Recently, pre-K has been a hot topic in the State of Indiana. Studies have shown that pre-K can have long term benefits for your child’s development1. It helps prepare them for kindergarten, and it helps their social-emotional growth.
It can be overwhelming to find the right pre-K program for your child. Where to start? Look for one that the State of Indiana considers to be high quality. This means they are a Level 3 or Level 4 on the Paths to QUALITY™ program. These providers follow certain standards, no matter the type or size of the program. They follow a curriculum, complete 20 hours of professional development, and have certain education levels for their staff.
In Indiana, the search for a pre-K program can also be overwhelming because of our mixed-delivery system. You can find pre-K classes in family child care homes, child care centers, ministries, public schools, and private schools. Through my work as the pre-K project manager for Marion County, I see wonderful learning environments within all these programs. So, how do you know which one to choose?
As a parent, take some time to understand both your child’s and your family’s needs. Then, make your pre-K decision based on which environment fits best.
FAMILY CHILD CARE HOMES
If your child needs a small group setting, she may fit well in a family child care home. If your child gets overwhelmed in a large group, consider a home. Some people think a family child care home can’t prepare your child for kindergarten because it is not in a “school setting.” However, if the program is a Level 3 or 4, they are following a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Family child care homes can have up to 12 or 16 children, depending on the type of license they have. Homes usually run a year-round program.
Family child care homes can have mixed age groups, which means you may have an infant and a pre-K student together. When meeting with the owner/director, ask how he or she manages such a wide age-range. Mixed age groups can be a great learning environment if it’s done appropriately. Children can develop skills and learn from one another.
CHILD CARE CENTERS
Many Level 3 and 4 child care centers wrap their pre-K programs in with their all-day services. This is meant to help working families. Child care centers have classrooms separated in age groups. The ratio of teacher per student is one teacher to 12 students. Programs may have up to 24 children with two teachers. Child care centers usually run a year-round program.
Level 3 or 4 ministries are on the Voluntary Certification Program (VCP), therefore meeting the same guidelines as a licensed child care facility. Ministries are housed in a facility operated by a religious organization. They follow the same ratios as a child care center and usually run a year-round program. Many ministries offer part-time programs. This may be ideal if your child may not be ready to be away for a full day program.
PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS
Many public school systems in Marion County offer pre-K and can also participate in Paths to QUALITY™. Lawrence, Warren, Wayne, Perry, Decatur, and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) all have Level 3 or 4 programs. Most public school programs require their pre-K teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. Some even require a teaching license. For most public schools, there is a weekly fee for pre-K services. If you live in the IPS school district, they offer pre-K for no charge. If you are interested in your district pre-K, call to see what type of programs and services are offered.
Many private schools offer pre-K. An approved On My Way Pre-K private school is not required to be on Paths to QUALITY™, but the pre-K program must be accredited by a regional or national approved state board of education. If they are an accredited program, they must follow developmentally appropriate standards. Private schools tend to be smaller in size than public schools. If you are looking for that “school” environment, but are hesitant to be in a large setting, then a private school may meet your needs.
CHOOSE A DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE ENVIRONMENT
No matter the type of program you choose, a quality program should foster your child’s development. It should also integrate learning in a developmentally appropriate environment. All the programs we discussed should have learning centers and developmentally appropriate learning materials. Preschoolers need to feel that they are in a safe, comfortable environment that allows them to explore and grow. If you see that in your child, you can feel comfortable in that pre-K program and know that you chose the right path for your child’s future.
1 Center for Public Education: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Pre-kindergarten/Pre-Kindergarten
Cover image by Flickr user Donald Maxwell, Creative Commons license.