Finding the Right Preschool: Tips for Your Search Beyond the Stereotypes 1

When I was pregnant with my first child, a friend told me that I was already behind on my preschool applications. Holy cow, I thought. How can I choose a preschool when my kid hasn’t even been born yet. I hastily got on the waitlist at one preschool and applied to a second shortly after he was born. Neither of these schools ended up being the best fit for him, but I did spend substantial cash on preschool applications, cash that I didn’t have to waste.

Preschoolers_edited-1There are many articles on types of preschools. These articles sum up the types of philosophies: from PBS, Hint Mama and babycenter.

So here’s the thing. Few schools are pure for any one method, and there are many intangibles about what makes a great preschool.  In most cases, there’s no right or wrong answer, just what feels right to your family. So how do you go about deciding? Here are the most important areas to consider.

  • Teacher quality. If I had to pick one most important factor, this would be it; your child spends most of his day with his teachers, and they have a huge impact on his development. Are the teachers loving? How many teachers have a degree in early childhood education? How do the teachers interact with the children? Does the school offer continuing education? Are the teachers CPR/choke certified?

  • Director. The director sets the philosophy for the entire school. A great director can recruit and train great teachers, and can be a parenting resource for you as your child inevitably stumbles as she grows. Ask what background does the director have in early childhood education?  How is she as a manager/leader? What is her philosophy on school curriculum? How will he support you in the kindergarten selection process, especially for private school, but even in the public school process if you will have a choice.

  • Parent community. One of the best parts about our preschool is the community, hands down. It’s an amazing way to form lifelong friendships, with parents who have children the same age. On rainy weekends and school holidays, those friendships come in handy. When things go wrong or a new baby is born, the parental community can be your support system, organizing food delivery and helping ferry your children to school.

  • Kindergarten readiness. This is a true hot button. Some parents want academics to ensure their kid will read on time. My son’s preK class instead focuses on the social aspects of kindergarten — learning to act as a team, sitting still and listening to directions. Whichever philosophy you follow, remember to read to your child at home. Both my children love the cuddles at bedtime and on weekends when we pull out books, and have learned their letters very young, solely at home. Check out this fabulous checklist from the Ohio Department of Education.

  • EQ vs. IQ. We’ve all seen people at work promoted who seem less qualified than us. This Forbes article Intelligence is Overrated: What You Need to Succeed explores this issue. Depending on your child’s future career, getting along with others will be as important, if not more important, than his technical skills. For those of us who were awkward or shy as children, preschool was a chance to learn how to make friends, resolve conflict and handle group dynamics. Ask how the school helps a child to develop social skills, what they recommend if your child doesn’t make friends on his own, and how they handle fighting in the playground.

  • Quality of the Outdoor Space. It’s important for children to get exercise and develop their gross motor skills. A preschooler without exercise is like a can of dynamite! Some preschools have a great space right on site, whereas others might walk to a local playground. Think about what types of activities the children do to foster a lifelong love of exercise.

  • Potty training.  If your child isn’t potty trained yet, be cautious about accepting a school that requires children to be potty trained.  Further, think about whether the school will provide help wiping.  Many potty trained children cannot properly wipe their bowel movements during the preschool years.

  • Child-Teacher Ratio. Most states have a maximum number set by law. While we don’t think the lowest ratio is automatically the best, it is important that the preschool be within state guidelines, which will vary by age and whether potty training is required. Coops will often use parents to reduce the ratio.

Remember that there is a school for everyone, and you don’t need to be in the most popular school for your child to be happy. Once you choose a school, get your child ready with these simple steps.

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