Sunday 31 May 2015

My 5 Criteria for A Great Playschool!

Wow! It’s been more than 2 years since my last post! Talk about being stuck in a writing rut. What made me finally get back on the saddle?  Well, my eldest daughter has already graduated from her playschool, after being there for 2 years and my 2nd one is going to graduate end of this year!! I have not had the chance to rave about it!!!

The process of finding the right playschool for my older one was not an easy one.  In fact, we have tried two playschools and on both occasions, these abruptly ended in bouts of crying and misery.  I started to have my doubts and was seriously considering home school.  That would have been a plausible choice (and a lot cheaper!) if not for my honest assessment on the effectiveness of my unstructured and impatient ways.

Learning is a lifelong journey. It is not a sprint but a marathon, so the love and zest for learning becomes very important right in the beginning. I hope my 'criteria' for choosing my girls' second home supports that objective. 

1.  I am allowed to be with her on the first week or so (inside the classroom).

 I know. Teachers have been telling parents to leave their child on the first day, else, other children will start to look for their parents too.  It will create a domino effect and might spark a crying spell on the class.  I found this NOT to be the case.  As I shared on my previous article – it actually hinges on how engaging the teacher is in creating a stimulating environment, enough for young children to be pre-occupied.

Most importantly, allowing a parent to be with her little one is the most HUMANE way of easing a young child into a new place with new faces.  As a believer and practitioner of attachment parenting, I have seen for myself how my once clingy and very shy first born slowly opened up, with me patiently at her side. Once a child is secured and deeply rooted, she can take on the world with more confidence.

2.  A playschool with a less-structured, less-academic approach.

I have to say, I have burned endless man hours on learning about different pedagogies.  From child-led learning philosophy of Montessori and Reggio Emilia (teacher’s role is primarily to ‘support’ and provide opportunities) by creating natural environment where children can grow and develop their own unique potentials, to Waldorf education of celebrating imagination and individuality, which also incorporates the 4 classic temperaments.

Then there’s the Howard’s multi-intelligence approach which empowers learners and not restrict them to one modality of learning, to inquiry-based learning where I could not agree more that “memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill in today's world. Facts change, and information is readily available -- what's needed is an understanding of how to get and make sense of the mass of data.”(1)

Personally, I steer clear of playschools that contain any of these words: ‘excellence’, ‘high-quality’, ‘distinction’ and so on. It’s much too sterile for my liking. Applying for medical or law school? Yey! Playschool? Ney!

My daughters’ school says it best – “Enter the magical world of learning”. The catch word here is ‘magical’ and that alone speaks volume, for they are speaking the language of a child. No wonder my daughters (and the other kids) do not want to miss a day in school even when they are unwell. For who wants to miss going to ‘the magical world’?

3.   Great pedagogy aside. It boils down to teachers with a heart.

      Firstly, how do you spot one if you didn’t get the chance to do criteria number 1?  Sure, it’s easy to put a hearty smile when the parents drop off or pick up the child but it’s a revealing scenario when one child is crying hysterically and you have 2 or 3 other children impatiently asking for something or running amok – for days end.

      I have honestly witnessed a class where teachers have completely ignored a crying child for more than an hour!  The inconsolable boy was sitting all by himself calling out for his mom and my heart went out to him and decided to try my luck, when a teacher told me “don’t worry, they will get used to it eventually”.  Yes, I do believe everyone will get used to something when subjected to the same thing over and over again.  The question is, what kind of message are we imparting? Are we doing it the gentle way or the hard cry-it-out way?

      It reminds me of sleep-training and potty training, which to me, are classic examples of an oxymoron. For sleeping and going to the loo invoke feelings of security, relaxation, readiness - intangibles which cannot be ‘trained’ but ‘naturally happens’ when the bud is ready to bloom. You nurture the soil, give it water and light, and you ‘lovingly talk to it’ as avid gardeners believe. The right season will come. A big heart for our small children, a kind teacher would know.

4.   A playschool must have an OUTDOOR playground

      A’s first school had no outdoor playground and the kids were playing in an air-conditioned room for 2 hours! I think that was enough reason to see why she didn’t like the place (especially for an active child like her). Kids are born to run free outdoors, feel the grass on their feet, the morning sun on their face (and get a much needed dose of Vitamin D!), and age-appropriate obstacle course to develop big motor skills. 

      Child psychologists could not stress enough the importance of playgrounds and of being out with nature.  Waldorf education is also a big proponent of outdoor play, which forms part of the curriculum to provide children with experiences of nature, weather and the seasons of the year.

  5.   A playschool with a non-graded and non-competitive curriculum.

       Maria Montessori agrees that children should be allowed to learn and grow in an environment at their own pace, without judgemental pressure.  For me, it’s rather unsettling to see all these awards certificates given to children as young as 3 or 4! Then we complain how competitive the modern world has become.

      Formative years should focus on character building and not on who gets to read and write the earliest. In fact, there is a study that children who learned to read later easily caught up when they reach 6 or 7 (when brain is mature and ready). They actually prove to be better at creativity and critical thinking. Giving awards for good deeds is equally disconcerting. At such a young age, you want to instill a life lesson that you do good because doing good is good. Period. No brownie point there.


  2. Elkind, David (2001). "Much Too Early"Education Next.
  3. Sebastian Suggate, "Watering the garden before a rainstorm: the case of early reading instruction" in Contemporary Debates in Childhood Education and Development, ed. Sebastian Suggate, Elaine Reese. pp. 181–190.
  4. Suggate, S.P.; Schaughency, E. A.; Reese, E. (2013). "Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier". Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28: 33


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