Depending on where you live, preschool selection may be something you begin doing a couple months before you’ll actually need the program OR a couple of months before you even give birth to the child.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for a part or full time situation, there are several crucial factors to consider. As a mom who has been through the process 4 times!! (yes, 4!!) there were some rookie mistakes I made in the beginning before I knew what I should REALLY be looking for in a pre-school.
Finding a Preschool – What You Probably Aren’t Considering, BUT Should Be…..
While safety and academics will be key to your decision making, there are other important elements that newbie parents often overlook. I’ve been at this for over a decade and my 4 children, ages 3-12, have attended 5 different programs.
Some have been traditional preschools and some have been structured more like playgroups or Mom’s Morning Out type care. All of them have been faith based. Overall, I’ve been pleased with every single one of these options for different reasons, and I’m hoping my experiences can help provide some insight to other moms as you embark on this process.
My youngest will enter a new preschool this Fall (finally I get a morning to myself after ten years), so I’ve been touring and considering a range of options as we recently moved, and the places we attended in the past are no longer a good geographical fit for us.
First Pre-School tip: location, location, location.
When you have only one child to transport, location may not seem like a big factor, but trust me, once you have a variety of age groups, all needing to arrive somewhere at a specific time each morning, not to mention the fact that you may need to arrive somewhere as well, location WILL matter.
Spending your entire morning or afternoon driving between schools is not productive for anyone. As our family grew, it was increasingly difficult to schlep my infants and toddlers to drop off/pick up while trying to create some type of schedule, so if I could minimize the amount of time we spent just driving, it helped tremendously.
Second Pre-School tip: the culture of the school
This can be more difficult to discern by only a single visit, but not impossible if you ask the right questions. In this context, I’m referring to culture as the characteristics that are important to that school. For example, perhaps parents are expected to provide a snack for an entire class on a rotating basis. Instead of sending in a box of crackers and a bottle of juice, homemade, themed, or mom assembled snacks are the norm. This doesn’t have to be a deterrent, if you enjoy Pinterest and creating animals out of fruit, this could actually be a plus for you. The caution here is this: if you’ll feel pressured into creating elaborate snacks that you truly do not have the time, budget, or energy for, please do not place this stress upon yourself.
It is also a good idea to ask how the holidays are celebrated, will there be performances by the children, class parties, or a school wide activity? Are there guidelines governing how birthdays are acknowledged? When my oldest daughter attended preschool, one child had a pony and clown come to the school, along with a catered lunch and a giant cake, others brought homemade cupcakes and proudly wore the construction paper crown the class created. Neither of these options is necessarily better than the other, but it definitely became a source of discomfort for some families.
If field trips aren’t feasible(and they’re not at many preschools), are guest speakers, like a nurse from the children’s hospital, a firefighter, or a local farmer, invited to visit and share information with the children? If there is a garden or outdoor learning area available, be sure to ask if the kids actually participate in the garden and it’s maintenance or its a parent maintained project. Many times, there will be amazing and impressive projects displayed but be certain to ask yourself if they exist to impress parents or to further your child’s learning.
Beware of perfect looking art projects or an abundance of store bought wall decor,
there should be lots of child created, imperfect, messy art everywhere.
Last Pre-School Tip: think about the amount of parent commitment required
Will you be required to participate in fundraisers, volunteer in the classroom, join a committee, attend monthly parent meetings or any other task? None of those opportunities are negative but you’ll want to consider if you can take on additional responsibilities in your schedule.
Finding a preschool where both your child will thrive and you’ll feel comfortable is doable, especially when you’re armed with the information to make a wise decision. If you’re looking for additional and more in-depth resources, here are a few helpful websites with tips for vetting a childcare provider, the National Association For The Education of Young Children is full of great information and Child Care Aware is another resource that will even provide schools in proximity to your zip code. Also, the evaluations and any violations of licensed preschools are a matter public record and are searchable on a state by state basis via the licensing agency of that state.
To make your life just a little bit easier, you can also download our Preschool_Printable Checklist to Help You in Your Decision Making!
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What were the most important factors to you when selecting a Pre-School?