What to Look For in a Preschool

A question that is often asked about preschools is if they are play-based or academic-based. As we discover more about how childrens’ minds work and how they best learn, what we look for in a school changes. Grand Avenue Preschools is here to share their expertise and experience to shed some light on how preschool teaching methods continue to evolve. Keeping reading to know what to look for in a preschool for your little one!

Preschool Teaching Methods Continue to Evolve

Grand Avenue Preschools began offering preschool programs in 1981 and since then, the classroom has changed. In the past, learning environments were either play-based or a traditional “teacher-driven” academic setting, mirroring elementary school environments. Recent research tells us that a mixture of both environments is optimal for promoting learning among young children. The term applied to this concept is “scaffolding,” or teaching children through guided play and hands-on, child-led activities, enabling them to learn concepts in a deeper more meaningful way. So, what’s different?

Children’s play remains as an important component of a quality preschool, but not the free, unstructured method popularized years ago. Instead, play is child-centric and guided by skilled teachers who set up a variety of play experiences, which is regularly refreshed. This is important as children in free play will often get into ruts by repeatedly acting out the same scenarios. The skilled educator alters room settings, equipment, learning materials, etc. to introduce new environments for children to explore and create.

What is Scaffolding?

Scaffolding adds another important dimension to learning: teacher interaction with structured play. Teachers interact with the children during their play activities by enriching their story lines, adding concepts, encouraging discussion and ongoing narrative between the teacher and child, and between children. These are the interactions that produce meaningful and long-lasting learning.

Benefits of Scaffolding

Children who are accustomed to talking about their exploration develop better verbal skills, literacy, social awareness, logic, and problem-solving abilities. Their imagination expands beyond its limits to incorporate new concepts and to combine existing concepts in new ways. But, this is not all that is needed. Scaffolding works best when the teacher is warm and emotionally available to the children. When children feel safe and accepted, their resources are wide open to new experiences. Teachers create a safe, nurturing environment by being present with the children’s exploration, providing encouragement, observations and information. Research studies show that what happens in a child’s earliest educational experience forms their attitude and receptivity to future learning. If a child has a nurturing, interesting preschool experience, school then becomes an exciting, safe, engaging place.

What to Look For in a Preschool

Mindful of this, preschools will continue to provide a variety of environments based upon their philosophies of education and what families need. Some are teacher-directed, with emphasis on teaching lessons. Others are free play based, still others will use scaffolding approaches. Given current research here are a few things for families to look for in a preschool:

  • Children have ample time to explore, play and create using a variety of materials.
  • Teachers are warm, and attentive, encouraging conversation and participation.
  • Children feel physically and emotionally safe and accepted.
  • Teachers read to children regularly.
  • Teachers define acceptable behavior, and limits. They work with children to assist them in understanding their emotions, identifying and labeling them and teach how to cope with emotions.

The preschool classroom continues to evolve and improve as more research is conducted on pedagogical methods. This said, a parent’s best guide for selecting a school is their own judgement as to what is appropriate for their child. This is an exciting time in the development of children and involvement of families!


This post is brought to you by Grand Avenue Preschools.

About the Author

Annie Tandy
Annie loves making great memories with her kids and started Kidlist in 2011 so she can help others do the same! Besides finding fun and exciting things to do, Annie and her kids enjoy caring for their chickens and hanging out with them in the backyard. Click here to read about Annie's chickens and see pictures! She also finds joy in gardening, home improvement projects, knitting, soap making, and painting along with being active in her community, church, and as a board member of the Western Springs Business Association. Click here to follow Annie on Instagram.

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