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Finding the right preschool is key

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

As Brenda Murray began singing to the class of tots, a few of the demonstrative youths began to sing along in grunts and cheers.

The one-year-olds were not as articulate as their teacher, but they seemed invested in the attempt to be.

Murray is the Spanish teacher at the early childhood learning center, Kiddie Academy of McDonough. Her student-toddlers are among a class of thousands statewide who, within the next few years, will use the preschool experience as preparation for the regular-school environment.

"Even at the age of one, we're exposing them to different languages," said Shannon Wilson, co-owner of Kiddie Academy of McDonough. "At this age, their brains are developing and making connections. So, everyday, our children do language enrichment, social, emotional and cognitive development, and fine and gross (large muscle) motor skills."

According to Wilson, safety is the leading issue parents should consider when finding a preschool home for their children.

"The most important thing that we can instill in young children is a feeling of safety and security, and belief in themselves," she said. "If they don't feel loved, safe, and secure, they're not going to be open to learning.

"I think that's the first step," she added. "Next, you have to have social and emotional growth, exposure to stimulating activities, learning, and, then, a healthy, happy well-rounded child. This is our path to our ultimate goal."

Georgia Preschool Association President Tonie Sanders, a preschool director, said she tells parents to do their research when considering their child's preschool. She recommends that parents visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) web site to gain insight on what the ideal, quality preschool setting should look like.

NAEYC accredits early care and education centers, and serves as a network of more than 300 regional, state and local early childhood associations. It suggests that parents watch how preschool teachers interact with children, making sure the teachers are attentive, friendly, and emotionally available to their students.

"It doesn't have to do with being a brand new facility," said Sanders. "It has to do with teacher relationships and community relationships."

Jennifer Milette, lead teacher at Kiddie Academy of McDonough, said parents should not use daycares and preschools as a place to drop their children off for baby-sitting "but as a place of quality education and a place to stimulate their creativity."

In preschool, students begin learning behaviors and skills they will need when they progress into, and through, primary school. "It's important to give them the fundamentals - ABC's, 123's, colors, shapes - and help them learn how to act in social environments." Milette said. "So, I feel it's super important that they enjoy school."

Students who do not enjoy learning early on may have problems adjusting when they enter primary school, according to Robin Henry, a kindergarten teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Stockbridge.

"Preschool benefits children in that they are exposed to the structure of school," Henry said. "It gives the children an idea of what to expect before they get here."

She said that children who have attended preschool tend not to have separation anxiety, cry less, adjust to the classroom setting better, and are generally more ready to learn.

Four-year-old preschoolers, for instance, learn how to stand in a line, walk in the hallway, get along with other students, share materials, play fairly, and how to sit in a group for instruction.

"The most important thing that a parent can do for their child is to sit him or her in their lap and read stories to them on a regular basis," Henry said. "This teaches the child to sit still, to listen, and early literacy skills."

She said parents should also expect their children to follow directions the first time they are given, for listening and comprehension skills. It also prepares them for learning something new. "If a child can listen and comprehend verbal instruction, he or she will do well with whatever is presented."

Academically, preschoolers should be given opportunities to develop their gross motor skills and fine motor skills, as well as their writing skills, using different types of mediums.

"With four-year-olds, the whole child should be developed, and not just pencil and paper activities," Henry said. "The children should learn to share materials, get along with others ... treat others and themselves with respect, and conflict resolution skills on their level.

"By the end of four-year-old preschool, students should be able to write their name, recognize some, if not all, letters of the alphabet, and recognize some, if not all, numbers [from] zero -10."

Tips on what to look for in preschool programs and curriculums:

· A program that promotes social, emotional, self-help and physical development.

· An environment in which children will begin to develop trusted child-teacher bonds, and are encouraged to interact socially with other children and teachers.

· A setting where children are constantly stimulated and interested.

· A program designed to build a child's communication and language skills.

· A program in which infants get individual, friendly attention from teachers, who communicate verbally and non-verbally.

· The opportunity to explore various areas of study, such as language arts, social studies, science, math, cooking, creative arts, drama, and music.

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On the net:

National Association for the Education of Young Children: www.NAEYC.org