When it’s time to enroll your child in a pre-school, butterflies-in-the-stomach is a common side-effect. To prepare, arm yourself with information on how to make the right choice in pre-schools, says Roshni Mitra. As your baby grows up, you realise that it will soon be time to put her into a pre-school. The thought seems scary at first—how will they cope and how do you know you are making the right choice for them? But once you have all the information, you’ll find the going easier.
Today, pre-schools take in toddlers as young as 14 months—just when they have begun to walk! Some schools take in kids at the nursery level, so that they can enroll in the same school’s kindergarten, and eventually, high school. Kolkata-based paediatrician Dr Tridib Banerjee advises that if both you and your spouse work, a playschool is ideal. Your child will benefit from a stimulating and safe environment with peers and educative toys for company. “At 18 months, your child should have attained milestones like walking, being partly toilet-trained, having a sense of self, and noticing that you aren’t around for most of the day,” says Dr Banerjee.
If you have started teaching your kid at home, Dr Banerjee suggests keeping them at home till two years of age. At this age, they should have learnt some words, started wanting to eat on their own, and have a unique personality. “As playmates are very important, you need to let them play with kids their age,” he adds.
Also take into account your child’s personality. “Some children take their time to adjust. They have greater separation anxiety, are only completely relaxed and happy at home and need to sleep more. It’s best to let them stay at home for a few more months, especially if you’re around at that point of time,” says Mumbai-based paediatrician Dr Rachana Hasija. On the other hand, if your child is fidgety and is forever on an exploration mission, then you clearly need to provide more mental, physical and social stimulation.
To understand pre-schools better, it is best to classify them and choose the one you think best suits your needs.
These did not originally take in children below three years. Their outlook, loosely based on the Montessori philosophy, believes in understanding the child’s nature and meeting their needs. Certain age-specific educational milestones are stipulated by the method, but the teacher acts an observer, who removes any impediments in the way of the child’s self-directed learning. Kids sit on the floor on mats (instead of benches), to learn and play.
Playgroup chains like Kidzee and Shemrock playgroups incorporate concepts from abroad, focusing more on the ‘play way’ method that uses play to teach children. Ranjana Arora, co-ordinator of the Kidzee playgroup and activity centre in Kolkata, says, “We try to focus on the child’s uniqueness. He is observed, and then set stimulating tasks according to his capacity and interests. We also teach them certain concepts and lessons, bit by bit, as children have to go through rigourous tests for school admissions later.”
International pre-schools like Eurokids, Apple and Vivero believe that the environment is an important teacher.
Think huge playgrounds, frequent field trips, plenty of colourful, non-toxic toys, furniture in attractive, spacious, air-conditioned classes—and huge fee structures too!
The concept of learning here is based on experiences. Archana Vij, a teacher at Vivero, Pune explains,“Want them to develop a sense of respect for the environment? Take them gardening everyday. To develop the faculty of speech and expression, we involve them in dramatic plays and puppetry. To develop numerical skills, we take them to the kitchen where they mix, pour and measure ingredients, and to help them build ties with their elders, we have ‘grandparents’ week’ too, where they are invited for tea with the kids!”
These schools differ in physical, logistical and emotional ways. The learning is more activity-based than theoretical. The syllabus in international pre-schools is continuously updated and the teachers are trained accordingly too.
Pre-schools are now finding different ways to add value to their set-up. Many of them come with daycare facilities for your child. Evenings are reserved for activity classes for children of varied ages. So what you get is an all-in-one concept—care, education and extra-curricular activities that your child will enjoy.
Many real estate developers are letting reputed pre-schools open shop within residential complexes. Moupali Pal, a software engineer in Rajarhat, Kolkata, says she is looking forward to enrolling her child at Mongress, a reputed playschool which has just opened a branch within their residential complex. “It is extremely reassuring to think my daughter won’t need to step out of the main gates to get quality education,” says Moupali.
Child psychologist Anindita Ghoshal avers that it is common knowledge that the first five years are the most crucial of a child’s life. She adds, “The experiences and knowledge gained during this phase provides a firm foundation for your child to bank on for the rest of her life.”And this is where pre-schooling comes in. A pre-school can provide the right foundation, where the child is socialised, groomed, and also gets a primary feel of the learning environment. “We try to cater to different types of intelligence and treat each child as an individual,” says Ranjan Arora, centre co-ordinator, Kidzee, Gariahat, Kolkata.
How do you go about finding the right pre-school for your child. Here’s a list of factors to consider, before you zero-in on the perfect one.
Look at a school that is very near your house and operates at comfortable hours. Vandana Misra, whose son Ruhaan attends pre-school, explains that worrying about having the child dropped and picked up from school, on time, daily, puts too much stress on your child. “There was a pre-school near my home that started classes at 8 am. I thought that was inhuman on my baby. I finally went in for one that started classes at 9.30 am, perfect for me, as I could drop off Ruhaan before going to work.”
Many schools, especially in smaller cities, still operate from cramped homes that have been turned into playschools. Priya Chary, mother of six-year-old Anshul, says, “Don’t get fooled by the colourful furniture, soft toys and cartoon cutouts. Your child needs space and greenery, first and foremost.”
Take a tour of the school. Understand the daily routine and how various equipment in the school will enhance your child’s schooling experience. Says Priya, “It has to look like a happy place. Apart from speaking to the teachers and staff and parents whose children go to the school, look at the faces of the young ones—they should look bright, cheerful and interested.”
“The student to teacher ratio has to be miniscule,” says Shinibali Mitra Saigal, mother of five-year-old Miraya, adding,“I wanted a playschool where the teachers knew Miraya as well as I did… well almost!” In some international schools, 1:8 is thought of as a good teacher to child ratio.
For this, you need to speak to the parents of children who are already in that school. “There are absolutely no brownie points won by teaching toddlers concepts too early,” opines paediatrician Dr Debashish Roy. “If you teach a toddler of 18 months something they ought to be learning at 24 months, they will take five more months to learn it—and that too, not very well.”
The school of your choice should be regularly updating you about how your child is doing. You know then that your child is being treated like an ‘individual’. Ranjana Arora asserts, “There is no harm in a bit of gentle assessment through assigning tasks. The smileys children get for assignments motivates them and builds confidence.”
While children should only have fun in the pre-school stage, you need to look ahead. Make a note of how many children were admitted to coveted high schools from a particular pre-school. Also, choose a pre-school that helps you make sense of the admission process for high school. Says Gunjan Tibrewala, principal of Innocent Smiles Montessori House for Children, Kolkata, “We give parents a list of queries that are typically asked in school interviews, and inform them about relevant admission details like cut-off age, dates of submission of forms, etc. This helps parents plan admissions and there is no last-minute panic.”
The fee structure is an important consideration. While international chains demand AED 2,192 to AED 3,280 per quarter, local Montessori houses would cost you AED 430 per quarter.
The benefits are plenty. “The same pre-school chain ensures your child is admitted even mid-session.
The course is the same and the money you pay at one centre gets transferred to where you go next,” says Ranjana Arora.
Pre-schools are easier to get into than high schools, and you actually can choose between them. However, times are changing. The registration process starts much in advance, sometimes as early as six months. Most pre-schools have websites that provide detailed information. Visit www.pre-schools.indiaedu.com for information on pre-schools across India.
In some of the widely sought after pre-schools in Mumbai, parents are put through a round of interviews. Priya Chary says, “We figured that while you don’t need to really get ‘coached’, you need to sit and chalk out what you are going to say and how.” While you can tour the premises of different playschools—take your child with you, and watch her reactions—you don’t really need to apply to a whole lot of pre-schools simultaneously. “If you are looking at the nursery section of a high school, of course, you would need to do so,” says Priya. “The procedure there is like that of a senior school with many candidates and a few seats. You will need to take the admission form and prospectus, fill out the form completely and return it to the school. Wait for the date when shortlisted candidates will be announced and also for the interview session.”
The learning modules and schedules differ from one pre-school to another, but here’s what a typical day at pre- school might look like for your toddler: