The average 4-year-old child asks 437 questions a day. Take that in a moment and process that number. Four hundred and thirty seven questions within the 12 to 14 hours they are awake. Their curiosity is astounding along with their “super jet backpack” of energy reserves and the desire to master the tiniest of tasks that adults take for granted.

But mom and dad, don’t buy the earplugs just yet! Parents thankfully have a variety of local preschools with qualified staff ready to field a few of those 437 questions and provide a loving school environment to grow those “big” boy and girl personalities.

With preschools opening in less than a month, Walton County preschool directors took a break from lesson planning to share a few pearls of wisdom to new preschool parents. Some offer a “trick of the trade” for making home life a tad easier while others provide tips for a smooth first day of school. All in all though, our community is fortunate to have a group of educators so passionate about the littlest of our clan.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. “The most important skill to utilize in working with young children is the act of showing respect.  This is the ‘Golden Rule’ in teaching,” says Maureen Paine, the director of The Tree House Episcopal Montessori School. “Children appreciate being treated with respect and will respond accordingly.  We find that it is best to treat children the way you would want to be treated, or even better, the way you would treat a personal friend.”

Practice saying “goodbye” before the first day. “It would be wonderful if every student could separate easily from their parents without any tears,” says Robin Vaughn, director of Santa Rosa Beach Community Church Preschool. “Of course, we know this is a normal part of development, but this learned skill would make the first day and week less stressful for the parents.”

Storytelling skills go a long way. “My own bag of tricks is usually telling stories and singing songs that only I know,” says Maria White, director of Creative Learning Center. “I'm famous for my version of ‘The Three Pigs.’ I also have the ability to create great interaction with my off the wall open ended questions.”

Give Choices. “My biggest trick of the trade is giving the child choices.  In Montessori, we give the children choices within reason, thus empowering the child. This allows them to see that they control their environment,” says Catherine Beall, Head of School at South Walton Montessori Academy. “Each of their choices has a consequence, whether positive or negative, and it is up to them to decide which choice to make and how to deal with the consequences of that choice.”

Positive Words. “I like to use positive reinforcement to lead wondering students in the right direction. If I see a student off task, I praise a student that is engaged in the appropriate behavior. It is not long before all the students want to be engaging in the behavior that is being praised, “ shares Robin Vaughn, director of Santa Rosa Beach Community Church Preschool.

Teach Love and Kindness. Brenda Ousley, the Director at New Beginnings Preschool at Good News United Methodist Church, encourages parents to “work with their preschoolers on loving and respecting themselves, peers, and teachers” before school starts. As obvious as this advice sounds, it can be challenging to instill this lesson in young ones without the home consistently reinforcing the concept.

Foster Independence. “As educators, our goal is to help parents build a child’s confidence.  We encourage parents to promote independence by allowing children to perform any task that they are able,” explains Paine. “We coach parents to take the time necessary to allow a preschooler to learn to do things for themselves.  Children can dress themselves, set the table, fold laundry and even help make family decisions. The more children practice, the better they will be able to care for themselves with confidence.”

Maintain dialogue with teachers. “Keeping lines of communication open between the staff and families is a must do for all invested in the success of their child,” says Ousley.

Attendance matters. “My biggest piece of advice for preschool parents is to make sure their child attends school regularly. Every day is important because the child misses so much when absent,” says Kim Gillis, director of Early Head Start. “Children have to be ready to enter kindergarten and foster their life-long learning. The educational early years are extremely important.”

Kids see things differently. “Parents and teachers need to remember that children look at the world different from adults,” says Lisa Brooks, director of St. Rita Church Preschool. “While they are always learning, they may need to be picked up and helped along the way. That’s what preschool is all about.”

Never overdue a good thing. “Ages 2 to 4 years old have short attention spans. Keeping them moving, engaged, and active requires a well-prepared learning environment”, says the director of First Christian Preschool Karen Linder. “The classroom should allow for many types of learning experiences in short spans of time.”

Be a good role model. “I say it half joking but in all seriousness, all those things that go on at home that you think nobody knows…think again!” says Maria White, director of Creative Learning Center. “EVERYTHING is shared during circle time! Remember kids are always listening and watching and repeating.”