Choosing the Right Preschool

Preschool can be a wonderful starting-off point for a child’s education. Though a preschool education is not required in the United States, preschool can offer children a number of benefits. Not only can preschool introduce your child to a variety of different educational concepts, but it can also help to develop her sense of identity, creative abilities, and social skills. And preschool can be a lot of fun for both you and your child. But how do you go about choosing the right preschool for your child? Here are some tips on what to look for when it comes to selecting a preschool.

What is Preschool?
Preschool is a type of school that enrolls children between the ages of three and six. It is organized by professional instructors and provides educational and social experiences to children before they enter kindergarten or elementary school. Most preschool programs run for half a day, though some programs offer extended hours for working parents.

It is very likely that, when you were a child, you didn’t attend preschool. This is because preschool education has only begun to grow in popularity over the past twenty years or so. In 1965, fewer than 5% of children attended preschool programs. Today, more than 40% of toddlers are enrolled in some form of preschool course, while 80% of children receive some type of schooling before entering first grade.

Types of Preschools
Before you can decide upon the right preschool for your child, consider the type of preschool you would like you little one to attend. All preschools operate on various philosophies of learning. Be sure to ask about these philosophies when visiting different schools.

  • Montessori: Montessori schools emphasize individuality and independence. These schools encourage children to work on what interests them and to find their own place in the world. Teachers act as a guide to help students achieve their goals at their own pace. Subjects include practical life, sensory awareness, language arts, math, and culture.
  • Waldorf: Waldorf schools highlight the development of the mind, body, and spirit. Children are encouraged to engage in creative, free play. Work is often group oriented and takes place in a home-like environment.
  • High/Scope: High/Scope schools believe it is important for children to interact with other people, materials, and ideas. Children learn by pursuing their own goals, and are helped along by their teachers. While pursuing goals, children complete 58 key experiences which fall into ten categories, such as music, movement, and literacy.
  • Bank Street: Bank Street schools offer child centered learning and believe in providing diverse opportunities for physical, emotional, and social learning. Children are recognized as learning at different rates. Education focuses on five key topics: political science, geography, anthropology, economics, and history.

Many schools offer a combination of teaching philosophies, which may be more suitable to you and your child.

What to Look for In a Preschool

Here is a checklist of things to look for when choosing a preschool for your child. Be sure to investigate a number of different schools, and then compile a shortlist based on the following factors.

Licensing and Accreditation
When deciding on a preschool, it is imperative that you find one that has been licensed by the state or locality in which it operates. Licensing is required by law, and ensures that the preschool has met the minimum safety and educational standards. Additionally, you may choose to limit your choice of preschools to those that have been accredited by the National Association for Early Childhood Education. Accreditation is awarded to preschools that offer superior quality programming and well-trained teachers. There are over 7,700 accredited preschools in the United States.

Time and Transportation
Most preschools offer half-day programs for children. However, some preschools may offer extended hours for your child if you have to work late. Extended hours are usually more child-care focused, and may include free play, nap times, or snack times. Be sure to inquire how much the preschool charges for extended hours and if there is a penalty for picking your child up late. Also take into consideration the transportation time required to get there. Most young children don’t travel well for long distances. Your child may become cranky and tired on the way to preschool, making for a very long day.

The Teachers
It is a good idea to spend some time talking with the teachers at various preschools. Be sure to inquire about their educational background and ask how much experience they have with particular age groups. Also spend half an hour or so watching these teachers in action. Even the best-qualified teachers don’t always interact well with children, so keep an eye out for how warm, caring, and responsible the teacher is. Additionally, be sure to ask about student-teacher ratios. It is important to have at least two teachers for every 20 students.

The Students
Spend some time watching how the students at the preschool are behaving. Do the children seem to be enjoying themselves? Do they all have preschool activities to keep them occupied? Children should always have something to do and shouldn’t be wandering around aimlessly on their own. Also, check to see if the children have the opportunity to go outside at least once a day.

Rules and Regulations
Because you will not be at the preschool to monitor your child’s every move, be sure to ask about the school’s various rules and regulations. What are the school’s policies regarding discipline? Is there physical or remedial punishment? Are children taught to work through their difficulties, with the help of the teachers? Be sure to find out whether you will be told if your child has been disciplined during a class. Most schools will write up any disciplinary action. Also inquire about their regulations regarding injury and illness. Will you be contacted if your child falls ill or gets hurt? How will this be taken care of?

Meals and Snacks
Find out if the preschool provides meals and snacks for your child. If so, ask if these foods are nutritious and well prepared. Also, lesrn what the school does in the event that your child is allergic to certain foods or food ingredients. If you have to prepare meals and snacks, find out who will give your child this food during the day, and at what times.

Open Door Policy
Any reputable preschool should have an open door policy for parental visits. You should be able to drop by whenever you want to and participate in games and activities with your child. If your preschool will not allow this, warning bells should go off: there may be a negative reason why they won’t allow parental visits.

Before You Sign Up

Before you sign your child up for any preschool, be sure to ask if he can take a trial run first. Most schools will allow children to "test" the school out for a couple of days, to find out if he likes it. Speak with your child after these test runs, and find out if he enjoyed himself or not. If he didn’t have a good time, try to get your child to express these feelings verbally. Most of the time, it isn’t a good idea to sign your child up for a preschool that he doesn’t like, so keep looking if the test run doesn’t go well.