Choosing a preschool for your child requires knowing what you want in a preschool and then asking questions to see if the schools in your town match what you are looking for.
There are many philosophies on working with toddlers. Some programs offer academic curriculums and some don’t. Some offer a pre reading program and some don’t. Some offer a lot of social opportunities and some don’t.
So what questions can you ask to see if the program offered is a match for you?
Let’s start with the hours of the school. Some schools open as early as 7:00 a.m. for before school care and some school open at 9:00 a.m. when the preschool day begins. If you need to be at work at 8:00 a.m. then you’ll first need to narrow your choices to those schools that offer before school care.
It is my suggestion that you visit the school without your child. Speak to the director of the school and ask what the best time of day is to visit. You’ll learn more by visiting during indoor time versus outdoor time.
Most schools have a rough time schedule of what the kids do while at school. Does this time table fit what you hoped to have for your child? My children went to two different schools. My older daughter needed more structure. At the school she went to, the kids moved from class to class. One class was manipulatives such as puzzles, while another room had dress up clothes and yet another room held art supplies. Finally, the last room was what I called the academic room. You could find letters and numbers and books in this room. This system worked wonderfully for her.
My other daughter went to a school where academics were non existent, but socialization was constant. This very much fit the child she was and met both her needs and my needs.
So, it’s very possible to find a good school with a great program, but have it not be the right fit for your child.
I also suggest meeting with a kindergarten teacher when making your choice to find out what the kindergarten teacher at YOUR school hopes to see when your child enters the kindergarten classroom on day one.
Here are some questions you can ask when visiting:
1. Do you teach reading and writing at all? Please remember, there is not a right or wrong answer. You, as a parent need to know whether this is important to you. As I mentioned, for one of my daughters it was quite important and for the other child, it was not at all on my list of what was important.
2. What is the adult/child ratio the school tries to maintain? Every state dictates what the state requires, but all schools have their own set of guidelines within the state system. My older daughter was in a school that did not use teacher’s aides. However they kept the classes small. My younger daughter was in a school that utilized teacher’s aides and so the ratio was very small like 3:1, even though the state allowed a much higher ratio. With more children in the class, there is also more opportunity for playmates.
3. What is the sick child policy? Every school has a different sick child policy. As a mom, I did not want my kids around sick kids all the time. On the other hand, I knew if my child had a runny nose, I’d probably be called to come pick her up.
4. How often are new toys bought and how often are old toys thrown out? This was important to me, both because of safety but also the longer a toy is in circulation the more germs live on it. At some point, the dirt just doesn’t wash off anymore. Also, times change and new toys come out on the market. In addition, when dealing with items like puzzles, pieces will disappear. I wanted my child to be able to complete the puzzle, not have one piece missing.
5. What is the communication system between the school and the parent? Some schools send home a monthly calendar of the upcoming month, while some schools send out a letter on Friday that sums up the week in review. Most schools have conferences. Moms like to hear how wonderful their preschooler is. If the school detects what they believe might be a problem such as hearing, speech, sight, or even a behavioral problem, what is their method of informing you?
6. How are the children separated? Is it by age? Are there multiage classrooms? Does the system this school uses for developing classes meet your needs and the needs of your child? Every child is different. My older daughter did best with kids her own age. My younger daughter did great with kids of many ages.
7. What are the food rules at this school? Do children bring their own lunch? Are snacks served? Is the school peanut free? Some preschools choose to be peanut free to accommodate children who have peanut allergies. Are hot lunches served? If so, ask for a month long menu to see what foods are offered.
Without your child, it’s important for you to observe a class. Do the children interact with each other and with the adults? Do the children play both alone and with others? Are you seeing activities and toys that allow the child to be unique and creative? Or is every child told to make the same color flower? Children are children. If you see two kids argue, how does the teacher solve the problem? How large are the classrooms? Is there enough space for different children to be playing with different items? For example is there space for two girls to play dress up while two boys build a train track? Where are the bathrooms in relation to the classroom?
Plan to visit the school during drop off time. Are kids eagerly running to their classrooms or are most kids unhappy to be there?
If you feel the school matches what you want, ask if you can bring your child for one day. Most schools will allow a test day. If your child is happy, you’ve just found the right school to enroll your child in.