What Is High-Quality Child Care? (page 3)

By — Cornell University, College of Human Ecology
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

For Preschool Children

Preschool children learn through play. Good early childhood professionals understand that children are not “just playing”; play is the way they learn.

Caregivers are important in this process because they help children get access to the materials and toys that they need for playing and learning. Caregivers also guide the children when they don’t know what to do next, help them resolve interpersonal conflicts, and teach them how to get along with one another.

Preschoolers are old enough to begin playing more group games. For these they need balls of all sizes. Simple hoops and goal posts will be all children will need to imagine themselves as basketball, football, and soccer stars.

Preschool teachers should have both a degree or considerable training in early childhood education and experience working with children this age. This preparation and experience provide caregivers with a solid understanding of what three- to five-year-old children are capable of and why they think and behave as they do. The center director should be able to tell you about the educational backgrounds of the staff members and how much on-the-job training they have had.

Preschool-aged children should be following a predictable daily routine. A written schedule should be posted in the classroom to orient visitors. This schedule can contain some flexibility, but children this age like the feeling of being able to predict what will happen next. Serving snacks and meals at a regular time and having a regular nap time helps them feel secure in their environment.

Here are some specific things to look for when you observe the staff in action in the preschool room:

  • How do the teachers and caregivers handle transitions from one activity to another, such as getting everyone dressed to go outside during the winter? Children often get antsy and frustrated when they are kept waiting for something to happen. An experienced caregiver anticipates these moments and eases the tension with a song or an activity.
  • Do the caregivers sit and work with the children as they explore new activities and try out new skills? Or do they simply start the children out on projects and then stand back and watch? Adults should actually engage with the children during these activities to give them confidence and ease them through frustrations.
  • Are the daily routines and activities set up in ways that allow children to make choices? If the room is organized into different activity areas, children should be able to choose among those opportunities during free play time. Having materials and toys stored on shelves that are clearly labeled and easily accessible also helps children choose among various alternatives.
  • Are caregivers alert and ready to assist children with personal care routines such as eating, going to the bathroom, and dressing themselves if they show need for that assistance?
  • Do you see indications that staff members respect each child’s individual needs and characteristics? Caregivers should recognize and respond to the unique personalities and particular habits of individual children, even while they are careful not to play favorites or discriminate against anyone.
  • Do the caregivers set appropriate and consistent limits on the children’s behavior? Children and caregivers can together establish the rules they all need to follow and list them for all to see. The rules should be stated in positive terms (e.g., “We use walking feet inside” or “inside walking!”). “Time out” should be used only if the child needs to calm down and collect herself. The caregiver should stay with the child during the time out period, rather than leaving her in a corner by herself.
  • Are children treated the same way regardless of special needs, social class, sex, racial background, or ethnic origin? Watch to make sure that they are receiving an equal amount of positive, supportive attention from the caregivers. Is the classroom set up to accommodate children with special needs? Is the staff expecting the same things of girls as they do of boys?
  • Do the caregivers/teachers greet the children when they arrive in the morning and then make an effort to integrate them into the play of the children already in the center? This is a difficult transition for some children, who need special attention from the caregiver in order to adjust smoothly to the new environment each day.
  • Watch what happens at snack time and outdoors. Are the teachers actively involved with the children during these times, or do they see these as “time off” periods for themselves?

Good preschool caregivers are explorers. They delight in “playing along” as the children lead them into worlds of fantasy and imagination. Along the way they assist the children in finding new props for the plays they are creating. They also offer advice when conflicts occur and ask good open-ended questions that help the children expand on their ideas. Look for these interactions. If you see them, you will know you have found a talented early childhood professional.

Good caregivers are comfortable expressing warmth and caring toward children. They are not afraid to hold or hug or simply touch the children they work with. All human beings need physical contact with others. Ensuring that this need is met for children who spend a large part of their day in a child care setting is especially important. Of course, certain kinds of touching are inappropriate, but preschool children can be taught what kinds of contact are good and what kinds are not right. Caregivers should feel comfortable scooping children up in their arms and hugging them. Smiles, soft voices, and caring and encouraging words are also a regular part of the child care environment. As a parent, you may feel jealous or envious at first, knowing that an adult other than you is holding your child’s hand and receiving her hugs. It is important for you to work through those feelings and move beyond them to appreciate the wonderful contributions these special people can make to your child’s development. Know that you are not alone in feeling envious or jealous, but know too that these feelings can be overcome.

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