3 years ago when my son joined play group he was about 2, the school had a reputed “brand name” and was in a great location. And then the bubble burst when my son returned from his school sports day with red hand imprints on his cheek. Not yet forming complete sentences he could only indicate that he had been slapped (either by a maid/teacher, we still do not know).

Shocked and outraged, we waged a campaign against the school and made our story public on TV and in newspapers. All the media attention soon died down and my son’s case didn’t lead anywhere but it did teach us to be super-careful and advise other parents accordingly.

This article is one of those endeavors.

Pre-schools have long outgrown being simple home set-ups; today the pre-school segment in India has turned into an organized sector with structured, planned programmes for children and its net worth is expected to be close to $985 million!

Since pre-schools have no benchmarks, legislations or the aegis of state/central boards they are usually “do as you like” operations, so need to be chosen with care.

Some things to check for when you choose any pre-school.

  • Brand name: More than the international brand name it is better to personally check if the Principal and teachers seem knowledgeable and have a good attitude. Preferably pre-schools which have been functioning for at least 3-5 years should be your benchmark, as they have systems and procedures in place. Also, if the school has branches in India and abroad that’s a bonus as the pre-schools which have international affiliations are organized and more accountable and also have better standards.

 

  • Staff: Personally talk to the teachers who will be with your child; observe them in the classroom. Some schools make it mandatory for pre-school teachers to undergo specific training programmes, others just pick up random part-timers to work with them. So do interview the teachers. Also check the maid, bus driver and other care-takers. Remember pre-school is the crucial place your child will learn values, basic manners even toilet training. So it should be a warm, nurturing place more than an education base for your child.
  • Room for growth: Is the playschool following the correct teacher: student ratio (ideally 1: 10). Avoid pre-schools where your child is crowded with 30 other children in a dingy classroom with not enough toys/materials to go around. Your child would probably do much better at home under your supervision!

 

  • Is the school toddler-proof? One of the mistakes I made in choosing my child’s first pre-school was the location of the classroom which was in the basement with steep stairs leading down! Safety for young ones is of prime importance in considering a pre-school.

Check the safety measures such as railings, gate locks and access to traffic. Ensure that your child cannot wander off alone and will be watched at all times.   Check if the school has a security guard present. Also make sure the school bus is comfortable and safe, and female escorts are there to accompany children in the bus.

 

  • Hygiene: Check if the toilets are clean and well equipped. Ascertain that the teachers/maids can handle your child during washroom visits as the child will not be old enough to indicate toilet needs. Ascertain that the children are taught to wash their hands and clean themselves before meals. Also make sure the toys and other teaching aids are kept clean.

 

  • Teaching: Before enrolling your child have a look at how your child is being taught. What play materials and activities will be used to teach your child? Some pre-schools teach toddlers ONLY via books, avoid such schools! The teaching at this age should be more “playway”, that is learning through fun. There should be a variety of games, rhymes, craft activities; puppet shows etc to keep the interest and attention of the child alive.

Think about choosing a preschool the same way you would think about finding a new job or a new pediatrician for your child. Locate all the good pre-schools in your area and speak to a few neighbors and friends about the merit of each. Narrow down your choice to 2 or 3 and then visit each one personally and check on all the above factors. Also, most schools allow any one parent to sit in with very young children (below 3) on the first few days of pre-school. Do request for this.

Finally, make a wise decision and choose a school that your child will be happy in!

This post originally appeared in the RobinAge.