Choosing the Right Preschool for Your Child AND You

It’s a time in a parent’s life that they look forward to and dread all at the same time – sending your child to school for the first time. Choosing the right preschool can sometimes feel like choosing the right college. There are tours, discussions of tuition, reviewing curriculums, and nerves about sending your baby into the big world. For your preschooler, there are many things to consider outside of your child gaining valuable knowledge and social skills. You want to be sure your child is safe, happy, and growing in their love of learning.

Walking into a tour for a preschool can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. There are several factors that go on behind the scenes in a preschool, and you want to be sure that you have a clear understanding of how the school is run and their goals for the children in their care. But with some basic knowledge in hand, you will be able to ask the right questions and get the information you need to make a good decision. With that in mind, here are some tips about how to choose the preschool that’s right for your child – and you. 

Types of Preschools


The first thing you may want to consider are the different types of preschools in your area. Depending on where you live, you may only have a few options or the options may seem overwhelming. Here are a few of the most common types of preschool options so as to help you narrow down your search

Secular vs. church-based

In urban communities you are more likely to find more options of secular schools in which no religion is discussed in the curriculum. However, in suburban neighborhoods, many of the preschools are often attached to a local church, and those preschools often adopt the practices of that church’s religion into the curriculum. This is one thing you may want to consider if this is important to you. 

Commercial vs. in-home

Again, these types of preschools often depend on where you live. Urban neighborhoods are less likely to have in-home preschools, while suburban areas may have a few. There are pros and cons to both types so here is a breakdown of what you may find in each setting.

  • Commercial: Commercial preschools are often run by larger corporations. Sometimes these corporations have a larger school system attached to it, such as a daycare or a grade-school. This can often limit the practices of the teachers and the leeway the school will give you in regards to some of their policies, but they are often very safe with strict monitoring, video cameras, and background checks on all employees.
  • In-Home: In-home preschools can be a great fit for your family. They are often small class sizes, so the likelihood of recurrent illness is less. The teacher is also often able to reach each child on a more individual level to accommodate their learning needs, and they are able to switch around the curriculum given their classes’ interests and abilities. A child who has never attended daycare or preschool before often feels very comfortable in an in-home setting because of its familiarity. However, you will have to do your own research on the teacher and their home as they are sometimes not required to even be licensed in their state depending on the class size. 

Schools of Learning

In addition to the different types of preschools, there are also different schools of learning in which the curriculum can be based. Here are a list of the most popular schools you may find in your area:

  • Waldorf: Waldorf schools are a style of education which focus on practical, hands-on activities. They strive to teach children through example and the classroom oftentimes resembles a home. Waldorf schools like to use natural materials in order to encourage imaginative play. 
  • Montessori: Montessori schools foster peer learning, so the classrooms have a range of ages. Children are free to move about the classroom for most of the day, and they can stay on a project for as long as they’d like. There are well-defined areas for each subject matter, and they strive to use “real-life” materials in the classroom. 
  • Goddard: Goddard schools are known for their curriculum of learning through play. They use the FLEX Learning Program (Fun Learning Experience) to foster this idea, and teachers are trained to create developmentally appropriate lesson plans according to the children’s current interests. 
  • State-Based Curriculum: Many states offer preschool programs within their school districts. Each state has different requirements and standards for their preschools, so check out the standards of learning for your school district if you are interested in a state-run preschool.
  • Other: If you are choosing a private preschool, whether it be in a church or a small business, ask to see the teacher’s lesson plans to get an idea of their standards, and what kinds of things you can expect in the classroom on a day-to-day basis. 

Curriculum


No matter which type of school you choose for your child, one thing should ring true – they should be having fun! Preschool is a time for learning through play and socialization. Your child should not be coming home with mounds of worksheets or art projects in which you can tell the teacher did most of the work. This is a wonderful time for your child to explore and to foster a love for learning! Here are some great questions to ask about curriculum when you have a visit:

  • Curriculum guides- Do you use anything specific for math, science, and/or handwriting?
  • Lesson plans- What do daily lesson plans look like? How do you assess children throughout the school year?
  • Goals- What are your long term goals for each child by the end of the year? What are some things you do to get them there?
  • Teacher credentials- What are the credentials held for your director? The Lead Teacher? The Assistant Teacher? Is there someone on site that can administer medication if need be?

In terms of teacher credentials– at a minimum, the lead teacher should have their Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education, with the assistant teacher having at least a few college-level credits in Early Childhood Education. This helps to ensure that the ones who are working closest with your children are aware of developmentally appropriate activities and behavior, and they can help foster their needs in the best way. 

Classroom


The best time to visit a potential preschool is when it’s in action – this way you can see the teachers interact with the students and how the classroom is run. It is also a great way to introduce your child to a school setting and begin to get them familiar with the idea of playing there for the day!

The classroom should be an inviting space. Everything should be child-sized, and things on the walls should be placed at their eye level. Many preschool classrooms will be divided up into learning centers such as reading, art, math, science, dramatic play, and circle time. Discuss with the teachers the routines of the day and how they deal with discipline in the classroom to be sure it lines up with your ideals. If you have any specific things that you do at home, now is the time to let the teachers know, especially if you have a child with special needs. Many of them want to provide consistency at home and in the classroom and they are willing to accommodate. 

Preschoolers are busy and their gross motor functions are just beginning to get stronger and more direct, so they need a space to climb, jump, and run. Be sure to ask to see the school’s outdoor play area to ensure that it is safe and developmentally appropriate (i.e., a full-size basketball hoop on pavement isn’t conducive to preschoolers!). And ask what the children do for gross motor play during bad weather so you can be sure that during long winter months your child is still getting some heavy play done. 

Safety


Most schools will tell you that safety is one of their top priorities. Many larger preschools, either commercial or church settings, will now keep doors locked during school hours except for prescribed drop-off and pick-up times. Some schools will even have doorbells with cameras that they monitor so as to ensure no unauthorized visitors enter the building.

However, there are several other things you may want to ask the director or a teacher about how they handle other safety measures in the school:

  • Are all teachers and staff First Aid and CPR certified? Where do they keep their First Aid kits (each classroom should have one, as well as a larger one in the main office and one at their outdoor play space)?
  • What is your process to keep the children safe with intruders? During earthquakes/tornadoes/fire? Where do I pick my child up if you evacuate, and how will I be notified of an evacuation?
  • Is your outdoor play space fenced and away from the main road? 
  • How do you determine who is authorized to pick up the child? What do you do if someone is not on the authorized pick-up list?

Another topic of discussion when you go on a preschool site visit is to ensure that the classrooms are maintaining the proper ratios. Each state has different requirements on the number of children per teacher allowed in a classroom depending on the age range in the class, so be sure to look up your state’s requirements. It is also a smart idea to look up your state’s requirements for licensing and ask to see the preschool’s current state license to ensure that they are complying with state mandates. In some states you are even able to look up any school’s license progress to see if they have faulted in any area over the years, and if their license was ever revoked. 

Your Gut


Once your tour has ended you may want to take the opportunity to find other parents whose children attend the school to get the inside scoop on how they and their children like it. Every parent who is sending their child to that school has been in your shoes, and they will more than likely give you an honest review of the pros and cons of the preschool.

Probably the most telling sign of a preschool being the right fit for your child is your instinct. Many times you will simply feel comfortable with the decision to send your child to a particular school – the atmosphere is right, the teachers are warm and friendly, and you feel a sense of connection when walking into the school. Even after all your questions have been answered and your research has been completed, how you feel about the school will probably be your guiding light to your final decision.


Deciding on the right preschool for your child can be a long process. Many schools open up registration in late winter, prompting parents to begin their research process before preschool is even on their radar. The thought of sending your little baby off to school for the first time, even for just a few hours, can be daunting. But hopefully, with some thoughtful questions prepared and knowledge about the kind of things you should be looking for during your visits, you will find the perfect preschool for your munchkin.

Want more tips on how to get your preschooler ready for their first day? Check out 10 Tips for Starting Preschool or Kindergarten here on Daily Mom!

Photo credits: Ashley Sisk, Lauren Lomsdale
 

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama, fb.com/thescoopmama, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.

Comments (9)

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    Jen Pack

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    My daughter is getting to the age where she will need to start preschool soon, so I appreciate this information on how to choose the best one. I like the tip you give of making sure you visit the potential preschool, and looking at the area’s outdoor play area to make sure that it is safe and appropriate. I imagine that it would also be a good idea to pay attention to how my daughter acts while we are there to make sure that she is comfortable. Thanks for sharing this information!

    Reply

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      Lauren Lomsdale

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      Wonderful! Yes, all those things are important. Parents have an instinct and visiting the school can often tell you all you need to know about whether it’s a good fit. Outdoor equipment is important- your child at this age will be honing in on their gross motor skills and preschool is a great place to practice with equipment that might not be accessible at home. Also, if this is your child’s first experience at school (or even if it’s not!) don’t be alarmed if they are a bit clingy and upset when you go to drop them off- even for the first few weeks! new environments can be intimidating but as a preschool teacher, trust me- they are in good hands! Generally most teacher appreciate when you “rip the band-aid” so to speak, and just give a quick hug and kiss goodbye, reassure them that you’ll be back soon and that they will have fun, and head out the door. Even as a teacher who knew what it was like on the other side it was hard to leave my daughter when she was upset, but lingering can make it even harder for them to adjust to the surroundings! Good luck!

      Reply

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    Lillian Schaeffer

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    These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to visit a potential preschool during class hours. My daughter is going to be old enough for preschool this fall, so I want to find a good place to take her. I’ll definitely tour a few before I make a decision, and I’ll be sure to visit during class time so I can see how the teachers interact with the students. Thanks for the great post!

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      Lauren Lomsdale

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      Visiting the class during school hours is a great way to see how the teacher’s truly interact with the kids. It’s best to do it before your child is in the class if possible s’o it’s not distracting to teacher, although many teachers welcome a visit from mom or dad occasionally throughout the year! Good luck!

      Reply

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    Kendall Ryder

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    It is nice that there is the option, in some areas, to send your child to a church based school. That way, you have the option to choose. You can check out a few different schools in the area, and then decide which will be best for your child. You should probably do a lot of research to find the best one!

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    Olivia Nelson

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    I agree that you would want to inspect the outdoor play area of a preschool before you send your child there. I would imagine that you would want to find somewhere that has an engaging play are but that is also fenced off and safe. I’m looking for a preschool for my daughter so I’ll have to find somewhere that has a safe play area for her.

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    Annika Larson

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    I am looking at finding a preschool for my twin daughters. The preschool environment can be a great educational as well as a social booster. As you said, visiting the preschool you are considering is a great way to see if it’s a good fit for you and your kids. The way teachers interact and teach the kids is a huge factor to consider, and seeing the school in action can help ensure great care.

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    Katie Dunn

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    I completely agree with you that a preschool should have everything be child-sized. I know that when my son started going to school last year that having everything be at his level helped to make everything less intimidating. I think that it also helped him and his peers to be more engaged in the learning process.

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    Caden Dahl

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    I like how you mentioned finding a preschool in which the teachers all have at least their Associate’s degree. My daughter is going to be old enough for preschool next year, and my wife and I are trying to find somewhere for her to attend. I want her to be learning while having fun, so I’ll definitely make sure to find a place with qualified teachers.

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