How To Choose A Good Preschool

How to choose a good preschool

I feel bad writing this post right now because the time to choose a preschool is more in the late winter/ spring since that’s when registration typically falls. However, it’s been a subject on my mind as my daughter attends her second year of preschool and I talk with friends and neighbors about the preschools they’ve chosen for their kids. It made me realize that not all preschools are created equal and there should be a good thought process/ questioning stage before sending our kids off to them. 

First and foremost- preschool is not required. It’s not something you have to sign your child up for, especially because it can be a HUGE financial responsibility when you factor in monthly tuition for 8-9 months for one child, let alone multiple children over multiple years. There are a lot of preschool curriculums you can purchase to use at home if you’re willing. Our favorite is Playing Preschool by Suzy from Busy Toddler.  But there is also NO shame in not doing a full-on preschool curriculum at home with your child either!

If you’re looking for an in-person preschool, here are a few tips and questions you can look into before choosing the correct one for your family: 

Ask about the curriculum and look for keywords like “play” and “social interaction”. It shouldn’t just focus on letters, numbers, shapes, and strict learning. If you have to ask about playtime, that’s a red flag! Almost every preschool will have playtime built into the day, but if it’s not something they bring up without prompting, it’s not their sole focus. 

Here are multiple posts on why preschool is not just letters and numbers: 

There’s More to Preschool Than Letters and Numbers

An entire page on multiple early childhood resources focusing on play, preschool, and independent kids. 

Can you tell our previous writer, Mary, and I are incredibly passionate about this subject?! 

Another tip: tour the preschool if possible! Look at the setup, are art supplies, backpack hooks, toys, and other supplies at a child’s level? This promotes independence and gives children access to a world that often shuts them out. 

Does the space feel safe and somewhere learning can happen? Is it open and ready for play? 

Is the preschool within a reasonable distance from your home, or is there a bus/carpool system? 

Questions to ask: 

Is homework ever required? (Unless the homework is to play, paint, enjoy childhood, or only if the child wants to do it, the answer to this question should always be NO.)

How much is monthly tuition and are there any other fees on top of that? (You need to make sure it’s affordable and sustainable for your family!) 

What school supplies is my child required to have? (Again, affordable and sustainable for your family.) 

What is your goal for the children throughout the school year? (If they say something along the lines of “have them reading before kinder”, please RUN far away and do not incline your 4-5-year-old to the pressures of reading before kinder.) 

What are some daily activities they will be participating in? (Painting, play-dough, pretend play, singing, reading, and other fun activities along those lines are the answers you’ll want to hear.) 

A List Of Our Favorite Toys

Toys are an important part of childhood. They may create clutter and stress in our lives as parents and teachers, but the truth is, they can be essential to our kid’s childhood. They don’t have to be noisy and there doesn’t have to be a lot of them, as long as they are intentional. Here are our favorite toys we keep at our house. In fact, the less noisy and flashy they are, the better development wise. 

Magnet tiles- Learning more about magnets AND the ability to build various structures. They are also an easy add-to collection. Where we can continue to purchase more as gifts to my kids, but our abundance of toys doesn’t feel overrun. 

Wooden blocks- Again, building! Imagination! And sustainable materials. 

Kitchen set with food and dishes- More pretend play has happened in our play kitchen (both outdoor and indoor) than anywhere else in our house. 

Pop open tent- I’m a big fan of these because they fold flat for easy storage behind or under the couch. Our next purchase will be a pop up tunnel. 

Baby dolls- Both my son and daughter love playing pretend with our collection of baby dolls. None of them are very fancy and we’ve thrifted the majority of them. 

Outdoor kitchen with real pots and pans- I spent a weekend thrifting old pots, pans, silverware, and other kitchen dishes that we’ve put into our little playhouse in the backyard. These combined with some dirt and water seem to be our most popular toy! 

The toys you choose to have in your home for your kids don’t have to be extravagant and don’t have to be flashy. In fact, the less batteries required, the better! The more work your child has to do in order to play with the toy, the more learning and growing that is happening. 

What are some of the favorite toys in your house? 

There’s More To Preschool Than Learning Letters & Numbers

I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends lately about their preschool-aged kids and how the majority of preschool teachers are very focused on learning letters. They assign homework or make comments like, “Maybe work with your student on their letters at home, he seems to not be picking them up as fast as other kids.” 

WHY.

Why are we so focused on kids learning letters and reading so early? Why are we adding to the stress and pressure moms feel? Why do we feel like walking away from preschool with every single letter memorized is our end goal here? 

Let’s talk about other skills kids learn and walk away with from preschool that is even more important than letters and numbers. 

  • Social skills- working with other children in play and at learning stations. 
  • Language skills- walking away from school talking better and easier to understand. 
  • Coping skills- how to handle emotions when mom and dad leave or someone takes a toy they wanted. 
  • Responsibility with sensory bins, play dough, paint, toys, and other items. 
  • Fine motor development- working through fine motor activities such as stickers or fingerpaint so later in life, they can do things like…. Hold a pencil. 
  • Gross motor development- jumping and skipping and throwing. 
  • Gaining a love and appreciation for literature.
  • Spatial awareness. 
  • How to open snacks independently. 
  • How to prepare food.
  • How to advocate for themselves. 
  • How to communicate needs and wants. 
  • Empathy and sympathy. 

There is a list of OVER TEN things that preschool-age students walk away with that are essential to the future of their education, yet we are still focusing on learning letters and numbers. Yes, learning letters and numbers are important and we should focus on them as well! But it shouldn’t be our only spotlight. Play is a child’s work, it’s how they learn and grow. If we are giving them adequate time to play and interact with peers and adults, that’s what they need more than anything.  

Please stop adding to the stress of parents and students by shoving numbers and letters down their throats! Please celebrate all of the accomplishments your child is achieving during preschool! 

Other helpful articles: 

Other Activities To Do Instead of Explicitly Teaching Letters

What is Play-Based Learning?

Reading Before Kindergarten

Kindergarten Prep Frenzy

What I’ve Learned Teaching Preschool 

A Whole Page of Early Ed Resources

Early Childhood Resources All In One Place!

Hi friends! A lot of my posts lately have been focused on early childhood and how we can foster this education as parents and teachers. It’s been my focus simply because it’s my daily life right now. I spend the majority of my day fostering the learning of a one-year-old and a three-year-old, so naturally, it’s where my thoughts have been centered.

Because I have been throwing this content at you so much, I felt like it needed a place where it’s all corralled for you for easier searching. Lo and behold! My early childhood page!

You can find the link to this new page here!

Featured on the page are sensory bin lists, tips, and recipes. Some thoughts on raising independent kids. Really great articles on PLAY. And bonus material on emotions in kids and using Myers- Briggs and Enneagram to understand your child better.

This list and page will be ever growing as I continue to create new content in this scope of ideas, so check back later for more articles. You can find this new page on our top banner under “blog”.

Rice Sensory Bin Tips

Hello, early educators and parents of littles who are ready to dive deep into the sensory bin world! Sensory bins can be daunting given the mess that can come with it. But I’m here to help ease your fears and bring more sensory play into the world. First, a few other resources for articles: 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

Tips For Sensory Play In General

Here are my tips specifically for RICE sensory bins. 

SET BOUNDARIES: Before you even begin, set boundaries. Our number one rule is to keep the rice and tools inside the bin. This idea of rice in a bin to play with can be new for the majority of kids and we can’t just assume they know to keep the rice nicely in the bin. Give them good boundaries BEFORE you give them the materials. 

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: One thing I firmly believe is that we have to set kids up for success before we expect them to perform the way we want and expect them to. Even if you set them up for success, accidents still happen. The best solution I have found for keeping rice contained is to put the sensory bin on top of a quilt or rug. Then it can easily be shaken off outside or vacuumed up when you’re done!

KEEP THE BOUNDARIES: When lines are crossed, don’t be afraid to take a break from the rice. Separate the child and the bin however you can, take a minute for a break, and come back to try again for success when you feel the child is ready. 

FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS: Too many tools, not enough tools, or the wrong tools can make or break the sensory bin experience. We’ve done our fair share of experimenting with tools and here are our favorites. 

  1. Scoops and spoons 
  2. Small bowls 
  3. Ice cube trays
  4. Small people or animals for pretend play 
  5. Holiday-themed toys (usually from the dollar store) 
  6. Puzzle pieces for a puzzle find. Expect this to be messier because they’ll be pulling pieces out of the bin. 

PRAISE THE POSITIVE: Applaud and praise the correct behaviors. 
“I love how you’re sharing so nicely with your friend!” 
“You are keeping the rice in the bin so well. I am proud of you!”  

TASTE SAFE IS NOT AN AFTERNOON SNACK: Dyed rice is typically made taste safe (recipe coming soon!). Just because it’s taste safe doesn’t mean it should be eaten. It means you don’t need to call poison control if it ends up in their mouth at some point. With diligent supervision and boundary setting, babies as young as a year old can play with sensory bins full of rice. More on that in the next point. 

The first experience of a sensory bin looks like sitting right next to the child, helping them scoop and play. When rice is inevitably put in their mouth respond with, “Yucky! No no!” and help them spit it out. Repeat over and over. It takes multiple times to remind them and in multiple settings! Be diligent and they’ll understand. Take it away if you need to. 

IT TAKES TIME FOR RICE TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ACTIVITY: To go along with the last point, it takes time for any sensory bin to be an independent activity! If you’re a parent, handing your child a rice bin with toys and tools for the first time so you can make dinner isn’t setting them up for success. Rice bins are a side-by-side activity to teach your child self-control and pretend play. 

In an early childhood educational setting- model, model, MODEL how to play with any sensory activity. Set a responsible adult next to the bin with a handful of kids to monitor and keep the boundaries. 

Given time, independent play with rice is possible! 

Do you have any tips for rice sensory play you can add to this list? 

What I’ve Learned Teaching Preschool

I’ve been teaching my daughter and her little neighbor friend preschool since mid-April. At first, it was very consistent and every day, but now we’ve tapered off since the world is (somewhat) opening up again and we can leave our homes again. We have been using Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum and love it! You can read more about my review here.

Today I want to share a few little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned from teaching on a preschool level. This age and curriculum are somewhat out of my realm, my dream teaching job would be 3rd-4th grade, but I’ve learned a lot teaching this age and learned to adapt to this different age range. 

More play. Less instruction. I knew this before, I live by the phrase “play is a child’s work.” However, sometimes when we put the label “teacher” out there, it’s easy to fall into teacher instruction mode. I found that the less I was involved and the more play that took place, the more learning that came. 

Sing. Sing all of the songs. I’m not a singer!! I know a lot of people say this, but I’m REALLY not a good singer. Guess what? They didn’t care. They just wanted songs. They craved the repetition and beat and learning a new tune. Sing the songs, and sing them loud and silly. 

Consistency is important for them at such a young age. We had our schedule that we did every day (laid out by Playing Preschool), and the days we strayed from it, left something out, or switched it up slightly, the whole lesson was hard for them. Be consistent. 

Not all kids grow up with a #teachermom and do activities like poke toothpicks in an apple, and that’s okay! Our cute neighbor boy that joins us for preschool was doing the apple poke activity. It promotes counting, spacial awareness, and fine motor skills. After he had put two or three toothpicks into the apple he looked at me and asked, “Why am I doing this?” while my daughter sat next to him happily poking her toothpicks because an activity like this is fairly normal in our household! Gave me a good laugh!

Learning letters and numbers isn’t the goal of preschool. Playing is the purpose of preschool, and throwing in the letters and numbers is just an added bonus. I was reminding myself often that just because my daughter still didn’t know that R says rrrrrr by the end of two weeks, it doesn’t mean the two weeks was a fail. We played, we sang, recited poems and painted. So much paint! The purpose of the R unit wasn’t to engrain the letter or sound into her mind, it was to expose her to a new letter, maybe recognize it, and most importantly- to play. 

I think doing this preschool program with my daughter has opened my eyes to what playing for a child truly is. I knew it was important and I knew that’s how they can learn, however, now I realize that it’s not just how they CAN learn, it IS how they learn. It is crucial! 

To you preschool teachers out there, what other tips do you have, or what else can you add to this list? 

My Review On Playing Preschool

A few months back I purchased Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool book to do preschool with my daughter and a little neighbor friend. I wrote a little about the experience here. After a few months of working through the book, I want to write a review to help you decide if it’s the right decision for you. Before I begin, read more about what Playing Preschool entails here.

Pros: 

Lessons are easy to read and organized. Whether you’re an educator or not, there is plenty of information and resources to give you the most success possible. 

We had to take a few weeks off while I worked from home, but it was easy to pick back up again and get started. The lessons are evergreen and can be done at any time of the year. 

Most of the materials were found at home, but mostly because we’ve been doing toddler based activities for a year now. Even if you don’t have all of the materials at home, it’s a worthwhile investment because they are cheap and useful! I don’t know about you, but we go through a pack of construction paper really fast over here! 

Some weeks required more materials such as the cooking unit because we needed a lot of food, but again, nothing crazy expensive and worth the money for the outcome. I went through the supply list of every unit before we got started and made an Amazon Wishlist and shared it with our family members that often like to buy my kid’s gifts so that they would know the books and tools that would be extra useful to us right now! 

The activities do not take a lot of time to set up. I don’t think I ever spent more than two minutes gathering supplies and setting up an activity for the lessons. They are quick and practical! 

The lessons truly are playing. There are no worksheets to print out! It’s all activities to set up for your preschool to explore numbers and letters. There’s a lot of paint and a lot of play! A method I can get behind! 

Cons: 

I loved that each unit had a great book list that really worked hand in hand with each day, but we started Playing Preschool the same time quarantine began, meaning our library was closed! Without the resource of the library, it was so hard to find the specific books she recommended. I did my best to find substitutes (although her suggestions truly are the best books to use). I also tried the free trial of Vooks, but not a single book on the list was found there! You can read my Vooks review here. 

Another solution I found was to buy a few books on thirftbooks.com, they had great prices and free shipping after a certain amount spent! I couldn’t pass up an opportunity at buying new books! We also searched Kindle on Amazon for any free or cheap purchases. Those books obviously aren’t the same as holding a real book, but it did the job! 

The rest I put on my Amazon wishlist for our family members and we received many that way. I also called upon good friends and neighbors to borrow their books. With all efforts combined, I was able to get together all of our books! With access to a public library, this process would not be as difficult as it was for me, but I wanted to share my ideas for others who also may not have access to a library as well. 

The final downside is more on me than on the curriculum itself. I would feel like the entire unit was a failure if we skipped a day or even a single activity. I wanted to get everything in to make sure she understood the concepts being taught. In the introduction of Playing Preschool, Susie the creator of the curriculum explicitly says you do not have to do every activity and it does not have to all be done in one sitting. She suggestions spreading it out throughout the day or splitting it up into two sections if accomplishing everything in one sitting is too much for your preschooler. My type-A personality shone through a lot when I saw each activity as a checklist feeling like I needed to mark everything off. You do not need to do this to have success in the program. 

Overall, I truly have loved Playing Preschool and use it often with my daughter. Even if we are on a break from doing preschool, I can still pull it out and find one or two activities for her to do while I cook dinner or clean the house. It’s great exposure to letters and numbers. My 2.5-year-old has very little interest in her letters and even after a few weeks of playing preschool she can’t name a single letter or letter sound, but she’s still gaining that exposure and teaching her to have a love for learning and reading. Playing Preschool for the win! 

Have you done the Playing Preschool curriculum? Leave your pros and cons in the comments for others to see! 

Cover photo from busytoddler.com