Smart Start by Marian Edelman Borden is an excellent reference for parents of preschoolers. It covers every aspect of preschool education from choosing a preschool that's right for you and your child to separation anxiety to how to tell if your child is ready for kindergarten.
Smart Start begins by describing the many different types of preschools. It defines and compares the two most common preschool education philosophies (Piaget and Montessori) and gives examples of typical activities in both settings. It also discusses these philosophies in conjunction with religious affiliated schools, full and part-time programs and parent cooperatives along with pros and cons of each.
Possibly the most helpful section is the chapter on choosing a preschool. It covers the things to look for while visiting the school (a full page of things to observe in the teacher); questions to ask the teachers and director; and things to be wary of (safety and security, cleanliness).
Transitions and what's happening?
There are tips which are especially helpful in preparing your child for the first day of school and how to make the transition go smoothly. Included are separation anxiety, when the parent and teacher disagree on the separation process, and how to depart the classroom. Anyone who has ever left a preschooler on the first day (or days) knows how difficult that can be!
The section "What's Happening at School?" is informative as well as very interesting with explanations of what children learn while involved in specific preschool activities -- cooking, outdoor play, etc. Also included in this chapter are tips on getting your child to talk about what he/she did at school.
An important chapter, and something that is often overlooked, is the one regarding the parent-school relationship. It stresses the importance of parental involvement through parent-teacher conferences, arrival and departure times, and resolving conflict. It also offers suggestions for volunteering or sharing talents or hobbies with the kids along with parental classroom etiquette. Working parents will appreciate the suggestions for becoming involved during non-school hours.
What wasn't helpful
There were two chapters that, while somewhat informative, didn't offer much strictly in terms of preschool education. The most obvious is the one titled "The Day-Care Dilemma" which simply described the pros and cons of different day care options and how to find a caregiver. The other chapter is "How They Grow." It very briefly describes physical and intellectual milestones for different age groups but the majority of the chapter is devoted to common childhood illness. While illness is certainly an inevitable part of preschool, it seems unnecessary to include numerous descriptions of such things as symptoms of a common cold or vomiting.
There was a part of the appendix which seemed almost silly. It was "Web Sites for Parent Support Groups" and listed a mere three sites! Why even add it? Oddly, "websites for parents of preschoolers" is listed as one of the highlights on the book's back cover.
Checklists and more
Overall, Smart Start is an excellent resource. One would be hard pressed to find a topic relating to preschool that is not covered. It is well written and very easy to read with checklists, question and answer sections, highlighted tips, and even a preschool evaluation sheet. It is a must-read for parents looking for a preschool and a good resource for parents already enrolled.
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