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Talking to Your Child's Preschool Teacher

Enrolling your little one in preschool can bring many questions: How well will my child adjust to preschool? Will my child make friends? Will the teacher understand my child?

Establishing and maintaining an open, clear channel of communication with the preschool teacher can lessen many parental concerns.

Getting to Know the Teacher

When selecting a preschool, consider these factors: safety, cleanliness, general curriculum, overall philosophy, cost, and location. Try to meet the teacher before making your selection and make an appointment to visit the classroom. Watch how the teacher interacts with the kids, talk with the teacher, and ask questions.

While in the classroom, pay attention to how the teacher runs the class and how the children respond to his or her direction. If the kids seem happy and interact well with the teacher, chances are good that the teacher's classroom style will be a fit for your child as well.

When you talk with the teacher, ask about a typical day. You may also want to ask specific questions, such as, "If my child came into class crying one morning, how might you handle that?" or "How do you deal with a child who hits others?" Other useful questions might include how the teacher handles discipline, temper tantrums, toilet teaching, biting, or other preschooler concerns.

A teacher's answers can help you evaluate how creative he or she might be in responding to everyday classroom dilemmas. You can also learn a great deal from how responsive a teacher is to your questions. If the teacher appears defensive, uncomfortable, or uninterested while replying, that could signal future communication problems and may mean that the teacher and preschool aren't right for your family.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Some preschools schedule meetings during the year to discuss the kids' developmental and behavioral progress. Usually, these conferences cover play style and social, language, cognitive, and physical development.

A parent-teacher conference should be the time for listening and communicating openly. If your child's teacher has prepared a formal report for the meeting, let him or her go through it before asking questions.

Most of the time, a preschool teacher will emphasize a child's strengths. But the parent-teacher conference also offers an opportunity to point out areas that kids might need to work on. For example, a teacher may suggest writing letters, stringing beads, or practicing cutting skills at home to improve fine motor skills.

If the teacher has concerns about your child, try not to become defensive — this could make the teacher hesitant to discuss any problems for fear of confrontation. Try to ask direct and focused questions, with the assumption that any problems raised are ones that can be solved. Because of the limited time of most parent-teacher conferences, however, it might be useful to schedule a future time when any troublesome issues can be discussed in more detail.

If your work schedule doesn't allow you to attend conferences or if the preschool doesn't schedule them, you should feel comfortable making arrangements to speak with the teacher at other times. Meeting or talking regularly with the teacher will help you understand your child's progress and demonstrate your interest and cooperation.

Discussing Problems

When problems such as biting arise, the best tip is for parents and the teacher to sit down and discuss the issue together. If your child has serious behavioral problems, talk to your doctor, who can work with your child and may refer you to a psychologist.

If your preschooler complains about the teacher, try to find out the specifics. Often, preschoolers might complain if they're put in time-out or not given a popular classroom job, such as line leader. It's helpful if you support the teacher and talk to your child about following rules or taking turns.

In deciding whether to bring up a problem with the teacher, it's important not to overestimate a preschooler's point of view. If, for example, your toddler complains that "no one plays with me" or "I'm bored" in school, give it some time if it doesn't seem serious.

Preschoolers' likes and dislikes frequently change, and they're just starting to learn how to interact with other kids their age. Also, a whole range of factors — including whether they're sick, hungry, or tired — can influence day-to-day reactions to school. However, if your child continues to complain, acts different from usual, or is unusually unhappy, contact the teacher at once.

If you have concerns about the teacher's style or performance, talk to him or her first. If your concerns aren't resolved to your satisfaction, your next stop should be the teacher's supervisor. Try to work out any problems rather than changing preschool teachers midyear, unless absolutely necessary. Kids who are switched to a new school might interpret that to mean that whenever there's a problem, it can be solved with a new teacher or a new school. It's better to show kids how to work through problems rather than avoid them.

Building a Relationship

It's important to form a good relationship with your child's preschool teacher — for both you and your child. Approach the teacher with an open mind and clear, direct questions, so that you can be a part of your child's preschool experience and take pride in your little one's achievements.

Remember to also share praise — both yours and your child's — with the teacher, as well as his or her supervisor ("My child really enjoys storytime," for example). This approach not only makes the teacher feel appreciated, but also creates a positive framework that makes it easier for teachers to receive any negative feedback in a constructive way.

Think of yourself and your child's teacher as a team whose shared goal is to help make your child's preschool experience a happy and productive one.