How to Choose a Preschool that's Right for Your Child
Those nice parenting articles always tell you to make sure you choose a preschool that best suits your child's personality. But then they rarely provide any specifics on how to determine a preschool's style and how it will match (or not) what your child needs. Children vary widely in their responses to different situations. Think about where your child falls on the following dimensions, and think about your own personal preferences for what a preschool experience should be like for your child. Then, when you visit preschools, ask the administrators (and observe yourself) about how well the school's philosophy matches your children's needs.
- Playing and learning: Do these seem like separate times at the preschool, or are play and learning time integrated? Does the school rely on more academically-directed activities like circle time, or do children learn playfully in a planned environment.
- The setting: Is your goal to get your child used to a school setting, or is it important that the setting feel more like home?
- Specific learning goals: Do you have particular academic milestones or religious needs that you would like met? Think about this before you set out, and refine your thoughts as you visit more schools.
- Teacher: What is the teacher:student ratio? Are there assistants and helpers? How does the teacher interact with students?
- Introverts and extroverts: If your child falls on one end of the introvert-extrovert scale, it's important to realize this and see what would be expected of them at each preschool (especially important for the introverts).
- Transition: How do new preschoolers transition into the school environment? Are there playdates or teacher conferences? Are parents permitted in the classroom or told to say goodbye at the door?
- Family involvement: How will the teacher or school communicate with parents? Are parents asked to volunteer inside or outside the classroom? Are parents welcome in the classroom or invited only on specific occasions?
- Active play: Does the school provide resources for physically active play that match your child's needs?
- Outdoor time: Does the school offer time outside? Will kids play outside in all weather, most days, or just occasionally?
- Rest: Kids have different rhythms and requirements for rest. Think about what your child's specific needs are to ensure that they will be accommodated.
- Potty training: If your child still has accidents, how are these handled?
- Structure: Some kids do better with lots of structure, while other families feel that they already have enough structure and prefer that a preschool ensure lots of time for unstructured play and interaction.
- Community: Do children have field trips, classroom visitors, or other activities beyond the day-to-day learning? How are trips planned and organized?
- Discipline: What happens when kids misbehave at school? Does the school's philosophy match yours?
- Safety: Safety can be a big concern. Think carefully about your standards for keeping kids safe, and observe how the school meets your expectations.
Keep these issues in mind as you visit schools, and if you'll be meeting many folks at a preschool fair, you may want to come up with a few questions to more easily compare answers. If you're looking at this list and thinking, "But I don't know how I feel about these issues!", don't worry. Chances are that visiting schools, seeing classrooms, and meeting teachers will help you clarify how you feel. Preschool is a very personal choice, and like many parenting decisions, being informed is essential, but it's also important to go with your gut.