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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Tags: commercial preschool, developmentally appropriate, goddard school, in-home preschool, montesorri school, play-based learning, preschool, preschool aged, preschool classrooms, preschool curriculum, preschool lesson plans, school, teacher credentials, teacher qualifications, waldorf school
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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.