It's hard to believe that my little girl is starting kindergarten this year. It seemed like only yesterday when I was fretting about pre-school. Before my little one turned two, I decided to do some preliminary preschool research (meaning I googled a couple of names). I learned my lesson for not putting her on daycare waiting lists the moment I found out I was pregnant (I probably should have put her on a waiting list before she was even conceived). I am glad for the research though: there is just so much choice out there, and now a new study says the right preschool teacher can influence a child's future academic success.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, suggests preschool teachers who use a more sophisticated vocabulary, and engage children with active reading (get the kids to talk about what is happening in the story, not just sit there and passively listen), along with support for literacy at home, can have a predictable effect on children's reading comprehension and word recognition in Grade 4.
More from iVillage.ca
- Starting Kindergarten? What You Need to Know About Kids & Attention Span
- Back to School Countdown: Make the Last Days of Summer Count!
- 5 Best Breakfasts for Smarter Kids
- 5 Budget Tips for Mom & Kids: Back-to-School Shopping
- Kids' Clothes: New Trends for Back-to-School
"We need to take very seriously the importance of teaching language in the preschool years," said David Dickinson, one of the authors of the study and professor of education at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College. "Parents should take a careful look at what is happening in their kids' preschool classrooms and see if the teacher is engaging the child in conversations that are rich in language."
The researchers interviewed and also recorded teachers in the classroom. Then the children were assessed (in kindergarten and grade four)and the children's parents were also interviewed to determine income, education level and what kind of literacy activities they do at home. Though the sample was small, the findings were interesting.
The study found that teachers who used a sophisticated vocabulary when they interacted with kids and were good at holding kids' attention had students with better developed vocabulary and printing skills in Kindergarten, and then better reading comprehension and expressive skills in Grade 4.
When I first looked into preschool, I thought less about academics and more about the social aspects of schooling. I wanted my daughter to have more interactions with kids her own age, and other adults too to prepare her for kindergarten. I was lucky to find a preschool that did both, she had a great time meeting new friends, and I think the teachers did a great job in introducing her to the world of letters, words, numbers, art and music. And most importantly, I knew I chose the right school for her, because when I picked her up, my daughter was always full of happy smiles and ready to tell me what she did, and because she wanted to go back everyday. However, you will have to ask me in about six years to see if having an group of engaging teachers will payoff in her being a wordsmith.
Here are some more tips from David Dickinson on how to choose the right preschool:
1. ENVIRONMENT Most importantly look for a warm, inviting and safe setting
2. LITERACY Ask how often are the children read to, and what kind of books they are using.
3. LIBRARY Look at the books in the classroom, are they very simple books with only three words on a page, or something more complex that will allow the kids to think and expand their vocabulary
4. LANGUAGE Ask what teachers do when they read stories – are the teachers talking about the meaning of words, helping children think about what is happening in the stories, and showing the kids how to be engaged readers
5. THEMES Ask teachers what sort of themes or topics the school uses throughout the school year to teach the kids
6. MILESTONES Ask teachers what do they want the child to learn, like the goal at the end of the topic or theme
7. FREE PLAY If you can, observe a class and pay attention to what happens during free play – do the teachers just sit on the sideline or do they actively engage and talk to the kids. You want teachers who will interact with the kids, but not ones that takes over and lead the play.
And a couple more tips from to picking the right school (not just preschool):
1. Talk to the teachers, are they engaging and excited about their jobs, or just there for the paycheck. And, there is no need for pre-school teachers to be too authoritarian
2. Make sure the school teaches basic math concepts
3. Do not obsess too much about standardized test scores. It is possible to have high scores if the school is just teaching the kids how to write the test; so even if the scores are high, it does not always mean a well rounded education. Also, don't be impressed by the name of the school. With good teachers and a staff that cares, a public school can be just as good as any expensive private school
4. School should include some sort of physical activity and recess. Kids need a break.
Adriane Lam is a mother who admits that part of the reason why she chose the preschool that she sent her child to is because of the proximity to her house; she wanted to enjoy every second of her child-free time. She is also going to run out of her house now to purchase a thesaurus to help expand her and her child's vocabulary.
Connect with iVillage.ca: