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Thursday, January 27, 2022

How to pick the right playschool for your child after a pandemic

Playschool is the first opportunity for children to step out of the safety zone of their immediate family says Sonya Philip, founder of 'Learning Matters'

Written by Sonya Philip | New Delhi |
November 27, 2021 7:41:48 pm
pre-school, kidsPlayschool or preschool might be the most important stepping stone in your child’s education and development, says Sonya Philip. (Source: Pexels)

Most people may think of playschool as a glorified daycare where children can spend some time outside their home. For some others, it is seen as the precursor to getting their children “ready for the big school”.

Yet, with a pandemic in place, the dynamics changed for many families. Either schools were not operational at all or for some parents who now stay at or work from home, the need for a playschool appeared weak.

But as an early childhood educator, I am constantly sharing the importance of the early years, which includes such an institution. Playschool or preschool might be the most important stepping stone in your child’s education and development. In fact, ages two to five, which are also called early childhood years, are the most crucial years of a child’s overall growth – physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

pre school Learning is an important part of a child’s life. (Source: Pexels)

If done right and chosen selectively, playschool can lay the foundation for the rest of childhood and adulthood. The experiences in early childhood will help design a child’s brain architecture. Here’s what UNESCO says about the importance of early childhood education:

“Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.”

Here are some factors to consider before choosing the right playschool for your child, especially as they begin to return to normal life after a pandemic. As a parent, you will obviously account for factors like distance, cost, medical facilities, reputation etc. I will focus more on the environment and activities involved.

Does it involve lots of free play?

I can’t stress enough the importance of free, unstructured play for young children. Free play is where the child is in charge of what they play and how they do it.

This process encourages the child to use his or her creativity, explore answers to various questions, solve challenges etc. The Swedes have a concept called “friluftsliv” (pronounced FREE-looft-sleeve), which translates to “free air life”. According to the Emile project, “Children [in Sweden] are taught from an early age to go outside and play by exploring the outside world.”

Even if you think back to your childhood, you’ll fondly remember the days spent playing outdoors. Any good playschool or preschool should include old-fashioned, free play, especially outdoors when possible. This should not include organized games rather simply running, climbing, playing with natural materials. Think sand, mud, water, trees etc.

Further, when indoor, we must see if the school’s indoor environment is conducive to exploration and individual creativity? Do children have access to open-ended materials like blocks, creative art materials for painting, sketching, etc. One can also look at opportunities to dance and sing, read children’s books, etc.

Do the school and staff honour children?

Children are vivacious and curious individuals. Do the adults at the playschool really listen and observe children and appreciate the uniqueness of each child? Are children able to freely express themselves in myriad ways? Are children spoken to and treated with respect?

The school’s staff should only focus on positive discipline methods such as explaining to the child and working with them towards improvement instead of punishing the child. Positive discipline can sound like this: Instead of saying “Don’t run,” you would say, “Let’s walk please.”

Children are only beginning to develop social skills and understand cues. Teachers and caregivers should help them with the process with care and patience.

Are parents involved?

Any good playschool would organise opportunities for parents to meet with the school staff and other parents. Some sessions could also involve parents engaging with the children so they can enhance their bond with the child.

A good school would have an open door policy for parents. They are consulted on most major decisions. Regular coffee mornings are scheduled to discuss various early childhood topics. A playschool is only part of a child’s life but their growth should continue even at home, hence it’s pivotal for parents to be involved in an informed way in their child’s development.

Are teachers well-versed in child development and emotionally connected to the children?

Playschool is the first opportunity for children to step out of the safety zone of their immediate family. It is vital that the adults in the pre-school bond emotionally with children. They need to have fun and be childlike. They need to genuinely like the children in their care. This adult quality is vital to the advancement of their social and cognitive development.

After a situation as life-changing and strenuous as a pandemic, children need the best ways to bounce back to a life full of play, exploration, socialisation and constructive activities. A playschool can aid this process, if chosen rightly.

A playschool that allows ample opportunities for free play, honours children and positively reinforces them, engages parents, and recruits teachers who can develop emotional bonds with children is an ideal place for your child to slowly crawl out of the pandemic-induced cocoon and explore their curious and creative nature.

(The author is the founder of Learning Matters – an early childhood education organisation in Delhi-NCR.)

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