How to Choose the Right Preschool for Your Child

Posted on: 23.09.2015.

Author: Ana G

''First Day of Preschool'' by Andrew Dawes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Selecting the right preschool for your child can be an overwhelming task. You want to find a school that you can trust with the safety and nurturing of your little one. Then, there are the early admission deadlines and the fear that you will ruin your child’s future if you don’t get it just right. The following offers valuable information that you need to know about preschool and guidelines to help you select the right school for your youngster.

Preschool vs. Child Care

First, it is important to understand the distinction between child care and preschool. Most child care facilities cater to both babies and toddlers. Child care programs are full-time and run year-round. These programs are geared toward working parents who need someone to watch their children during working hours.

Preschool, on the other hand, is the beginning of your little one’s academic journey. Most children start preschool around age 3 to 4; however, some programs accept children as young as 2. Preschool programs are either part-time or full-time and coincide with the academic year running from September to May. 

Preschool is another child care option for working parents and can be combined with babysitters, nannies, or non-educational child care programs.

The Importance of Preschool

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Preschool can play a vital role in preparing your child for kindergarten. A quality preschool program can teach your child a number of skills, including the following:

  • Your child will learn how to interact and socialize with others. Preschool teaches children how to share, problem-solve, and compromise with others.
  • Preschool can provide your youngster with an academic foundation. It introduces children to concepts such as numbers, language, reading, and even science.
  • A preschool program can increase your child’s self-confidence by allowing them to play, explore, and learn with peers.
  • Children learn how to behave in a group setting and the basics, such as raising their hand, listening to directions, and showing respect for others.
  • Preschool helps children learn how to be away from mom and dad.

Choosing the Right Preschool

The following tips will help you evaluate your preschool options and aid you in making your final decision.

Start Looking Early

You should anticipate that your search will take at least a year. That means you should start looking around September of the year before you plan to enroll your child. Most preschools begin offering tours between October and January. Application deadlines are usually the January before enrollment, but can vary from program to program. Don’t forget to ask the school about specific entrance criteria such as age requirements and whether or not the child has to be fully potty-trained.

Identify Your Priorities

''Reese, Amalie and Meadow'' by Lars Plougmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It is important that the preschool works for you, your child, and your lifestyle. One factor to consider is the hours of operation. This is especially important if you work more non-traditional hours, as you may have to make additional child care arrangements. Transportation and location are also important considerations. You may want to consider a facility close to home or work to reduce the stress of getting your youngster to and from school.

You should also consider your child’s educational needs. You should decide if your child is ready for a more structured academic environment or should focus on developing their social skills. Preschools offer full and part-time programs as well as different approaches to learning. You should think about how many hours a week you want your child to attend and what type of learning environment is best suited for them.

Do Your Research

Talking with family, friends, and coworkers is a good starting point. Seek out recommendations from parents with children similar in age and personality to your own. Online databases, such as the one operated by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, can provide insight into school accreditation and parent reviews. 

Some communities even hold school fairs where parents can get information and talk to representatives from different schools in one location. Once you have completed your research, it is time to compile a list of potential schools.

Learn the Lingo

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Most preschools follow one of five basic approaches toward education. You should familiarize yourself with these different methods so you can select the one best suited to your little one.

  • Montessori schools adopt the philosophy that each child learns at their own pace. These schools emphasize student independence.
  • Waldorf schools encourage children to use their imagination in the learning process.
  • Some schools follow the High/Scope style of education. This method gives the child some control over the learning process. Kids start the day by setting specific goals regarding what they want to accomplish. The children then participate in a review session to evaluate the success of their plan.
  • Bank Street schools offer a child-centered approach to learning. Children are taught through multiple channels including classroom and real world settings.
  • The Reggio Emilia theory focuses on the stages of a child’s natural development. This approach encourages creativity and exploration as a means of teaching problem-solving. 

Of course, there are other preschool options that may offer alternative learning environments such as church-sponsored schools and parent-directed cooperatives. There are also state subsidized schools for lower income families.

Arrange a Tour

A tour will give you the opportunity to see the facility and faculty first-hand. Most schools will allow parents of prospective students to observe a class. This is your chance to learn more about the school’s educational philosophy, entrance criteria, and daily routine.

Be Observant

''The Class Room'' by Heaton Johnson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During your visit, you should consider the following:

  • The relationship and interaction between children and staff. For example, the staff should be warm and respectful toward the children. Likewise, the children should be free to play, laugh, and express their own ideas and opinions.
  • All teachers and administrators should have appropriate education and credentials.
  • The school should encourage and welcome parental involvement
  • You should look for a school with a defined curriculum that meets state guidelines for early childhood education.
  • The school should have a clear-cut policy of managing and addressing problem behavior.
  • The physical layout of the school should encourage learning and play. For example, there should be stations set up for different activities such as reading and coloring. Table arrangements and classroom layouts should facilitate conversation between the children and the teachers. There should be ample toys for all the students. 
  • The facility should be bright, clean, and well-maintained. Classrooms should be organized and child-centered. For example, look for brightly colored posters and children’s artwork on the walls.
  • You should make sure there is a safe, fenced, outdoor area where kids can play. The playground equipment should be in good repair and age-appropriate.
  • The school should maintain a low class size and a low student to teacher ratio. Experts recommend no more than 20 children per class and a student to teacher ratio of 10:1.

Prepare for the Interview

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Make sure to write down your questions prior to the interview. You should also bring a notebook and pen with you so you can make notes as you go along. The following are areas that you should consider during the interview:

  • Make sure you cover the fundamentals such as hours of operation, accreditation, cost, and faculty size.
  • Ask for details regarding the admissions process, including deadlines, wait lists, and criteria such as immunizations and potty-training.
  • Inquire about the school’s specific educational approach to make sure it is a good fit for your child.
  • Find out about the daily routine, including nap times, play times, and other activities such as field trips.
  • You should ask school officials about average class size and student to teacher ratio.
  • It is a good idea to find out the educational background of the teachers and whether the school performs background checks on all personnel.
  • It is important to find out about the school’s policy regarding parental involvement. For example, you should find out whether the school allows parents to visit and how they communicate information to the parents.
  • Inquire about the school’s discipline policies. You should find out the types of discipline used and the circumstances for implementing the measures. The school should have a clear policy for notifying parents of behavioral problems.
  • You should ask whether the facility provides snacks for the children. If your child has food allergies, make sure the school is able to accommodate their needs.
  • Get details regarding the school’s sick child policy. You need to know the circumstances where the school requires you to keep your child home and how they handle medical emergencies. If your child requires daily medication, make sure the school is able to accommodate this.
  • The school should have established safety and security programs. For example, you should find out the policy for allowing visitors in the facility. The school should also require staff to be trained in CPR and basic first aid.
  • Of course, don’t forget to ask about tuition. You will need to know the total cost, when it is due, and what types of payment the school will accept. Make sure you find out if there are additional items that you have to provide that are not included in the tuition.

Narrow Down the List

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Now is the time to review the information gained during the interviews and narrow down your list. Create a short-list of schools that best fit the criteria you established at the beginning of your search. Don’t forget to trust your instincts. You should ask yourself if you can see your child being happy and learning at the school. The school should be a place where you and your child feel welcome, that aligns with your values, and is a good match for your child both academically and socially.

Finally, it is important to step back, take a breath, and relax. Remember, even though preschool is important, it is still preschool after all. Your child still has many more years of education ahead. As long as you and your little one are happy, you have made the right decision.