Find the Perfect Preschool
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 day care and a functioning preschool. Day-care facilities provide custodial care, but don’t usually offer an educational curriculum. They often take children of all ages and offer extended hours. A preschool usually has limited hours and may or may not offer care before and after school. In a day care, 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, and 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 National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a database of accredited preschools that you can access at families.naeyc.org/find-quality-child-care. This site lists currently accredited day-care facilities and schools across the nation and is updated weekly.
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 background-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, and Reggio-Emilia.
• 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 visit with your child or on your own.
You’ll be looking for the qualities of a good school, but more than that you’ll want to get a “feel” for the facility. Do you feel welcome? Are the children busy and engaged in work or play? Is the facility aesthetically pleasing and orderly? Do you get the sense that you’d feel comfortable leaving your child in this school’s care? Are the children happy?
If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable with the school environment, trust your instincts and look for another school.
Jan Pierce, MEd, is a retired teacher and the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find her at janpierce.net.