How to choose a suitable kindergarten


Kindergarten is the first place in a child’s social development, where he ends up growing out of a cozy, but already too cramped home environment for him. Thinking about what an ideal kindergarten for a child should be like, a parent is faced with a wide field of choice: private, municipal, close to home, with super preparation for school, with a teacher about whom parents make legends in chats... We’ll look into this material , what to look for when choosing a kindergarten.

Main question
Let's start with the main question that a parent needs to ask himself: what is he waiting for, what does he imagine a good kindergarten to be?

Often a kindergarten is considered good if it will provide a child with a successful start to school. Many parents have developed social anxiety about the future of their children, so they look at the garden as a place where the child should prepare for school in order to then ensure the right educational and life trajectory.

This is where the misconceptions begin. What should happen in kindergarten for this most successful start? Many consider a large number of classes with workbooks and copybooks to be a necessary condition for good preschool preparation.

But it is not so. More precisely, not at all like that. Kindergarten is important because it is where the prerequisites for successful school activities mature: initiative, the ability to cooperate, think, consciously follow the rules, establish cause-and-effect relationships, invent, and develop imagination. All these qualities are more likely to arise not in the classroom, but in work in small groups, in free activity.

There is a cliché in the humanitarian field: everything or a lot depends on the person. But when we say this phrase, we mean a continuation: from a person, not from a system, not from given rules. In fact, it is a bad situation when everything depends on specific people, because important conditions must be provided systematically.

In 2013, such a system was set by the standard of preschool education - the Federal State Educational Standard. It was developed by leading Russian scientists. It outlined the fundamentally important requirements for kindergartens. Thus, the standard highlights such a priority as conditions for the individualization of education. All research at the beginning of the 20th century, dating back to Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey, showed that in order to develop universal abilities - cognitive, communicative - you need to approach different people differently. Different paths should lead to the same results, in accordance with the characteristics of the person.

Another priority is the ability to be proactive and build your own line, to be capable of self-expression and self-realization. It turns out that people who are sensitive to themselves and understand their own needs perform better. They better understand the tasks they can solve and realize themselves better. In addition, modern high-level production, where initiative is needed, requires specialists who can act flexibly and enjoy their work. In order for an adult to realize himself, already in kindergarten, the support of individuality, the child’s “I” is needed: “I am interested, I want, I understand what I can do” - the child can already be aware of such things.

All this is really important and corresponds to modern research in the field of developmental psychology.

Nine years after the adoption of the standard, many changes have occurred in preschool education, but it cannot yet be said that all kindergartens have caught up and began to work in accordance with the requirements of this document. Today, some implement the requirements of the standard to a greater extent, others less. And this means that parents have room for choice.

It is clear that fathers and mothers are not obliged to operate in the categories of the normative document; it is mostly addressed to teachers, although it is important for the public in principle. But it’s good if parents understand that there are rules that are set.

To interfere, not to interfere, to help

Now we know for sure that how life is organized in a preschool group determines how the child will develop further. In particular, research shows that a good kindergarten has a long-term effect on children's development: such children do better at school, are better socially adapted, and are less anxious.

As data from the famous British longitudinal study have shown, the “echo” of high-quality preschool education is noticeable until the end of primary school. However, if the child went to a low-quality kindergarten, there will not be such a beneficial effect.
Three groups of kindergartens

Kindergartens can be divided into three large groups.

In the first, children's development is interfered with. This happens in cases where there is an unfriendly atmosphere in the kindergarten: the child is scolded, reprimanded, shamed, accused: “Aren’t you ashamed? How could you do this? Boys never cry, girls don’t do that...” All this is a real threat to children's emotional development. An overly structured life, when children have little free time, also has a bad effect on development.

y activity, they constantly sit at tables during classes, often doing something according to a model.

I won’t name the exact percentage of such groups, but based on the results of a study that our laboratory conducted in 2016–2017, I can say that there are clearly fewer of them. Partly because modern parents more often go over to the child’s side and less often say to the teacher: “You are stricter with me, you keep him with a tight rein.” But we still have more gardens, where children have little time for free activity, act a lot according to models, and are immersed in a poor environment.

The second group is gardens, where development is likely not to be hampered. The teacher behaves kindly with the children, smiles when meeting them, can hug them, the children have time for free activity and the opportunity to express themselves. But the environment is quite poor.

Usually in such kindergartens everything is arranged like this: breakfast, an hour and a half of studying at the tables, completing tasks most often according to the instructions of adults, then a walk. It would seem - this is free activity, run, play. But on the playground there are often no toys or equipment for development: a slide, a couple of shovels, a car, if one of the children brought it. That is, there is no equipment that helps the child develop different muscle groups, pull himself up, throw and roll a ball.

In such kindergartens, teachers, even if they are friendly, rarely ask questions that stimulate thinking and imagination. Of course, children can organize a game using sticks and twigs if there is at least something on the playground, but teachers do not know how to create conditions for developed play - they rather let the children “play”, as if the game itself did not deserve developing conditions.

Let us note that children are not always able to develop a complex game with interesting plots, but it is in such a game that both subjectivity - the ability to make decisions - and arbitrariness - the ability to control one’s behavior and imagination mature. Such kindergartens, where children are rather not disturbed, make up the majority.

There are still few gardens of the third group, but their number began to increase after the adoption of the standard.

In these kindergartens, everything good that was in the previous group remains: a friendly, calm atmosphere, where children are not rushed, not blamed, not shamed, where they can talk to the teacher and share something with him. At the same time, the gardens have a rich, rich environment. For example, there are so many cubes there that you can build a small city. And many more books. By the way, a national study showed that in preschool groups there are often few books, they are often shabby, ugly, there are not always encyclopedias, publications devoted to natural phenomena, technology, and all this interests the children.

In high-quality groups, everything is arranged for children's play - there are unstructured materials, clothes for dressing. The adult in such groups stimulates children's development - creates a challenge, poses interesting questions, offers tasks to come up with something new and unusual, sometimes joining in the children's play, knows how to integrate, and does not take away the initiative from the children.

There are such kindergartens both among municipal and private ones (we’ll talk about this in more detail below). The priority of education in such kindergartens is children's initiative, the development of imagination, communication, the ability to cooperate, focus on others, and thinking, because children at this age are able to solve interesting problems and love it. And, of course, voluntariness - as the ability to control oneself, follow the rules and discuss them.
How to understand that a kindergarten is child-friendly

When choosing a kindergarten, parents cannot immerse themselves in its life, so external manifestations are important here, by which one can understand whether the child will be happy in this kindergarten.

First of all, you need to pay attention to the contact between the teacher and the child. How he speaks, asks questions, listens to answers, smiles, whether he pulls children - we are talking about the picture of non-verbal behavior, how friendly it is. Eye contact, the ability to sit down at the child’s level, ask how he is, and start a conversation are important. If there is such contact, then the child will receive an emotional message that he is good, that he is seen, that he will be listened to.

Support for individuality in kindergarten can be judged by some indirect signs. One of them is children's crafts: things that children take home and happily show to their parents. Usually parents look to see if their child turned out no worse than the neighbor’s, especially when the teacher arranges all the crafts for the exhibition, and it is clear that one has a lopsided butterfly, while the other has an even one, like in the sample. However, if it is important to you whether the kindergarten supports the child’s individuality, pay attention to whether such works are exhibited where children can realize themselves, acting not according to a model, but according to their own ideas. After all, if a child constantly does everything according to the model, where will he have the ability to realize his plan? And this ability emerges in preschool age.

More about

One indirect sign of support for individuality is the presence of children's photographs and drawings. Once upon a time it was a whole event - to call a photographer and print pictures. Now this is a matter of priority, including professional - if they are not in kindergarten, it means that the teacher does not consider them important. However, the presence of children's photographs sends a signal to the child that he is being treated carefully as an individual. If there are photographs in the group of children doing something - building, playing, setting the table - this is a sign of the adult’s professionalism: in this way he supports the children in their constructiveness and development.

It is fundamentally important for a child to be surrounded by evidence of his productivity. If, when entering a group, we cannot find a single child’s work, this indicates that the adult does not understand their value for the child himself. Therefore, we look to see if there are photographs, children’s works, whether they hang at the child’s eye level so that he can see them - this is important.

Children's matinees can also tell some of the support for individuality. Unfortunately, they have become almost the only meeting place between kindergarten and parent. By the way this holiday is organized, one can judge how much children's individuality is supported.

Teachers don’t have KPIs (editor’s note: Key Performance Indicator - key performance or performance indicators), but they want to show that they are doing a good job. It often happens like this: the teacher handed out pieces of paper, told them to learn poems at home, and then tedious rehearsals begin. Such a holiday turns into a real test for children; it plays a function opposite to that for which it was intended. Instead of realizing the child’s capabilities, developing his imagination, independence, these are the results of training. This is time that was stolen from the game, from self-realization.

I don’t want to say that children’s parties, where children prepare a dance or song, are not needed, but it is important how it is done. If the holiday is organized as a developmental event, children can act as authors, directors, decorators, and costume masters - if there is an emphasis on individuality. And parents can see all this.

The next point is the richness of the environment for the game. Many advanced parents read Dima Zitser, Lyudmila Petranovskaya, play “according to Bakhotsky” and know that play is not relaxation, but a complex activity in which many psychological characteristics important for future life arise - subjectivity (the child says: “come on, I’ll do so...", "what will happen if..."), arbitrariness, the ability to follow the rules, because there are many rules in the game, the role is also a rule.

The game doesn’t grow just like that, it needs time, materials for costumes, an environment in which you can build a hairdresser, a space station, and a dragon island from unstructured objects. Adults who understand a little about this, looking into the group, can evaluate how the space for play is arranged and whether there is everything necessary for it.

Sometimes it is difficult for adults to assess the richness of the environment because we rely on our experience. Sometimes parents, remembering their kindergarten, look into the group and say: “Oh, you have a toy kitchen, and a hairdresser, and a hospital - great!” But it's more important that there are things there that can turn into anything and stimulate play.

Also pay attention to whether paints and brushes are available to children or are provided by the teacher. This shows how freely children can use materials for artistic creativity.

Parents do not always consider this important; many look at kindergarten from the point of view of the so-called preparation for school and at the same time believe that the kindergarten where children are “educated” at their desks will prepare well. These are outdated stereotypes. All studies show that in order for a child to read, write and count with interest at school, in kindergarten it is necessary to do something else: create conditions for play, construction, and experimentation. By the way, in most groups there are no conditions for children’s experimentation at all: for example, there is no sand, no water, or the equipment necessary for research - even the simplest ones. But when a child pours something, weighs, measures, he learns to establish cause-and-effect relationships, learns to count.

It is also worth paying attention to whether the preschool group has children’s writing. But not in the form of copybooks or workbooks, but in the form of inscriptions that are made by children or that are made for children - signed boxes with toys, children's notes. In fact, children love to learn to write and read, but not in school formats, but through play, when an adult helps them do this, shows them how to write, and the children begin to write themselves. If we see notes that children write, calendars made together with children, where they cross out the days themselves, this is a good sign that shows that in this group they work on children’s individuality and initiative, and literacy is mastered in children’s activities.
Private or municipal

We don't have research

, which would compare the quality of private and municipal gardens, but, as an expert, I can say that the watershed does not follow this line.

The obvious advantage of a private garden is small groups, a different ratio of children and adults. Of course, it's good when the group is not overcrowded. But the most important thing, after all, is not the type of ownership, but the competencies of teachers. Today, both among private and municipal gardens, you can find those in which children are listened to, asked interesting questions, and conditions for play and cooperation are created, or you can find traditional activities where life is strictly structured, there is no place for spontaneity, laughter and exploration.

It happens that teachers of private kindergartens, explaining why they have so many classes, why children work from workbooks (which is not shown in preschool age), say: parents demand this, and since they pay, the kindergarten must provide. In this sense, private gardens are often under pressure from insufficiently competent requests.

There is no need to blame parents, we understand that social anxiety is behind this, parents want the best for their children. But it is professionals who must explain what is best for children, because ideas about this have changed in the last 40 years. Accordingly, it is impossible to say that a private garden is guaranteed to be better than a municipal one.
The benefits of word of mouth

When choosing a kindergarten, many parents read reviews on the Internet, but I would advise you to rely on the judgments of those who are close to you in values. When people say that a particular garden is very good, it is important to ask the question: “What exactly do you like?”

If we talk about resources where people leave reviews, it is important to understand on what basis the reviewers make their choice. There are those who continue to believe that children need to be treated more strictly and placed at a desk more often. This may be a family history, a general attitude, and it may not coincide with yours.

Regarding strictness, we note: there is nothing wrong with teaching a child to be orderly, but it is fundamentally important how this is done in the garden. Does the environment feel aggressive or, conversely, friendly; whether the rules are prescribed authoritarianly or the adult discusses them with the children - and then you may find drawings of rules made by children on the walls.

So, first of all, you need to sort out your own priorities, and then decide who is worth listening to and who is not.
ECERS-R scale - for parents or for specialists

A huge institute at the University of North Carolina conducted complex research into the reliability and consistency of expert assessments and created a unique metric - a tool for reliable objective assessment appeared, which is not easy to create in the humanitarian field. This is a rather complex, seven-point scale with four levels, which includes indicators and indicators.

“Family” ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) are observation scales that allow you to evaluate the educational environment of a separate kindergarten group. The educational environment refers to how space is organized, how time is distributed, and, of course, the nature of the teacher’s interaction with children. The expert spends three hours in the group, observing the children, and sees all the nuances of life - how classes are held, how free activities proceed, what happens during meals, while getting ready for a walk and during the walk itself.

The tool has gained international fame for its reliability and has been translated into many languages. Using ECERS, our laboratory at Moscow State Pedagogical University conducted a national study assessing the quality of preschool education in 2016–2017, and we learned a lot about Russian kindergartens.

This tool is also educational. It is voluminous and addressed to quality assessment specialists; it is difficult for an ordinary educator to read it, but if he picks it up, he will find a lot of interesting things there - and not only about how his work is assessed, but also what can be done to qualitatively change the situation and approach.

Whether parents should read ECERS is a difficult question, because it is a professional tool. But for advanced moms and dads, it can be useful in order to figure out what a modern kindergarten should be like. Knowledge is never superfluous.
For parents who feel a lot of anxiety about choosing a kindergarten, it is important to know that, according to a British study, the home educational environment is of great importance for the development of children - how often parents talk to their children, read books together, spend time at least sometimes , invite other children to their home. Moreover, the quality of such a home environment has a stronger effect on child development than the parents’ profession, level of education or income. As this study states, “What parents do is more important than who they are.”

I’ll add for especially anxious parents who worry that they are spending too little time with their children because of work: for children, the quality of communication is more important than its quantity, so half an hour a day/

Spending a heart-to-heart conversation over a good book may be quite enough to establish warm, trusting relationships and support children's curiosity.

All this does not detract from the importance of finding a good kindergarten, but it should reduce anxiety: if there are warm, trusting relationships in the family, there is experience in reading together and visiting interesting places, you are already laying an important foundation for development, even if the kindergarten does not have high-quality educational conditions.

But if, despite all this, you managed to find a preschool group where there is a warm atmosphere, a rich environment, and many opportunities for play, thinking and imagination, that’s wonderful.

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