In January of last year my husband and I made the difficult decision (maybe it was a bit more difficult for me) as to where we were going to send our daughter to preschool in August. Although the final decision was made in January we began researching possible schools a year or more before.
After visiting several schools, scouring over countless websites, reviews and brochures, I will never forget the emotion that quickly overtook me when we had found the perfect fit. There was child created work scattered around the room, evidence of project work in progress and a huge naturalist playground just outside the classroom door. Far from tidy and probably appearing a bit messy to some, there was evidence of learning and the room was a canvas for children to create and explore. The teacher was inviting, observant and child centered and when a parent asked her what questions he should ask, she quickly replied, “The teacher and the environment are two important things to look at.” (This is exactly what I told my husband to look for before we left the house) The room felt comfortable and oddly familiar. The space reminded me of my own classroom and it felt like home.
A year later we are extremely pleased with our choice. Our daughter is thriving, making new friends and learning everyday! To aid others I compiled a list for parents and caregivers who are beginning their “preschool search.”
Ask Other Families- The first thing I did was ask parents where their children go to preschool. I asked neighbors, moms at the library and parents at the park. I initiated the discussion during Little Gym classes and playgroups. I found many had done their own research and were happy to share with me. The list I compiled showed most of the options in my area. I viewed the schools websites and read reviews online. I began these conversations and web searches a few years before my daughter started preschool.
Location– Location, location, location! Although it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, location is an important factor when selecting a preschool. Some good questions to ask… How far is the school from your home and from your place of work? How early will you have to leave in the morning to drop your child off? If you work, how long will it take you to get to the school after work and then how long will it take to get home? What is the traffic flow? Will you be sitting in rush hour traffic or driving against it?
School Schedule- Are you looking for a full time preschool where you send your child to school five days a week or are you looking for a part time schedule? Do you want half day or full day attendance? Most preschool centers recommend a three year old attend a minimum of two days a week and a four year old three days a week. Does the school have flexibility on the days your child would attend?
Teachers and Staff– Perhaps the most important factor is finding a teacher, an assistant and an early childhood director that are child centered, caring and passionate about working with small children. The teacher and his or her commitment to the learning process and the overall well being of children is crucial in selecting a preschool for your child. Finding a teacher who is a skilled “kid watcher” and has a clear understanding of child development is important. A teacher who gets down on the childrens’ level and knows how to stretch children by asking questions that make them think and directing them to activities and projects that will expand their knowledge and creative thinking are positive things to look for. Other questions to ask… What kind of staff professional development does the center engage in? What is the teacher turnover rate at the school? Most schools have websites that briefly describe each teacher giving his or her experience, education and background. If you can’t find this information on the website don’t be afraid to ask.
Pedagogy and Programs– When you enter a preschool classroom it may appear that the children are playing but play is a child’s work. Children learn through play especially when there are trained educators asking them about their work, guiding them to make connections, evaluating their progress and providing support and assistance. A good environment gives children the ability to construct knowledge from the world around them. Perhaps you are looking for an early childhood center that prescribes to a certain pedagogy? There are many being used today: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, The Project Approach, Waldorf, Highscope, just to name a few. Research shows that mixed age grouping is preferred, allowing children to learn from each other and providing teachers the opportunity to focus on the developmental needs of each child instead of their chronological age. Many preschools use a combination of several methods. Some lean towards the traditional with a strong academic emphasis while others are affiliated with a specific religion and incorporate religious studies into their day. No matter what methods are used, all preschools should practice developmentally appropriate practices that provide hands on learning, student choice and play. Before making a school visit it would be beneficial to define what attributes you and your family are looking for.
I hope this article provides some helpful tips as you and your family begin your preschool search. Please visit this NAEYC website (National Association for the Education or Young Children) for more assistance on selecting the perfect preschool for your family.