The early years matter because, in the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. Neural connections are formed through the interaction of genes and a baby’s environment and experiences. These are the connections that build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior, and health depend.
This is why finding a good quality childcare is so important for parents. But there are lots of things to look out for and remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting.
Arabian Child is a leading expert and a respected voice on early childhood education, and today we are going to talk about what to look for when choosing a nursery.
1st Child learning and development:
Your first impressions in a nursery are important. When you walk in, you should hear a steady hum of activity and see children actively involved in play.
Looking around the walls, you should notice the daily and weekly schedules clearly posted on the walls of the classrooms. This is a sign that the nursery is implementing a curriculum (this should be the case even for babies).
You should also ask to see the checklist that the nursery uses to assess children’s holistic development. Ask the provider how often they observe and assess children’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.
Teachers need to be observing to find out more about children’s interests, their developmental levels, their learning strategies, their skills and even their personalities. This information is then used to help teachers customize and develop activities for children, which enhances the quality of teaching.
2nd child protection, health and safety
The next area to look out for is child protection, health and safety. Look at the toys and equipment in the classrooms, and check if they are in good condition, safe and appropriate for children’s age. For example, look out for sharp edges, small parts, and cleaning supplies in locked cabinets.
There should also be clear fire procedures, with well-marked fire exits and extinguishers. Talk to your provider about their emergency preparedness policies.
As you walk around and greet the teachers, notice and ensure that children are supervised at all times. Remember the “Sight and Sound” rule: Teachers need to be able to see and hear ALL children at ALL times (even when napping).
During your visit, if children are preparing for snack or diaper change, notice how often the children and staff wash their hands. Floors, corridors, walls and the kitchen area must be spotless. Rubbish bins should not be left full, and the building should be suitably cooled, well lit and properly ventilated.
3rd Teacher qualifications and competencies
Teachers who have specific preparation and ongoing professional development training are more likely to have effective, positive interactions with children, use a variety of appropriate curricula and teaching practices for individualized and group teaching, and create more high-quality learning environments.
Ask the nursery provider to talk to you about the teacher’s qualifications. Ideally, a teacher should have the Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™ or the CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Workforce.
4th Relationship with the families
The best experiences for children happen when there is a strong relationship between you and the child’s teacher. Mutual trust, open, respectful communication, shared decision making and clarity about roles and responsibility.
Ask the provider what they expect from parents, and how parents can be involved in their children’s learning. Are there any workshops that they offer for parents? Newsletters? Volunteering opportunities?
5th Indoor and Outdoor Environments
Pretty colors and wall decorations are not the only thing we should be looking for in a nursery. Rich environments have an immediate effect on the quality of children’s learning and development. What is a rich environment? It’s comfortable, interesting, attractive and appropriate for the child. For some children it becomes like a second home where they play, eat and sometimes sleep.
In the indoor environment, there should be evidence of careful planning. Check to see if children have access to a book corner, blocks play, creative play, pretend play, and water play in the nursery? Television and DVDs should play little or no part in what your child does at nursery.
Children gain enormous benefits from learning outdoors. Being outdoors allows them to move around without many of the restrictions of being inside. They can fill their lungs with clean air and use all of their senses to appreciate the colors, different noises, the sense of space and of scale.
Check to see that resources for outdoor play are age-appropriate and allow children to run, climb, hop and be creative.
6th Leadership and Management
Parents need to pay attention to the leadership and administration of the nursery. Ask the nursery provider about their license, any violations, and what they are doing to improve the nursery. Ask the program director about her experience as a leader, and what her philosophy is for leading her team and dealing with parents.
Finally, remember that the best way to know that your nursery is committed to quality improvement is to see if they are enrolled in Jawda, Quality Improvement Program. Through Jawda, nurseries are rated by internationally approved assessors and are granted a tier level rating indicating their level of quality. For more information about early childhood education, and to see if your nursery is enrolled in Jawda, Quality Improvement Program, visit www.ArabianChild.org.