Choosing a quality preschool for your little one can be a daunting task. What is a caring parent who wants the best for their child to do?

First, remember you are your child’s first teacher. Nothing can replace the value of everyday language and learning experiences in the home, from the moment of birth. Face-to-face talk, open-ended play, and reading aloud can catapult a child to school success.

Second, know that the choice is yours. Whether you choose private, public, voluntary Pre-k, or home schooling, you can make the best decision for your child’s learning needs.

Third, visit preschools. Take tours. Ask questions. Are they National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited?

Look for:

  • Teachers talking directly to children
  • Happy children talking, busy, engaged
  • Small group and whole group learning
  • Movement, music, and original art everywhere
  • Dramatic play, pretend play, spontaneous play, learning center play, outside play
  • Storybooks everywhere for reading aloud and joyful browsing

Last, and most importantly, look for language-driven learning with teacher to child, and child-to-child interactions.

A quality preschool gives children the same contentment, curiosity, and learning choices they have grown up with at home.

hide and seek

martinedehart / Pixabay

Imaginary play with pretend characters, a cardboard box, and a set of crayons is one of the most valuable educational opportunities for children. In fact, open-ended play is an essential part of childhood.

Jessica Lahey in her article, “Why Free Play is the Best Summer School,” says, “It’s the end of another academic year and time for summer … Unscheduled, unsupervised playtime is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health.”

But for many children, summer time is simply a shift from one group of structured activities to another.

Lahey reports on a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado on the play habits of six-year old children. They measured how much time each child spent in spontaneous play versus time in structured activities, such as lessons and sports practice.

The findings?

“Children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control.”

Free play literally develops a child’s intellect: their planning, organization, problem solving and goal setting skills.

All of that happens when children play—just play.

So what’s the take away for parents?

  • Fill the summer months with unstructured, creative playtime for your child.
  • Remember to keep open-ended play a part of your child’s everyday life. Horseplay and role play with your little one.
  • Tell stories and use your voice to become a character.
  •  Listen to music and move to music.
  • Read aloud and talk about storybooks.
  • And remember the basics: blocks, a cardboard box, a box of crayons, saucepans, and wooden spoons are just fine.

“Parents, if you really want to give your kid a head start on coming school year, relinquish some of that time you have earmarked for lessons or sports camp and let your children play. That’s it. Just play.” —Jessica Lahey

JM & Her ButterflySummer is a golden time to enjoy outdoor activities with your child. Look at your backyard as full of opportunities to explore words and ideas. Here’s an example from daddy Don. He and his daughter kept a daily account of their Monarch hatchery on the back porch.

Although Don didn’t intend it when he wrote, he is my guest blogger today. Don’s words and photos tell his delightful story.

“The caterpillars were hatched from eggs which the Monarch butterflies deposit on milkweed and other host plants. We take the leaf with the eggs and put it in a smaller container until they hatch. We transfer the caterpillars to the ‘tent’ (a bed canopy from IKEA $20) and replace the milkweed (in gallon containers) as they eat the leaves down. When the time comes, they climb to the top of the canopy, assume a ‘J’ shape and form the chrysalis. They incubate for 6 – 10 days and emerge as Monarch butterflies. My daughter is totally into it.

Thank you, Don, for sharing your journal and your daughter’s butterfly encounter. It’s a fascinating experience; early learning at its best. I recommend these butterfly storybooks:

  • Ten Little Caterpillars, by Bill Martin
  • Waiting for Wingers, by Lois Ehlert