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How to Make the Most of Your Child's Preschool Years

How to Make the Most of Your Child's Preschool Years

An early childhood education expert shares preschool pointers, from assessing potential preschools and what makes a good preschool teacher to the advantages of preschool and how to prepare your child for the preschool setting.

Do you know what to expect from preschool? Especially in our region, it’s important for parents of young children to research their options in advance and register for preschool in a timely manner. Lauriston Avery, an authority on early education and director of Five Mile River Nursery School in Rowayton, CT, guides us through the process and gives tips on how to make the most of this golden developmental period.

What are the specific advantages of preschool for our children?

When children aged newborn to 5 are engaged in active experiences, the brain fires neurons. After that age, the brain sheds any unused neurons, so this is clearly a critical period. Kids must have the option to make their own discoveries, to have a sense of self as a learner. Watching bugs, using building blocks—in an accredited preschool facility this isn’t just “child’s play”—is a chance for children to gain background knowledge that they can draw on later when they get into an academic class. If a classmate just returned from a beach vacation, this is a teachable moment for the whole class—how the plane works, what the ocean looks like, how the islands got there. A good preschool teacher can use such an event to bring out content knowledge, as well as thought processes and vocabulary. In preschool, you learn that learning is its own reward.

Are there some types of children who are not suited to preschool?

No child should be expelled from preschool. This is actually their opportunity to learn to behave. The so-called challenging child, or one with special needs, or a child with a social deficit—these are kids who need help, so it’s important to give them additional support. And the way to do that is to provide more staff, and to set up the environment so that these kids can be successful in it. They need experiences that teach them how to interact appropriately, to learn cause and effect.

How do I best prepare my child for preschool?

Tell your child how lucky he or she is to be able to go to school. Explain that the teacher is going to be caring for you just like Mommy or Daddy do. Read to him, and give him experiences that relate to the reading—take him on walks, introduce him to new things, cook together, go on a trip, on a visual hunt. Open-ended conversations are the foundation of all literacy development, because you are opening up the pragmatic uses of language. And the more you try to understand your child, the more he or she trusts you and your decision making—which means the more confident your child will be about preschool.

What should parents be focusing on as goals for their child at this stage?

A child should be developing in the following domains: academic, cognition, physical, self-care skills, personal and social skills, and creative skills. It’s just as important for a child to learn how to get along with his peers and to listen to an authority figure as it is to be able to problem-solve. As for the creative skills—art, music, movement, dramatic play, block building—this integrates all the content that has been laid out for them.

What questions do you like parents to ask when assessing a preschool?

I recommend that parents ask what the preschool’s philosophy is, what the attitude toward discipline is, and inquire about the school’s approach toward development. I tell parents: Ask what we feed your kids, ask us anything!

What is the best way for parents to handle constructive criticism of their child?

It’s important to look at where the child is now, and where she’s going next. If a child is struggling to cooperate with her peers, hitting, biting, etc., we design experiences that help the kids get through it. [Preschool teachers] are very, very patient. Once the kid has overcome a negative behavior on her own, she gets a great feeling of achievement. We also advise a continuum of care, so that parents can take our methods home and continue to work on any issues there.

What makes a good preschool teacher?

A good preschool teacher needs to be specifically trained in child development. He or she should be personally well educated, with good general knowledge and vocabulary. Good teachers must model for children how to learn, so they need to be able to think out loud and work out loud, so that kids can see how to approach a problem and how to solve it.

They should also be kind and firm and friendly. A good teacher will work hard to make all kids feel that they contribute. When kids feel valued and safe, they learn better. A teacher who is overly disciplinarian will just frighten kids and prevent learning from occurring.

What do you consider to be some of the most effective teaching methods?

Our main method is to provoke an investigation, a project. For example, one of our classes just learned about dentistry. The teacher started out with some questions: What do you know about teeth? How do you use your teeth? What food is good for your teeth? etc. Then we played with white Lego pieces and toothbrushes. We also played with egg cartons painted white and used yarn for floss. In addition, we try to bring the parent in as much as possible. For example, a father of one of our students is a tree surgeon, so he came to our preschool and showed the kids all his tools, even climbed out on a branch. The kids were wowed!


Lauriston Thrush Avery, M.S.Ed., is the founder and director of the NAEYC-accredited Five Mile River Nursery School in Rowayton, CT. She is a member of the Norwalk Early Childhood Council, serving on their professional development programs and transition to kindergarten sub-committees.


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