In two and a half months, children will be going back to school after long Christmas holidays. It’s also time for you to finally let go of your small child to the different environment of nursery school. The aim of nursery school is implicitly educational-not just in the field of encouraging the child’s intellectual development but also enlarging the child’s social skills in relating to other children and adults, and encouraging independence.
Children at play need time to run around and let off steam, as well as time for constructive play, and a good nursery school will offer a healthy balance between free and structured times of the day. It’s important to have some structured activity in each play session, as this encourages concentration and task solving, hence encouraging intellectual development. Typical activities of this sort which children enjoy are all types of art work, colour matching games, construction materials, puzzles, make-believes, and so on.
Three-year-olds onwards especially enjoy periods of make-believe and will develop complex imaginative games and conversations, particularly if left alone without adults to inhibit their imagination. In these imaginary games at this age children often play best in pairs, and most often seem to choose friends of their own sex.
By three, children are well aware of whether they are boys or girls, and may already be developing stereotyped ideas of how each sex should behave in response to adult and environmental conditioning. Try and find a nursery school which employs staff of both sexes, and where children are encouraged to play within a wide range of activities, such as woodwork, cooking and so on in a way which does not encourage sex stereotyping.
For much of the time children enjoy playing in groups, particularly for singing and dancing games, and stories. Being with other children encourages learning to co-operate with others, to respect other children, and to listen to and help others.
Choosing a nursery school
Selecting any form of pre-school facility may seem rather daunting. It is very much an individual decision, based on your own needs and what you feel is most appropriate for your child. Do not be too influenced by other people’s opinions, but go and see for yourself and trust your own intuitive feelings. It is important to find somewhere that seems truly to like and value children, and that is warm and welcoming to both parents and children.
Beware of the too-tidy nursery, and be sure to ask about the aims and philosophies of the place in order to find out if your ideas are similar to theirs. This is particularly important in respect of discipline, competitiveness, attitudes to toileting and meal times. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about aspects you find worrying, and look for open, frank answers. Good nursery teachers will welcome parental interest and constructive criticism, and will be happy for parents to become involved in nursery activities.
Some nursery schools stress the educational nature of the activities offered to children and may even encourage early reading. Although some children will enjoy these, those who aren’t ready for reading (the majority of four-year-olds) will be put off or discouraged by these activities, especially if they are forced to join in.
There is no evidence to suggest that it is helpful for children to learn to read before starting school at five, and for many children, it is an unnecessary pressure which can undermine self-confidence. Education is far broader than learning to read and write, and all the ‘play’ activities in pre-school groups are in themselves educational.
When considering any change of environment for your pre-school child, try and plan it carefully. Small children do not respond well to sudden changes. Some children are sociable and extrovert and will cheerfully wave goodbye on their first day at a new nursery, others are perhaps more apprehensive and anxious about separation from a parent and will need a few weeks of settling.
If you have a child who is clearly unhappy after three or four months, then it is important to discuss this with the teachers or a counselor as you may need to re-think and have your child back at home until she is a bit older.