The preschool years – from birth to age five – see the most active period of development the brain ever undergoes, where neurological pathways are established for future learning, and patterns of health and behaviour are laid down that may affect the trajectory of a child’s life. All the more important, therefore, to find a preschool that will give your little one the greatest start.
If you are new to the Cayman education system, or this is your first child, you might want to check out a prospective preschool’s latest inspection report, produced by the Office of Education Standards, a division of the Cayman Islands Government. Their highly insightful school reports enable you to glean a wealth of insight about a school before you even book your tour! Judged according to various criteria, preschools receive a rating from Weak to Satisfactory, Good or Excellent and inspection reports detail recommendations to improve standards. However, there are a wealth of other factors to consider. Here are a few pointers:
10 Markers of an Excellent Preschool
Here are some pointers to consider. You will find a list of Cayman's preschools at the bottom of this article.
1. Qualified & Passionate Early Childhood Practitioners
Current Education Council Guidelines stipulate that only one member of staff (out of every ten) must possess a Teaching Licence – though not necessarily specific to Early Childhood Education. Excellent preschools invest in well qualified early childhood teaching practitioners, experienced and passionate about this unique stage of learning and development. The socio-emotional bonds and relationships that your child builds with teachers are central to nurturing positive dispositions to learning.
2. An Active, Hands-on Learning Environment
Quality preschools create engaging, developmentally appropriate, purposeful, and enjoyable play-based learning environments that tap into the interests and fascinations of each child. Diversity should be reflected in all aspects of these environments and mirrored in displays, books, artwork and photographs. Offering a mixture of self-initiated and adult-led activities including exploratory play with open-ended resources (e.g. water play, role play and sensory play), fosters creativity, teamwork, independent thinking and a strong sense of self.
3. Developmentally Appropriate Foundational Skills
Preparing children for the next stage of their learning journey is vital but beware of the trend towards ‘schoolification’ (introducing school standards earlier via increased teacher-directed pedagogies, less playtime, greater attention to academic content and isolated, technical instruction) as this can backfire, increasing stress hormones in the brain. Conversely, creating fun, purposeful language and print rich environments that promote ‘serve-and-return’ interactions motivates children to read and write, promotes curiosity, and creates lifelong learners and creative, critical thinkers.
4. Routines & Expectations
Children thrive with clear routines and expectations, but within this there should be a healthy mix of free play and small group sessions that are structured to your child’s needs. Likewise, flexibility within the syllabus allows children to pursue their own interests. It is important that value is placed on the process of how children learn, rather than simply the end result.
5. Music & Movement
Children intuitively love music, songs, nursery rhymes and clapping games. Regular exposure to different rhythms, rhymes, sounds and instruments, along with movement and dance, is key to developing language, number concepts, spatial awareness and socio-emotional bonds.
6. A Shady & Stimulating Outdoor Environment
Education Council Guidelines require all Early Childhood Centres to have 40-square-feet of useable outdoor space per registered child. This should include a shady garden or play area where children can engage with nature and enjoy fresh air and stimulating physical play out of the sun.
7. Themes & Topics
Exploring a variety of topics linked to books, learning activities, outings, or guest speakers sparks curiosity, firing children’s imaginations and enabling them to make connections between concepts and the world in which they live.
8. Caring for animals
Whilst not possible at all preschools, guinea pigs or rabbits make perfect nursery pets. Looking after and cuddling animals instils responsibility, nurtures compassion and empathy, and reduces anxiety in children.
9. Parent Partnerships
When parents feel engaged, and schools establish clear and effective lines of communication, the result is improved outcomes and fewer behavioural issues. Positive engagement with parents and families surrounding matters like behaviour, rewards and sanctions, screen time, or nutrition, makes for a more cohesive and supportive school experience for all.
10. Positive Atmosphere & Ethos
Preschools should have a caring, nurturing ‘can-do’ ethos, that promotes thinking and where mistakes are seen as integral to the learning process. Skills such as concentration, trying a different approach, risk-taking, or perseverance should be praised. This kind of responsive, nurturing, respectful caregiving fosters confidence and an all-important sense of belonging.
Observe how teachers listen and talk to children in their care. They should embody and model the kindness and respect you would like your child to develop. Naturally, there are practical considerations to choosing a preschool, including location and hours of operation, but those ‘good feels’ should not be ignored.
It is worth noting that some preschools in Cayman have long waiting lists. Many require you to sign up your child while pregnant. If you do not get your child into your first choice then do not despair there are plenty of great preschools in Cayman that will give your child a brilliant start to their education.