By Fiona Duţu
Whether you call it pre-school, nursery, or pre-kindergarten – basically they all mean something similar depending on which country you find yourself in. The main idea is of a “mini-school” especially for very young children where they can stay with others of their own age, looked after by teachers (who are hopefully trained in meeting the needs of this age group) and take their first steps on their learning journey. Children who attend pre-school usually find it easier to adapt to “big” school later, they are more independent and already have a grasp of basic reading, writing and maths skills.
It is traditionally widely believed that children are somehow ready for pre-school at around the age of three or even later, however there is no reason why toddlers can’t take advantage of quality child care settings, as long as the staff are trained in meeting the needs of this specific age group.
As every parent knows, toddlers have a lot of energy, they are keen to explore whilst also demanding a lot of attention! By three years of age a child’s brain has around 1000 trillion brain connections (synapses) and has already grown to 80% of its adult size. The early years are a rapid period of brain development which can be fostered by positive relationships with parents and optimal community environments, such as pre-school. Positive relationships, a safe environment and physical care all have a significant impact on a child’s development and so it’s important to invest in a nursery environment which can provide all three!
By the time a child reaches school age, their brain development is built upon the solid foundation created in the first five years. However, It is more difficult for children to take advantage of learning environments, such as school, if they have not had optimal early learning experiences beforehand.
Through attending a quality pre-school, children develop a number of “soft skills” which benefit them throughout their later life, such as social skills, positive self esteem and self identity, communication skills and language, they gain independence, self confidence, they benefit from the stimulation provided by being with other children and the stability of a daily routine.
What should parents look for when choosing a pre-school/nursery for their child? There are literally hundreds of nurseries in Bucharest, which can be confusing for parents. State or private? Romanian or international? Small or large? Should it be near home or doesn’t this matter?
WHEN LOOKING FOR A NURSERY
While every parent has their own personal preferences, below is a list of things to bear in mind when looking for a nursery:
State or private: some people may opt for a state run nursery, considering that it’s not worth investing financially in pre-school education, since they “only play at that age” – however, nothing could be further from the truth! An investment in a high quality pre-school is an investment in your child’s future! The state sector in Romania is largely under funded, resulting in large class sizes, a lack of specialized training for early years teachers and in general, a lack of morale. Of course, there are great teachers out there but …
A safe, clean but also relaxed environment: while the whole building should be safe the children’s rooms should also be an active space where independence and curiosity are encouraged through having toys and games readily available within children’s reach.
Trained teachers: In Acorns nurseries we’ve developed our own training programme for all our teachers, which prepare them for meeting the needs of each age group – not only the children’s physical needs, but also support their personal, social and emotional development, communication, maths, understanding of the world and creativity. Good ratios of teachers to children are essential in order to meet the children’s needs, such as a teacher to every 4-6 children.
Happy children: when you go to visit a nursery, always ask to spend some time in the children’s rooms rather than just in the manager’s office. By having a good look around you’ll be able to hear and feel the atmosphere, listen to how teachers interact with the children, look to see if children are happy and engaged in what they are doing, with freedom to move around and explore.
Suitable resources: every age group should have its own high quality toys, games and teaching resources which are suitable for the children’s age. It’s not unknown for private nurseries to take under 3’s in a class of older children – this is not good practice since under 3’s (and especially under 2’s) have their own unique needs.
A large garden with plenty of scope for exercise, safe climbing and exploring the outdoors. The children should have time outside every day, even during the winter.
Communication: a quality nursery will aim to keep parents fully informed of every step in their child’s development. Teachers should be available for parents to talk to each day and regular meetings should take place during which parents find out about their child’s progress.
…And so the list could go on and on! What’s clear is that a good nursery should put the needs of the children first.
Study after study after study reaches the same conclusion: early childhood education has a tremendous impact on life outcomes. Even former-president Barak Obama mentioned the importance of early education in his 2013 State of the Union address. As Huffington Post contributor and a teacher with 35 years experience Vicki Palmer writes:
“Early childhood education is about honing and molding the holistic child, which will eventually form the basis of their lifelong journey.” An investment in early education is an investment in the future!
Fiona Duţu is a British-qualified teacher specialising in early years. She’s been the Head Teacher at Acorns for 10 years, prior to this she was head of Primary at IBSB. See more on www.acorns.ro.