What You Should Know Before Choosing A Preschool


What You Should Know Before Choosing A Preschool


Written by: Jennifer Landis

Sending your child to preschool can be exciting but also frightening. You want your child to get out of the house, and you want them to learn. But it’s also tough to select a place where you can be assured your child is safe and in a positive learning environment.

The good news and bad news about preschools are that there are many to choose from. The school you end up selecting will be based mostly on what you want your child to get out of preschool. Some schools are primarily places your child can find new friends and participate in group activities, while others are intense curriculum-based learning tailored for children four and under.

A big part of the process is narrowing the field of choices based on what you do and don’t want your child to experience. Consider what you want your child to learn about, what size classroom you want and whether you want a religious-based education. You also have to consider how much money you’re willing to spend.

Here are a few things you should know about any preschool before enrolling your child there.

Find Out What They Will Learn

Find out what curriculum, if any, any prospective school will teach. Will your child be gaining an advantage over their peers before entering kindergarten, or is this school more a place of socialization and activities? Neither is necessarily better than the other. It’s just a matter of what your goals are for your child.

Do you want them doing arts and crafts and going out to play or do you want them learning today’s technology and putting it into use? Would you like them exposed to a foreign language? Do you want a school that balances play with learning? See if your prospective school has a handbook or printed materials that spell out their philosophies, their expectations, their rules and so on.

Observe Their Learning Environment

Look around the classroom and imagine your child in it. Is it colorful and clean or dingy and musty the way you might remember your old school? What kinds of learning tools do they have? Ask the teacher or whoever is giving you the tour to show you what learning materials they will be using. Will they get hands-on learning or will they be taught while sitting at a desk? Will they get to use their artistic and creative talents?

What is the class size? Schools may not be able to give you a specific number, but they can tell you their maximum. Make sure the staff to student ratio isn’t more than ten.

Also ask how much time the kids will spend in the classroom versus going outside to play or going on field trips and other activities. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Imagine your child spending four or more hours there and whether that seems like a good fit.

Consider Alternative Teaching Methods

There are several preschools where your child may be happy, but if you want something unique that really fits your child’s needs, don’t discount schools that use unconventional teaching methods such as the Montessori method.

Montessori is a scientifically based method of teaching developed by Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Maria Montessori. She founded what later became Montessori preschools in the early 1900s in Rome, Italy. Her teaching style focuses on the child’s eagerness to learn and emphasizes freedom of choice, independence and social development. Teachers act more as guides than authoritarians. Today there are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States.

Montessori is self-paced and focuses quite a bit on hands-on learning. Children are encouraged to pursue what interests them, and they receive all the tools they need to learn as much as they can at their own pace.

Check with any Montessori schools you consider to be sure they follow the tenets of the Montessori Method. Some are Montessori in name but might have the large classrooms and teaching style of any other school. Whether you choose Montessori or not, you still have to look at other factors before deciding on a school.

Observe the Staff

Hopefully you will get to meet not only the teacher but the other staff members who will be interacting with your child as well. Do the staff seem energetic and interested in children? Or do they have that face that tells you they are there only because they need the money?

Find out how long the current staff members have been employed by the school. How do they interact with the children? How do the children respond to them? You should see mutual respect, joy and smiles. There will be exceptions to this but beware of miserable staff or students.

Ask the Tough Questions

Ask what plans the school has in place for emergencies such as fires and tornadoes. Do they have a plan for the unthinkable, an intruder who wishes to do the children harm? You don’t want to sound paranoid, but these are real concerns in our society today, and you want the school to have a plan of action just in case.

Also, find out about their disciplinary policies. Will your child be protected from bullying? What are the steps taken when a child misbehaves or causes harm to another? Does the school foster teamwork, friendship and a sense of community?

It’s hard to let your child go and to leave them with people who — at least at first — are strangers. You want to have your questions answered and your concerns assuaged before you choose a preschool. You want to be confident you have done all you can before you let someone else care for your child and that you chose the school that best suits your child and their learning needs.

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