Photo: Jill Huang via Flickr
Some parents are willing to pay $30,000 or more for their preschool-age child to receive the best education, or suffer through waiting in line outside the school to guarantee their kid gets a spot.But parents who pursue the best schools purely on standardized tests scores are going about the school selection all wrong, according to the research and analysis compiled by Peg Tyre in her new book “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.”
Parents need to ask more intelligent questions while searching for a school, but with so much jargon and so many options, it’s a hard choice to make, Tyre said.
“There’s a frenzy about pre-schools as of late,” said Tyre, a former Newsweek reporter and the author of The Trouble with Boys. “The downturn in the economy has made this generation of parents realise that education is the escalator that takes kids from poverty to middle class.”
Throughout the book Tyre stresses early reading and mathematics skills as the key to success for young minds. While she nixes the belief that getting your kid into the right preschool will ensure they succeed in life, she does agree that it’s an important first step into early learning.
Tyre learned from her own experiences. She enrolled her children in private schools, assuming that for the amount she was paying, the teachers would know how to teach her children how to read. While she credits the school with having a good curriculum to make her kids well-rounded students, it struggled to effectively teach reading.
“It’s entirely possible to get a good education from a charter school, a private school or a public school,” Tyre said. “There are wonderful and terrible options from all three of those; you just need to know what to look for.”
“It’s easy for parents to get intimidated during the process because all of their friends in the same stage of life are talking about preschools all the time, and they are all just taking in the same narrow bandwidth of information,” she added. “You have to do your research.”
We asked Tyre about the critical questions a parent must ask when researching preschools.
'A high teacher turnover rate is never, ever a good thing,' Tyre said.
Teachers frequently leaving creates an unstable environment for the students.
But parents need to be wary of low turnover rates as well.
A low rate means the school is either the best place to work, it's succeeding and the teachers are happy there; or that the teachers are 'phoning it in' and no one is paying attention to their performance.
'I don't blame crabby preschool teachers,' Tyre said. 'If I was a preschool teacher I'd be crabby, too.'
But being crabby is not an effective way to teach children, Tyre said. She suggests to look for a teacher who is talkative and pleasant.
Children learn vocabulary best from listening to adults speak. So when observing the teacher in a classroom, keep an ear out for key phrases such as 'Do you want to put your boots on? Is that for the left foot or the right foot?'
Studies show that a positive teacher-student relationship is essential to early learning.
Find out if test scores are improving across the board. If the students who were struggling are struggling a little less every year, that's a good sign.
Ask the school what their plan is for those struggling students, if they have a good answer it means they can probably help your child if ever needed.
Tyre describes choosing a school based on tests scores is like 'buying a car based on the colour of its paint.'
If the answer is 'a lot,' this is a bad thing.
'Learning is embedded in play, not worksheets,' Tyre said.
For some students it's natural to understand that the symbols that make up the English alphabet represent sounds, but for others it needs to be reinforced, and worksheets don't help that.
Sitting at one's desk for a prolonged period is not very useful to a preschool. 'They don't learn like third graders,' Tyre writes.
Dynamic play, or roleplaying (think playing house) can be a very effective tool for learning.
Scenarios where children have to act as a certain type of person, such as a firefighter or a teacher or a father helps them develop self control and they will learn to not act outside of their character.
Early maths skills are essential to learning harder concepts later on in education.
This skills can be taught with building blocks, or even having 12 marbles among four students and having them figure out how many each would receive if split evenly.
At the best preschools, the answer is 'not much.'
'Free play time is for home,' Tyre said.
When playtime is directed it can be a very successful learning tool, but free time is best for social reasons outside of the classroom.
A little free play is allowed, but just make sure it's in moderation.
Reading once in a while isn't good enough.
Dr. Seuss, for example is a huge classroom tool for preschool teachers, says Tyre, who notes that 'rhyming is critical.'
The ability to switch the beginning and endings of words to make new ones is a very advanced skill.
'Hickory, dickory, dock?' That's more than just a silly rhyme--it's a sign that kids are learning.
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