Some Tips for Finding the Right Preschool for Your Family
By Jan Pierce
When it’s time to search for the perfect preschool for your little one, you want to be sure you’re making the right decision. If you’re lucky enough to have friends who’ve done their research and are happy with their choice, you’re fortunate. You’ll have first-hand recommendations.
Be aware of the difference between daycare and a functioning preschool. Daycare facilities provide custodial care, but don’t usually offer an educational curriculum. Daycares often take children of all ages and offer extended hours.
A preschool usually has limited hours and may or may not offer before and after school care. In a daycare children of all ages may be grouped together while a preschool offers segregated age groups.
Where to Begin?
There are many considerations before choosing, but be sure you start your search early. Many excellent preschools have long waiting lists. In general you’ll be looking for a school that provides the following:
- The convenience of proximity to your home and/or your workplace.
- A solid reputation and up-to-date accreditation and licensing. The state has approved the school.
- Clear rules and regulations, health/illness policies, pickup and drop-off times.
- Clean, well-kept facilities with adequate indoor and outdoor play areas.
- Qualified, caring staff.
- Stimulating curriculum and age appropriate toys.
- A philosophy and climate pleasing to you and right for your child’s temperament.
The NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) has a database of accredited preschools you can access at families.naeyc.org/find-quality-child-care. This site lists currently accredited day cares and schools all across the nation and is updated weekly. Spend a little time on their website for top-notch thinking about early childhood education.
Questions to Ask
You’ll want to do your homework to find the right school for your family. Here are some questions to ask before narrowing your search and visiting several schools:
- Is there currently room for my child? Is there a waiting list?
- What are the fees? How and when are we billed?
- How do you communicate with parents? (phone calls, e-mails, newsletters, website, etc.)
- What is your staff to student ratio? (NAEYC recommends one adult to every four to nine children as optimal at ages 2-3 and one to eight to ten for ages 4-5.)
- Do your staff members have credentials and training? Are they back- ground-checked? Up to date on CPR? Receiving ongoing training?
- What is your educational philosophy? (academic-oriented, exploration, faith-based, etc. Some distinct philosophies include Montessori, Waldorf, or Reggio-Emilia.) *See vocabulary list
- What health/hygiene standards are enforced? (immunizations, sick child rules, hand-washing, etc.)
- How do you handle discipline?
- Are meals and snacks provided? Are naps taken?
- What safety precautions are in place? (strangers on-campus, release policies, sign-in/out)
- Can you give me a list of references? (be sure to follow up and call them.)
- Can you provide a sample of your weekly curriculum and activities? How often do you change the activities?
As you gather information you’ll be able to narrow your list down to two or three good choices. When you’re ready, go ahead and schedule a visit to the school. Decide whether you want to do this with your child or on your own.
You’ll be looking for all of the above qualities of a good school, but more than that you want to get a “feel” for the school. Do you feel welcome? Are the children busy and engaged in work or play? Is the facility pleasing to the eye and orderly? Do you get the sense that you’d feel comfortable leaving your child in this school’s care. Are the children happy?
Jot down your first impressions and any new information you find during the visit. You may want to use the Preschool Visit Checklist provided below.
If for any reason, you don’t feel comfortable with the school environment, trust your instincts and look for another school. It might be preferable to find a safe daycare situation and use that until you can locate a preschool of the highest standards.
You want the perfect preschool and your child deserves it. All the time and effort you put into your search will pay huge dividends in a happy, healthy, and well-cared for child.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is a retired teacher. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.