Kayris asked how to go about researching kindergartens for her child. I consulted Richard E. Bavaria, senior vice president for education outreach for Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning and author of DrRickblog.com, a blog for educators and parents. He offers an equation: "A squared + C squared = Good Choice. The As are 'Atmosphere' and 'Adults.' The Cs are 'Curriculum' and 'Children.' "
* Atmosphere. Visit the school, Bavaria writes. "Are you greeted warmly? Do the children appear to be enjoying themselves and learning? Are the children playing and learning together? Is there children's art work on the walls? If the weather's nice, are there kids out on the playground? Does the playground appear safe? Trust your Mommy and Daddy instincts - does the place 'feel' right? Relax. If your child senses you're stressed, she will be, too."
* Adults. Does there seem to be a good teacher/student ratio? Recommendations vary, Bavaria says, but a good rule of thumb is that there should be a teacher or a trained assistant for every three or four children. "Do these adults seem to be genuinely devoted to the children?" he asks. "Do they seem to like being there? Do they take an interest in each child? Do they read books to the children regularly, enthusiastically, and frequently? What do other parents say about the school? Does the school communicate regularly and concisely with parents?"
* Curriculum. Bavaria recommends looking for a good balance of academic and social skills. "Yes, you want kindergarten to be nurturing the 'whole child,' but you also demand the beginnings of the 3 Rs," he writes. "These earliest school days are when healthy attitudes and values about learning are set. Do there seem to be accommodations made for lots of different learning styles and levels of readiness? Are the kids learning in large groups, small groups, and individually? Is there a lot of reading going on?"
* Children. "Are the children the most important people in the room?" Bavaria writes. "Do the children seem to be happy, eager to learn, excited to be there? Do the activities inspire, challenge, and stretch their creativity, imaginations, and natural curiosity? When your child comes home, does he want to tell you excitedly what he's done today and tell you he can't wait to go back? That's the ultimate recommendation."