Getting the right start

PARENTS these days realise the importance of early childhood education and they don't need to be coerced to enrol their children in pre-schools.

The question is which pre-school should they send their children to?

If your children are ready for pre-school, you would probably be asking around for recommendations from friends, family members and the online community.

This is one way to narrow down the choices available, but what is good for another child might not be suitable for yours.

Discuss with your spouse and decide on the values which you consider important: emotional intelligence, obedience, academic success, independence, critical thinking, etc.

With a checklist in mind, your search will be more focused. Here are some factors to consider.

Price

Work out a budget to figure out how much you can afford. But beware of kindergartens that are too cheap as it speaks of the quality of the programme.

I'm sure you've heard of the saying, 'when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys'.

That being said, it doesn't necessarily mean that the expensive schools have excellent quality.

Look at the hidden costs. Besides school fees, there are registration fee, material fee, music fee, sports fee and a host of other costs.

Add them up and divide them by 12 to get a monthly average.

Distance

Housewives may be willing to sacrifice a great deal of their time in chauffeuring their kids around town. But is this a wise decision?

Think about the commuting time. Peak-hour traffic can be crazy. Could you car-pool with those within the same vicinity? Does the school provide transportation?

When push comes to shove, are you willing to shift closer to areas with good schools?

Curriculum

Look beyond the vision and mission of a school. The practice may not match with the vision and mission statements.

Consider the school schedule. Young children need time for free play and some unstructured activities.

Are there lots of hands-on activities or is the focus on workbooks?

This ties in to the values that you consider important.

If academic success is paramount to you, workbook galore would float you on cloud nine.

Environment

Is the environment conducive for young children? Is there sufficient outdoor space for children to play?

Are there danger areas such as surfaces with sharp corners or stairs with railings which are too wide apart?

Are there proper amenities for children such as child-sized toilets or a well-equipped resource room?

Teachers

Do the teaching staff have the relevant qualifications and experience?

If you have the chance to tour the school, observe how the teachers talk to the children. Do they treat the children with respect?

Student-to-teacher ratio

You want your child to get sufficient attention from the teacher, so the student-to-teacher ratio shouldn't be too high.

A good number is 20 and below, but schools which charge cheaper fees might have a higher ratio.

Cleanliness

What are their health and hygiene policies? Are their toileting habits sanitary?

Do they screen for illnesses? What are the procedures in case a child is sick or in case of an outbreak of disease?

Parent-teacher communication

How does the school update parents on what is going on in school?

Are you able to communicate with teachers regularly about your child's progress or issues?

Food

Does the school serve food or do you need to prepare your own food? What kind of food does the school serve?

At the end of the day, you might not be able to find a pre-school that meets all your requirements, especially if you have only a low budget to work with.

Decide what are your must-haves, and if these are met, go ahead and enrol your child at the school.

Lydia Teh is a mother of four and author of 10 books, including the latest, How I Wrote Ten Books. Send comments to lifestyle.lydia@thesundaily.com.