With the start of school, I have had many conversations with parents who are visiting preschools for the first time or looking for recommendations from other parents.
Parents may look for and want very different things from programs. Some may have a general desire for their child to learn about science and math, while others may look forward to hanging some of their child’s art on the fridge. In either case, parents may look for things in the program that are not really useful things from which to judge a classroom.
Here is my list of five things parents look for in a good classroom that are really not helpful ways to critique a classroom.
5. A good director means a good classroom. A good director is absolutely essential, but parents all too often meet with the director and assume that the eloquently described practices are the run of the school. And while that is the case in many schools, it is also JUST as important to meet the specific teacher. A teacher should be able to simply and confidently explain the practices of the school and speak of those practices in alignment with the director.
4. A blue, yellow, and red classroom is a good children’s space. Somehow, primary colors have come to dominate early childhood classrooms. From rugs to chairs, many ECE classrooms are doused in these three colors. These brightly colored rooms have come to be what many think of when they think of when they envision a good ECE classroom.
More and more, preschool classrooms are moving away from functional looks and evolving to more home-like settings, with muted colors and less stimulating decor. Some parents may feel that natural wood furniture and muted colors aren’t fun or are too boring, but just the opposite is often true. As children are spending many of their waking hours in ECE programs, ECE professionals are acknowledging that children need spaces that are calming, comforting, and evoke feelings of home. Of all the many children’s rooms I’ve seen “pinned” for their creativity and beauty, none of them have ever been primarily RED, YELLOW, and BLUE.
A good classroom should feel like a good place to be, instead of an overwhelming, overstimulating hodgepodge of bright colors.
3. The more toys the better. A good school will have safe and interesting things for children to play with. A classroom with buckets upon buckets of toys may keep children entertained, but an overstimulating environment can also overwhelm. A few well-chosen toys based on the abilities and interests of the children is more valuable than wall-to-wall toys any day of the week.
A good classroom will have toys stored away, and rotate toys in based on the curriculum and children’s interests.
2. No art coming home is unusual/worrisome. In the early years of school-based education, it is not always easy to get accurate or detailed accounts on how our children spend their days. Very often, the first words uttered when asked about a child’s day are, “I don’t know.”
Parents are often eager to reunite with them and hear about how they spent their days. At the end of the day, we as parents are looking for a way to connect to our children. Besides being a starting point for conversation, artifacts such as art or other projects are evidence that our children spent time in some sort of meaningful activity.
Lots of art coming home can feel like evidence that our children are learning, playing, and, more specifically – doing something at school. When children spend their day dressing up, playing outside, helping to cook, or singing songs, the evidence of their learning and time well-spent is not as easy for us to see, especially when they can not yet talk about it.
And finally, number one. Though this is not something I have ever heard a parent say exactly, parents have expressed how important traditional academic materials are to them.
1. An alphabet on the wall (or rug) means my child will learn the things that matter. This may sound silly to some, but I have been asked while giving a school tour why we didn’t have an alphabet on our classroom walls. Academic information like alphabets, calendars, and word charts are very often things that adults look for in classrooms.
Are these types of posters or rugs really intended to teach children, or are they simply decoration?
If they are intended to teach, I say . . .
ABC posters cause me to wonder, are these educators able to take children’s perspectives? Any information that you as an adult have to look up to see is not going to be seen, much less learned, by a very young child who learns best by having materials in hand. Was this environment prepared with children in mind, or simply by traditional standards?
Charts and posters are not the only ways in which children learn this type of information. I’d go even farther and argue it is also not the best way for them to learn the alphabet either. If you’d like to know how children learn the alphabet or about the passage of time (e.g., days of the week) in the classroom and don’t see these things around, ask the teacher. The best classrooms make children’s learning visible to parents by the use photographs or notes in newsletters or on bulletin boards.
And if these posters are intended for decoration, I say . . . see number 4.
What do you look for in an early childhood education classroom? What types of things don’t matter to you?