Are the early childhood education programs cropping up everywhere a smart jump-start or glorified daycare?
Don't worry: Enrolling your 2-year-old in school won't make you a Tiger Mom. Early preschools, or Two's programs, are popping up across the country and they have real benefits for the pre-pre-K set, says Amanda Brooks, founder of the Brooks School in New York City. Unlike many daycare centers, these transitional preschools offer enrichment programs like art, music, dance, sensory play, and technology—and educators with credentials, says Brooks. But Two's programs are different from traditional pre-K's, which start at age 3, because the school day is less structured and the process of acclimating to school, socializing, and language acquisition is done at a slower pace. You can enroll your child in just two half days (about three hours) a week, for example—ideal for a child who needs some time socializing with other kids but not daily childcare. Here are a few rules of thumb to consider before settling on a school:
DON'T apply to a program just because it comes highly recommended, says Brooks. “Visit the school, talk to the teachers, then figure out if it is the right fit for your child.” You can also go to the National Association for the Education of Young Children's website, naeyc.org, to find accredited programs in your area.
DO opt for class sizes of fewer than 15 students, or a ratio of one teacher to every three to five kids.
DON'T rush it. Preschool typically begins in September, but there are programs with rolling admission, too. The calmer and more secure the parent, the smoother the process.
DO look at it as an educational opportunity. “Parents can learn early on about their child's strengths and struggles—and how to handle them,” says Brooks. So consider a program that offers workshops, camps, and one-on-one support for parents, too.