Children playing with blocks in a playschool

Have you decided where you’re putting him yet?

The first time I heard that question was when my son was 16 months old. We had just relocated to India and were trying to find our feet. With my decision to change careers and the chaos that goes hand-in-hand with inter-country transfers, finding a playschool for our toddler was the last thing on our minds.

But the question kept presenting itself. At one point, we began suspecting the intentions of the inquirers. Were these kind people genuinely concerned about our toddler’s wellbeing? May be they were receiving a ‘commission’ for every toddler they referred to a playschool.

Before the search came the research

Spurred by these repeated questions, we started some research about institutes that would accept our son. At that point, I didn’t even know that a playschool and a pre-school are not the same thing. So we began with figuring out the differences between the two. A playschool is sort of an informal nursery group for kids between the ages of 2 – 4, while a preschool is more of an elementary learning institution for kids between the ages of 3 – 5. Playschools are meant for kids who are too young to be put in kindergarten, and while it does sound like a glorified day-care centre, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Why all the fuss about a playschool or play group

To those of you who subscribe to the old-school [like I used to] and believe that kids don’t need to go to school until they’re over three years of age, this can be a difficult concept to grab. If either one of the parents [or extended family] stay at home with the child, then our thrifty mind convinces us that playschools are a waste of money. Besides  there better be a good reason for us to put the “apple of our eyes” into a formal educational institution at such a tender age.

Meant for kids who are too young to be put in kindergarten, playschools are more than just glorified day-care centres

But as we learned, there are definite advantages of enrolling your kids into a playschool. Here are the ones that we discovered:

  • It helps to set them into a pattern—from waking up at a fixed hour to regular meal timings and having periodic naps.
  • It is an amazing opportunity for kids to meet and interact with their peers and build their foundations of not just formal education, but also of social etiquette. This is especially so if you don’t have many small children in your neighbourhood who can be playmates to your child.
  • It helps them in transition easily to a pre-school, kindergarten or Montessori when the time is right.
  •  And most of all, it gives you [both parents, especially if you are a stay-at-home one] some time to get your personal things together [or ‘me-time’, as it is popularly known].

It is always a difficult decision to send your little one away, even if only for a few hours. We too were apprehensive about everything; but the balance of the scales tipped in favour of playschools.

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However, there are a few important considerations that require your attention before you finalise the playschool for your child:

Commute and location

The location of the playschool is of paramount importance. You’ll need to take into account the distance that your ward [and you, if you are going to be the one who will pick up and drop your child] will be travelling. In most metropolitan cities, where rush hour traffic can be trying, this could be a make-or-break point. It might also be worthwhile to check if the playschool offers a pick up and drop facility; and the safety aspects of the same.

Expense

Education is no longer an inexpensive activity. Right from playschool till graduation, the costs of formal education have skyrocketed. Figuring out how much you can afford to put away for your child’s education is a crucial step. So get the number crunching in order. Don’t forget to ask the playschool about what is included in their fee structure. Often, things like field trips and festival costs take us by surprise, and having this information in advance will help us plan better.

Don’t forget to ask the playschool about what is included in their fee structure

Facilities

On your visit to the playschools check out their play areas, class rooms, pantry and presence of CCTVs. Also check if they have an emergency medical kit and on-call doctors. Remember, there are no silly questions. After all, you’re trusting them with your kid.

Background and accreditation

I’ve seen the faces of fellow parents go blank when we’ve brought this up. But much like you’d do for a regular school, it is vital that you verify the background and accreditation of the playschools you are considering. Seek out parents whose kids have previously attended the playschool and get a first-hand view of their experience. It’s also advisable to check other details such as—how long has the playschool been operational; if it meets the play/pre-school standards set out under the Early Childhood Care and Education [ECCE] policy that was set in place in 2012. From personal experience, I would suggest you should ensure that the person running the playschool is qualified and trained in the field of child development.

The staff

no-childs-play-2Find out about the teachers and their qualifications. Inquire how long the teachers have been associated with the institution and about their experience of working with kids. It would be good idea to find out how the teachers [and the playschool] discipline the children. While it is imperative that the staff be friendly and approachable, they should also be firm and know how to correct the errors of the little ones. Last but not the least, check the typical teacher-to-student ratio in the classroom, as this will ensure that your kids get enough attention from the teachers.

Hygiene and cleanliness

It is crucial that the playschool be well-maintained and the toilets be hygienic. Even better if the playschool supports or facilitates potty-training and has facilities for the same.

Ensure that the person running the playschool is qualified and trained in the field of child development

Food

Since the kids are only at the playschool for a short duration, you should know about their meal/snack times and ensure that it doesn’t disrupt their eating schedules and patterns. If the playschool will provide food, you should satisfy yourself with the quality of the food and the cleanliness of the kitchens.

Curriculum and system

While playschools primarily operate on the concept of using “play” to educate kids, as parents, it is crucial that we be aware of their teaching style. Most playschools will introduce the alphabet and numbers to our little ones; however a focus on all-round development is important too. Enquire with the playschool about their day-to-day activities and ensure that they balance the physical actives with mental workouts in the form of puzzles, memory games and other creative avenues. It might be a good idea to find out if they offer kids the freedom to choose some activities, from time-to-time. Ideally the curriculum should focus on—gross and fine motor skills, pre-writing/reading/math skills, imagination and free-play, arts, crafts and outdoor activities.

Letting go

As a parent who has been through this phase I can empathise with the fact that this whole “choosing a playschool” adventure can be a roller coaster ride of emotions. However, once you finalise the playschool, it is time to let go of a few of your inhibitions. Yes, you’re going to be concerned; but the teachers know their job and have perhaps been doing it for longer than we have been parents. So unless necessary, avoid interfering and let them do their job—which is to take care of our precious little ones. The initial separation and its accompanied anxiety may be hard, but I can assure you that the kids will settle in a lot quicker than us parents.

On that note, happy hunting and remember: the journey has just begun.


This was first published in the February 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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