What to look for when choosing a preschool
Do you think your child might be ready for school? How do you decide which is the right school or program for them? Childhood Development expert, Anastasia Moloney, shares some useful tips
When choosing a preschool, some of the things that may run through your mind are: that you want your child to be safe; to have a strong social experiences; to find a loving and nurturing place that has some boundaries; to feel comfortable, confident and to succeed; and to be prepared for kindergarten. So how do you know what the right place is that will fill all of those needs? Depending on where you live you will want to begin this process 9 to 12 months prior to your tot starting – this gives you ample time and allows you to choose the program that best suits your family.
First things first, do your research.
- What schools are in your area?
- Are there other parents you know who have children at certain schools? Ask their candid thoughts.
- Read online reviews or school ratings.
- Be sure to evaluate practical pieces that fit with your family needs (e.g., proximity, hours, involvement, cost)
Look at a variety of settings; you might find you are pleasantly surprised. Different types of philosophies of teaching can often be very different in reality than they do on paper or even very different from one another. You do not want a school that just drills and practices skills, but rather one that offers your child a chance to make choices and explore learning opportunities. It is also important to find a setting that is open with families, encourages them to stop by and that provides feedback between the family and the school.
Here are some questions that you should think about asking when touring a school:
- What philosophy do you teach in your classroom? There are many philosophies as to how to approach early childhood education. It is helpful to research some before go or you can just have the teachers explain it. Make sure whatever teaching philosophy you choose is something you are comfortable with and will support your child’s needs the best. This is also true with religious based programs – make sure their beliefs align with ones you want to teach your family, whatever they may be.
- What is your approach to discipline? Is the school’s approach similar to your approach at home? Consistency is helpful in your child’s expectations.
- What security measures do you take? This includes things like who is allowed in the building and what their drop off and pick up procedures are.
- What is the background/education level of the teachers? Depending on where you look, teachers in early childhood can often have different career paths. This can be great, but it’s often nice to know the background of the person who will be teaching your child.
- What is your student to teacher ratio? The smaller, the better so that your child and his classmates can get the attention they need.
- What does a typical day look like? It is helpful to know the school’s daily routine and to understand the balance of play and academics. Also, it will help you to prepare your child for the school’s expectations.
- Do you require children to be potty trained? If not, is this something the school with help your child to work on? Some schools make this a requirement, we don’t want to push our little ones too hard so it is important to know if they will work with you and your child.
- What is your priority for each student? With this question you want to understand their focus on play or academics, or, hopefully, a good balance of both.
- Is there a parent involvement expectation? It is good to know what is expected of you upfront. Think about how much you’d like to be involved and make sure it meets your expectations.
- What is your favorite part about working with children? This helps you get to know the teacher and why they have chosen to work in the early childhood setting.
- Can I come and observe or bring my child to explore the classroom? By shadowing or letting your child explore you will get a good feeling for how the day will work and if it might be a good fit for your child.
- Do you have any parents who are happy to share their experiences? If you aren’t quite sure it can be helpful to talk to someone else about their experience at the particular school.
See if you can spend some time watching the classroom and how it is run. This will give you a good feeling as to what it will look like for your child.
Bring your child in to explore
Bring your child in to explore
When looking at preschools you want kindergarten readiness, but through research we know how much children learn through play. Personally, I lean towards a preschool whose focus is play and not one that is only highlighting academic goals that they will be sure to achieve in the year. Yes it is impressive you could get my 4 year old to read, but did they learn the necessary social skills, conflict resolution and problem solving skills that are much more crucial for their development at ages 3 and 4 than reading? Reading still has time to be learned.
Research has shown that young children make sense of their world and are better set up for greater academic success if they have the ability early on to manipulate materials, engage with peers, explore with all their senses, and have the ability to work through their thoughts and feelings. Play based programs are often child centered and the focus is on developmentally appropriate tasks, but this does not mean there will not be group activities. Children will still learn to follow classroom rules, teacher directions, however the focus is on learning through exploration, play, and social interactions. Academic programs are much more teacher directed and the goals of lessons are kindergarten academic preparation. As children get older a more rigorous academic environment can be developmentally appropriate, however at a young age children need to play to learn.
It feels like a big decision, but go with your gut. Remember, children learn best through loving relationships, a safe environment, routines, play and positive social interactions. Go with what your instinct is telling you!
Once you have decided…
Talk to your child about their new school, a lot! If they haven’t already visited, go back and visit, you can do this a few times. Try to set up a time to meet the teacher prior to the first day that you leave your child at the school; this will help them begin to establish a relationship. Get them excited about starting something new; sometimes a new backpack or lunch box can help. Get excited for a new transition and the next big step in your child’s growth!
Please print out this useful guide below – it will be a helpful reminder come tour time!
Get yourself ready for the Tour
- What philosophy do you teach in your classroom?
- What is your approach to discipline?
- What security measures do you take? Including drop off and pick up
- What is the background/education level of the teachers?
- What is your student to teacher ratio?
- What does a typical day look like?
- Do you require children to be potty trained? If not is that something you help us to work on?
- What is your priority for each student?
- Is there a parent involvement expectation?
- What is your favorite part about working with children?
- Can I come and observe or bring my child to explore the classroom?
- Do you have any parents that are happy to share their experiences?