Choosing an early childhood education option – and weighing the pros and cons of sending a child to daycare or preschool – is a challenge often faced by parents.
According to Darlene Capretta, regional director of Le Chaperon Rouge, with locations in Shaker Heights, Solon and Independence; Lesley Schwersenski, Genshaft Early Childhood Program head at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood; and Hillary Teague, assistant director of admissions for pre-primary and primary schools at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, a family’s needs should be top on its list of reasons to choose a preschool.
“One of the biggest pieces is what is necessary for the family,” Teague said. “Oftentimes, daycare is used by families who need it. The parents are caregivers and working, and they need care for the child. So, it could have nothing to do with a child’s readiness but overall need. For preschool, it’s more about what the child is needing academically.”
She said some preschools don’t offer full-time care, though Laurel School does, so that could be problematic for parents who need it. When weighing the academic pros and cons of both types of programs, Teague said it again goes into what the parent is looking for.
“If you have a child that is 3 to 5 years old, and you’re thinking about kindergarten readiness, looking for something that has some sort of curriculum is key,” she explained. “There are some preschools that consider themselves an academic preschool but are very intentional about it. But other schools, like Laurel, we introduce these ideas through play-based activities and focus on the social-emotional skills that are paramount to success in kindergarten.”
Schwersenski said if parents are looking for a daycare situation, they should consider a licensed one. Parents can find more information about the various licenses out there, as well as what these licenses entail at childcare.gov. Many communities will also have lists and resources available for parents to search for licensed daycares.
“Currently, most daycare centers that are licensed by the date will offer a range of developmentally appropriate activities for young children,” Schwersenski noted. “So, if a parent needs hours of care beyond what a preschool offers, they should carefully consider a licensed daycare center that has trained educators and developmentally appropriate activities for children.”
Teague noted children enrolled in an early childhood program do better in school, no matter if it’s daycare or preschool.
“Certainly the research suggests that children who are exposed to an early childhood environment do better in school, but whether that is daycare or preschool, it depends,” she stated. “As long as the program has a preschool type component and intention, any sort of environment that allows children to be with other children, it will help them with that transition. But, there is a difference in going to a preschool or a daycare in terms of exposure to new ideas.”
Capretta said, “Children should experience some sort of early learning. There are so many positive attributes to having that experience, in a setting that does not pressure the child. Many children now attend preschool or have spent time in childcare settings prior to schooling.”
No matter the type of program selected, Schwersenski said parents should be doing their homework.
“Parents should, in either situation, inquire about the educational approach of the programs as well as the training of the teachers,” she explained. “It is also important to observe in the setting you are considering. Pay attention to the atmosphere and emotional climate as well as the physical set up and activities that are planned.”
But parents should also know the needs of their child, Capretta said.
“When choosing a preschool program, prepare a list of questions to take with you when you tour the school,” she explained. “The questions should be about the staff and their longevity, the ratio of students to teachers, etc. Is the building secure? Is it clean or organized? Are the children’s spaces safe? How do you handle allergies and medications?”
Parents need to feel comfortable asking those questions, too, Capretta added.
“There are many questions and you should feel like you can ask as many as you want,” she stated. “It is also best to tour when the classrooms are active. Take your child with you too. It is always good to see their first impressions of the building and teachers. Parents should feel welcomed from the first interaction.”