What to Consider When Choosing a Preschool

Published on: February 25, 2012

The school options available in Bangkok can feel overwhelming to any parent! Dina Kassymbekova guides you through the right questions for making the best choice for your family. By Dina Kassymbekova    Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, International Baccalaureate (IB), British and American curricula, bilingual education and homeschooling — these are the educational approaches we looked at in our series. Each article was a result of research and conversations with educators who follow a particular method. Now that the series has ended, quite a few of our readers have asked which method we think is the best. There is no simple answer to this question. Each family has its own values and priorities which influence a school choice, so we won’t try to recommend a particular curriculum. Instead, here is some input for your consideration when making your individual decision.

1. Research the curriculum

If you are interested in a school teaching a curriculum that is not familiar to you, research the curriculum even when the school has a good reputation or was recommended to you. Do the school’s values align with your personal principles?
Research will help you to understand the fundamental principles of the method and to make an insightful decision.
Take into account practical aspects, too. Will you be able to find a school teaching the same curriculum, if you relocate? If not, will a transition to another curriculum be uncomplicated?

2. Find out if the school really complies with the curriculum

As a next step, find out if the school you are interested in really complies with the curriculum it follows. A certification by a reputable institution ensures that the school meets educational standards. However, some educational models, especially the alternative ones, don’t provide any certification. IB offers certification for schools teaching their programs. Schools following British and American curriculum can get certification, but the smaller ones usually don’t. When the school is not certified, your research will help you to judge if a school’s curriculum complies with the original one.

3. Understand the school’s pedagogic/philosophic concept 

If you feel attracted to an approach that is based on a specific pedagogic or philosophic concept, research the concept behind the method thoroughly before enrolling your child. This will save you from making a choice based merely on the better known but superficial characteristics of a method. Waldorf is known for the beautiful and calm school environment, natural play materials, and rhythmical daily routine but not many parents know that Waldorf education is based on the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner which includes an elaborate and distinctive pedagogical concept.
What would suit your family?
Most parents have heard that Montessori schools use specific learning materials, but do you know that students are expected to use them in a very particular way? Reggio Emilia education originates from a small Italian town and is strongly influenced by cultural and historic circumstances of the region. Research will help you to understand the fundamental principles of the method and to make an insightful decision.

4. Be aware of the curriculum’s flexibility/strictness 

Be aware that approaches such as Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia that are closely connected to their original philosophic or pedagogic models are less flexible and open for innovations. EYFS, the part of the British curriculum related to preschool education, was revised several times in the last decade and adjusted according to the latest research. As a result, free play became more significant and the focus moved from what children learn to how they do it. Some American curricula integrate elements of Montessori, Reggio Emilia or other educational methods because teachers think that this addition would enrich their students’ learning. For schools that are tied to their specific concepts, such an expansion of the curriculum is not possible.

5. Consider the level of challenge

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via Wikimedia Commons

Consider the level of challenge that children are offered/put under in a school. Some curricula allow preschool students to spend a lot of time on free play. Others have structured schedules. Some schools start teaching their students literacy and math at an early age, others later. In schools following the American curriculum, children start learning reading and writing when they are four years old. On the opposite side is the German curriculum, which does not focus on reading and writing at all and children are not expected to develop these skills before the age of six. Some parents see early challenges as unnecessary stress, others wish that their children would be challenged early. What would suit your family?

6. Keep in mind that the same keywords may mean different things for different schools

When researching an approach, keep in mind that some keywords — such as ‘child-centered’, ‘student-led’, etc. — that describe widely recognized educational concepts might stand for similar but not identical ideas.
Trust your intuition…. A school’s individuality and a teacher’s personality are as important for learning as the methods they use.
When a school’s website lists ‘child-centered education’ as its value, is it just a way to express that students are treated respectfully or does it mean that in this school children can lead their own learning according to their own interests? The IB and Reggio Emilia education are both inquiry-based. However, in Reggio schools children can choose individually or as a group the projects for their inquiry, while IB students follow a pre-planned curriculum.

7. Consider which languages are used

If the focus for your child’s education is on languages, you might choose a multilingual school. If the school offers a curriculum that you like, there is no problem. If not, you have to weigh what is more important: learning an additional language or choosing an approach that will foster your child’s development in the best possible way.

8. Homeschooling considerations 

Parents who decide to educate their children at home will probably consider if they will be able to provide their children with necessary resources, find a supporting network, and avoid the typical risks of homeschooling such as possible lack of opportunities for socializing with peers, little exposure to opinions different from your own, etc.

9. Trust your intuition!

We hope these recommendations will help you find a preschool that is right for your child. A school visit is as important as research beforehand. It might happen that a curriculum appeals to you, but when you visit a school you feel hesitant. Trust your intuition. Interpretations of an approach might vary and a curriculum can be taught in different ways. A school’s individuality and a teacher’s personality are as important for learning as the methods they use.   Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

About the Author 

Dina comes from Almaty, Kazakhstan. After graduating with a degree in philosophy, she moved to Germany to get her master’s degree in public relations from Freie Universitaet Berlin and worked as a freelance PR-consultant and a children’s book editor.
The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects. BAMBI News welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact editor@bambiweb.org.