between you. The longer you can stay at home together, the better for your child.

Six weeks is okay but not ideal.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.