Believe it or not, now is the time to start your search for the right preschool if you plan to enroll your child for Fall 2017. Preschools are already offering pre-enrollment for returning students, and will soon be offering open enrollment for new students.
Allowing someone else to care for your child takes enormous trust, and can be a bit frightening after some of the horror stories you hear floating through the news or social media. We all want assurance our children are safe when in someone else’s care. And we all want the best for our children. Being selective in choosing a preschool is a must, but without knowing where to start, the prospect can be overwhelming. So I’ve gathered a few tips to help you find the right preschool for you and your child, as well as a free Preschool Questionnaire download to take with you as you tour preschools.
Prior to Preschool Tours
Knowing what it is you want your child to get out of preschool will help you narrow your search. The following are a few helpful questions to ask yourself prior to selecting which preschools you want to tour.
1. What is your main goal for preschool? Some examples might be childcare, socialization or preparation for kindergarten.
2. How often do you want or need your child to be in school? The options can range from full days to half days, from early drop off to extended care, between two and five days a week. The answer to this question may be dependent on your answer to the last question.
3. Do you want a religious school?
4. Do you want a bilingual school?
5. What kind of a budget are you able to afford? Preschools can easily range from $500-$1000/month.
After you’ve answered these questions, start your search. Ask your family, friends and co-workers for suggestions and google it. We narrowed our search to three or four preschools we wanted to check out in person and started making appointments for tours.
During Preschool Tours
It’s helpful to have some questions already in mind before you go to tour preschools. The following are some of the top questions to ask.
1. What kind of discipline or rule enforcement do your teachers use? The response I got to this question while touring preschools was definitely a deciding factor for me, both in the affirmative and in the negative. In one instance, I was told simply that if a child behaves well at home, they will usually behave well at school. My two main thoughts in response to that were, first, that’s not necessarily true, and second, that does not at all answer my question. I felt brushed off and not at all assured in the preschool’s competence to appropriately care for my child.
In the other instance, the lady giving us our tour gave me a fabulously concrete and direct answer to my question. Not only did I find their method of rule enforcement acceptable, I discovered that learning emotional regulation, healthy coping mechanisms and conflict resolution between classmates was a key point in their curriculum. I felt assured my child would be in kind and caring hands if I chose this particular school. I even learned a few discipline tips that have made my life easier as a parent, and continued to learn from my child’s teachers throughout the school year.
2. What is the teacher-to-student ratio? Many of the preschools we toured claimed teacher-student ratios of 1:8-10; this seems to be a pretty standard ratio. Finding a ratio lower than that does not happen often. I was surprised to find, however, that some preschools include parent volunteers as “teachers” in their teacher-student ratio. Although I am a big proponent of being involved in our children’s education, parent volunteers do not have the same training and education as teachers. Upon observation during our tour, I noticed the parent volunteers were disengaged from the children during recess, having their own separate social circle. It was far too many children for far too few attentive adults. I would not have felt safe having my child there.
3. What is your sick policy? I expect my child to bring home the common cold on occasion; it seems to go with the territory. But knowing my child’s teachers have a clear sick policy is another way I feel ensured they are watching out for my child’s welfare.
4. How do you handle medical conditions, medical emergencies, and/or allergies? This question is obviously important if your child has a pre-existing medical condition. Even if your child is overall healthy, though, this is still an important question. Accidents happen, and we all know how accident-prone children can be.
5. What does a typical day look like? This question ties in a bit to the next.
6. What does your curriculum include? Reading? Math? Science? Music? Recess? It’s assumed preschools will cover the ABC’s. Music and physical activity, or recess, were very important to me, so I made sure to enquire about these topics. But I was astonished to see preschools cover science topics at such a young age! And, as I mentioned earlier, I was extremely impressed to discover a preschool that places such heavy emphasis on emotions, coping mechanisms, and conflict resolution. After all, emotional-readiness is what many parents seek out of preschool, in preparation for kindergarten.
7. What schedule options do you have? Options may include full day, half day, extended care, early drop off, 2-, 3-, or 5-day weeks. Depending on whether preschool is a want or a need for your family, the answer to this question may make or break the deal for you.
8. Are there field trips throughout the year? Although this question may not be high on your priorities, it’s nice to know, and may open many other questions. Like, can I chaperone on field trips? Will my child be excluded if I cannot chaperone? If I chaperone a field trip, can younger siblings attend as well? Some preschools allow only limited chaperones, where as others allow all parents to attend field trips.
9. Does my child need to be potty-trained? Does it cost extra if they are not?
10. What kind of training do your teachers receive? Is teacher education on-going?
There’s more to touring preschools than just asking questions though. At the back of my mind, I am observing everything in and around the environment, as well as interactions between who I am interviewing, myself, and my child.
1. Is the environment safe? Can just anyone off the street walk in? Is it likely my child can easily wander out? Is the preschool on a busy street or in a safe neighborhood? Are there any obvious hazards in areas my child may be playing?
2. Is the environment clean? Are toys and supplies well cared for? This speaks to a sense of pride and ownership of the people who run the preschool. It also speaks to principles of responsibility and care that may (or may not) be taught to my child.
3. How are they interacting with my child? I noticed that at many preschools, whoever gave us our tour interacted with my daughter with small talk, such as “what’s your favorite color?,” or, “do you like blocks?” And that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong or lacking about that. But it really impressed me to see one teacher go beyond the small talk and see her engage my daughter in activities around the classroom. And she didn’t just invite my daughter to run off and play while the adults all spoke alone in a corner. She wasn’t just giving a tour to my husband and I; she was giving my daughter a tour as well. I felt I got a real sense of how she would interact with my child when school was in session.
4. How are they interacting with me? How do they answer my questions? Do they give direct, honest and concrete answers, or skirt around the topic and brush me off?
Although there is a lot to consider while looking for the right preschool, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Prepare yourself ahead of time; have a clear understanding of what it is you want and need from a preschool. Do your research, ask for recommendations, bring along a few important questions to ask while touring schools, and be observant during tours. Sign up below to print this free Preschool Questionnaire download to take with you as you tour preschools. I hope this gives you a good starting point in your search!