Choosing a Preschool for your child is a very important decision. Coming from a preschool world, I am passionate on the subject. In my opinion it is as important as choosing the right college. We are all familiar with the saying, “Everything I ever needed to learn I learned in Kindergarten”, I believed we learned it in preschool.
Parents typically start looking at preschools the January before the September when the child will attend school. Make an appointment at several different school. Some schools have waiting lists, in that case get your child’s name on the list as soon as possible. You can make the decision to attend at a later date. You need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions, but be careful the way you ask them. You are interviewing the school but make no mistake they are interviewing you at the same time.
Before I share with you my ‘favorite questions list’, let me make you aware of a few trade secrets. When reading a school’s brochure describing their staff as “nurturing and qualified” that may most likely mean that not all of their teachers are certified. Certified in preschool language does not mean that a teacher holds a degree, it means that they have attended a forty hour class (not semester hours) that has been mandated, usually by the state. In many cases teachers don’t even have certifications. Degrees and certifications are important but most importantly is the teachers’ love of children and a passion for giving knowledge. When you walk into a preschool classroom you should feel the magic. If you are interested in a particular school, ask to observe their classes.
The other buzz word that you might see in a brochure is ‘accredited’. Usually this means the school has met minimum standards that have been set forth by the accreditation board. The focus of the standards are on the facility, learning environment , student teacher ratios and some aspects of curriculum and staffing. The NAYEC is a national organization that accredits preschools . I recently reviewed their standards for accreditation, if your preschool has been accredited by NAYEC it is something to be proud of. Don’t confuse the word Licensed with Accredited. A licensed preschool has met the standards set by the Health Department or Children and Family Services the focus is more on the facility and health procedures and not the curriculum.
As a side note, most religious affiliated preschools are exempt for any mandated requirements.
Other parents are your best source of information. Ask questions: What do you like most about the preschool your child attends? What do you like the least? If you had more preschools to choose from, would you have chosen a different school? A good idea is to call some of the private elementary schools admissions offices, even if you are not thinking about a private elementary school for your child. They will not recommend a preschool, however you can ask which preschool most of their incoming students attended. This is a great barometer.
Check It Out/ Ask Questions!
- What is your first impression of the school?
- How does the school communicate with parents, news letters, emails, phone calls?
- How is the building secured?
- If you call how do they identify it is you calling?
- What is the drop off and pick up policy
- What is their sick child policy?
- If your child has allergies, how is this accommodated?
- If a child is hurt what is their procedure?
- Is the staff CPR and First Aid trained?
- Ask to see a curriculum? Some schools will not allow this.
- What type of curriculum do they use: Traditional, Montessori, Reggio Emilia etc. Some curriculum is teacher directed, others child directed.
- What is the school’s educational philosophy?
- How long have the teachers been employed? This will tell you a lot, if the teachers are happy so are the children.
- What are the teachers’ backgrounds what are their credentials?
- How many children are in the class?
- What is the teacher student ratio?
- What opportunities do you have to participate in the classroom? Children are so proud when their parent brings a snack, reads a book or shares a special talent with the class.
- Are parents allowed in the classrooms during class time?
- Is there a nap time, and if so are lead teachers present and how long is the nap time?
- Is there a dress code?
- Are there student evaluations?
- What type of snacks do they serve?
- How is the classroom organized, are toys in bins, are there picture or word labels on the bins, are there centers in the classroom, how is the children’s art displayed? Children need order and rules to thrive.
- Is the school clean, orderly and smells pleasant?
- Do the children seemed engaged, working together or individually?
- Visit the preschool several times. Don’t take your child with you until you have made a decision on the school.
- How many outside play times do they have and how long?
- Check out the playground, is the equipment well maintained, is the equipment age appropriate, is the equipment on a soft surface? Are their riding toys on the playground? Are helmets required?
- What is the school’s discipline policy?
- What is the school policy on biting?
- Can you request a teacher?
- Ask to observe several classes.
Remember to be complimentary (even if you don’t mean it) , be polite and non- threatening. You are judging them and they are judging you.
What has your experience been in looking for a preschool?