Thursday, June 17, 2010

Preschool Checklist

Before my girl started preschool, I already had a checklist for the kind of play/preschool/kindy I want for her. As I have been on both sides of the fence (as a teacher/center coordinator/parent), I thought I'd share this checklist with you all. Of course, it's not exhaustive as it again boils down to parents' preference for their kids. That's why when people ask me "Is this or that school good?", I want to ask them "What do you mean by 'good'?" Simply because what I think is 'good' may not be their idea of 'good' and vice versa.

Here's my checklist. For mothers who have preschool children, feel free to add more if necessary, ya?
1) Safety
- Does the school keep the doors and gates locked after arrival time?
- Does the school administrators/teachers ask for details of persons dropping off/picking up the child?
- Do they call you in the event that an unrecognized person comes to pick up the child? 
- Do they have fire escape/exits and conduct regular fire drills? 
- Do they have men in the school? Parents should inform school management if they're not     
comfortable with a male teacher/assistant having close contact with children.
- In case parents are late in picking up the child, will a trusted staff/teacher stay with the child (terms and conditions may apply)?

2) Hygiene and Health
- Do the school staff spring clean the classes regularly?
- Do they take children's temperature before entering the school/classes?
- Do they discourage sick children from attending school?
- Does the overall physical setting look clean, neat and tidy?
- Is the grass trimmed/mowed regularly to prevent pests nesting there?
- Do they fumigate the school regularly?
- How do the teachers guide the children to wash their hands?
- Do they practice the 7 steps of hand washing before and after meals, after toileting and after play?
 - Are the toilets clean and regularly washed?

3) Teachers
- Are the teachers trained? Do they have certificate/diploma/degree in Early Childhood Education or related courses e.g. Montessori or certificate/diploma from Persatuan Tadika Malaysia (PTM)?
- Who is the teacher who will have direct and regular contact with my child on a daily basis?
- Does the teacher speak fluently in English/Malay/Mandarin? (this will directly influence your child's language development i.e. whether he/she will speak well or come back with 'rojak' language)
- Does the teacher have good character e.g kind, responsible, shows initiative, caring..etc? (Admittedly, this is hard to tell with first impression although talking to the teacher herself will give you a general idea. A good indication is your child's account of daily on goings in school: "Teacher said this/that or did this/that"... I once knew a teacher who would pinch children's food!)

4) Location
- Distance from home is a BIG consideration unless one doesn't mind driving a lot and going through heavy traffic during peak hours or waking your child up REALLY EARLY to go to school.

5) Programme
- Do they integrate play into their daily programme?
- What programme do they use? Montessori? Thematic? Or some overseas franchise? Is it a religious/faith-based school?
- How do they balance it out with academic skills e.g. reading, writing, counting...etc?
(It's important to get a clear picture of what they're doing because sometimes the school's owner or marketing person may sell you one thing but do something else altogether. One school told me "Oh, we do a lot of hands-on, manipulative activities and learning through play. Very fun!" But we found out afterward that it was a lot of writing, writing, more writing and less hands-on activities for the kids.)
- Do they allow children to have outdoor play? How often? Any water or sand play?
- Are the activities DAP (Developmentally Appropriate)? (Some parents like the idea of giving 6 year old kids Primary 2 paper work but not me...)
- If the programmes are more inclined to academic skills, how strict are they? e.g. Would they make a child write repeatedly until it's near 'perfect' or do they allow time for individual growth?
- Do they conduct exams/tests/assessments? (If a school were to follow ECE philosophies strictly, no such thing should be conducted at all. But in reality that is not always the case as most parents prefer it as an indication of their child's 'learning'. Again, depending on various school's stand on this matter; education vs. business. If however, it is inevitable, it is up to the parents whether they pressure the child or not; whether the concern is the process vs. end product of learning. Alternatively, parents can make it a fun activity without stressing on results/mistakes as well as consider individual child's capability)
- Do they organize field trips/excursions? 
- What functions does the school organize as part of their learning programme? e.g. Mother's Day event where children get a chance to perform and speak publicly.

6) Parent-Teacher Communication (PTC)
- Do they organize Parent Teacher Meeting at least twice a year?

- Do the teachers practice open communication with the parents i.e. meet up with parents at a requested time to discuss child's progress? (I always emphasize on regular parent-teacher communication so parents know what is happening in school, can get to know their child's teacher well and express their expectations to the teachers regarding the child. This is so that teachers know what parents require for their child and will adjust their activities accordingly e.g. I always tell my child's teachers I don't want them to pressure her when it comes to spelling/dictation. It's more important to me that she does her best. Getting perfect handwriting or 100% in spelling is not my primary concern now)
- Do they have a PTC book so parents and teachers can communicate regularly even though they can't meet? Alternatively, teacher/school send letters home weekly/biweekly to update parents on child's progress? (varies from school to school)
- Does the school practice parental involvement in school activities?

7) Physical Setting/Arrangement
- Is it spacious/congested?
- Is it a warm and conducive environment for learning or does it feel stifling?
- Do they have a lot of age-appropriate toys that are displayed in clear corners? e.g. dress up corner, block play, puzzle corner, play dough table, art corner...etc
- Is it bright and inviting vs. dim and gloomy?
- Is the furniture and toilet child appropriate/child-sized?
- Are the children's shoe shelves, chairs clearly labeled to teach them ownership and responsibility over their items as well as respect for others'?
- Are the outdoor equipment safe, sturdy and durable?
- Do they place non-slip mats in slippery areas e.g toilets, outdoor play area..etc

8) Fees
- Half day session can range anywhere from RM100 - RM300++ depending on the kind of school and their sessio. Also, depending on urban areas/rural areas/states. In Klang Valley, I'm sure the amount is RM300 minimum for half day session. (Anyone in Klang Valley with preschool kids??)
- In Singapore, my brother-in-law with a preschool age daughter told me the standard fee is S$500++ for a basic full day session minus enrichment activities. There's a different fee for those with PR status and citizens. As he holds only PR status, he is paying S$800+ . (Any mamas in Singapore who can share more about this?)
- Full day would of course be double that amount plus extra charges for lunch, bath, enrichment activities, if any.
- Some preschool require a big deposit or one-off payment but monthly fees are reasonable e.g. In Kuching, Lodge School's required deposit is RM6500 with monthly fee averaging RM210.
- Religious kindergartens/preschools are usually more economically priced e.g. RM100 monthly
- Nowadays, preschool education can cost more than our tertiary education as early as 10 years ago.

9) Teacher-Student Ratio
- Ideally, it should be something like below:
Toddlers (15 to 30 months)
Maximum of 10 children
One degreed teacher for every five toddlers 

Ages 2 ½ to 3 ½
Maximum of 16 children
One degreed teacher for every eight children 

Ages 3 ½ to 6
Maximum of 20 children
One degreed teacher for every 10 children

- However, unless the preschool is very exclusive (read: expensive!) it's difficult, if not impossible to find the above ratio. Simply because in Malaysia, No. 1 There aren't enough trained, let alone ECE degreed teachers.  No. 2 Most preschools are very commercial/business-oriented, so they want to cram in as many children as possible into one class.

10) Special Consideration
- Can the school make allowances for special cases e.g. child with food allergy by excluding such food in his school snacks. Or perhaps a child with certain medical condition e.g. asthma
(Some schools may not want to accept children with medical conditions to save them the 'trouble')
- Does the school welcome/integrate children with special needs/learning disability? (This is usually a bit more challenging because we severely lack trained teachers for special needs children. However, when I was teaching in Klang Valley, an autistic girl was included in our class so she could have social contact with other children as opposed to one-to-one learning therapy at home. There are also horror stories that I heard of e.g. school staff locking a Down Syndrome child in a cage/room to isolate her from other children--but they accept her into the school for the money. Despicable but it happened!)

11) Food
- Does the school hire a cook to prepare morning snack, lunch and evening tea?
- Do they have a weekly menu of the food?
- Do they encourage children to bring their own food instead? (as long as it is halal, no pork leg rice, for sure..)
- If they prepare the food, are the ingredients fresh or do they involve processed foods as well? e.g. nuggets, french fries, fish/meat balls..etc
- Do they put MSG in the food?
- Does the cook observe hygiene by wearing a head cover/apron/gloves?

12) Racial Diversity
- Do they have children of other races or is it predominantly one particular race only?
(We like a class with various races so our child will have the opportunity to learn different cultures, festivals and accept that people are beautifully different. Again, this depends very much on the location the school is in.)

13) Television
- Do they keep a television set in school?
- Do they let children watch tv and how often?
(Some schools let children watch tv/dvd as part of some themes' activities e.g. watch foetus in womb, which is fine if it's not done often. However, with a tv in school, it can be a convenient 'escape' for teachers/assistants to just switch on a cartoon for children instead of conducting interactive activities.)

Ok, that's all I can think of for now. Again, mamas, add on if you feel there are areas I may have missed out ya? 

Carpe Diem, ladies!


Sharon said...

TV in school??!! Seriously??! I get it if they have a special tv room but switching on cartoons during school hours should not be allowed. Like that, stay home better lah. Least we can control what they watch.

becky said...

That's why when checking out preschools, these are questions you can bring up.

One school owner vehemently said she's against switching on tv at all even though it may be a full day session. So, when a school owner/principal has that stand, the teachers/ assistants have to comply. therefore, they have to organize interactive activities instead of just flipping a dvd on.

One purpose built tadika in Ampang where I did my practical had a mini cinema so they brought children there for Teletubbies show once a week, during morning sessions. So, some parents may not like it, some parents don't mind... So, again, ask and find out if the preschool's practice is to your preference/not.

becky said...

If your child comes home telling you "Today I watched this and that show in school.." and you feel strongly against it, then bring it up to the principal saying you dislike such practice. or, before you enrol your child, you can already state you don't want any TV watching in school. If they don't want to comply, maybe can reconsider another school...

Sometimes, some schools may switch on a dvd during transition time e.g. dismissal and lunch time. Some schools' teachers are more hardworking so they do story telling or games or singing while children wait to be picked up.