How to Pick the Perfect Preschool
I sat down in the Director’s office with my notepad in hand, waiting for her to come in. My hands were a little shaky and I felt much more nervous than I thought I should. “It’s just preschool… relax,” I told myself. Putting my son’s history as a preemie and Congenital Heart Defect survivor aside, it was the first time I would be leaving him in the care of someone other than family and I felt really anxious about it.
Armed with a degree in Education and 5 years teaching experience, choosing a preschool should have been as easy task for me, but I found myself unprepared, notebook and all. When the Director came in, she went over the school’s brochure and answered my awkward questions. This was my first preschool tour and I didn’t really know what to ask! She led me through the school, introduced me to teachers and let me observe some of the kids doing activities.
Once the tour was over, I told her I would be in touch and got back in to my car. Although I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for yet, I knew this school wasn’t it. The Director had a dull look in her eyes. She seemed tired, burnt-out even, as though she should have retired some years ago, but kept going for the paycheck. The classrooms weren’t dirty, but they couldn’t be described as clean. The children weren’t sad but they didn’t look too excited about learning either. But what bothered me the most for some strange reason, was the lighting, it was dark. The fluorescent lights weren’t very fluorescent. Maintenance and up keep surely weren’t on the top of their priority list, although the tuition was in the higher range at $810 a month for half day! I wondered if I was being too picky, perhaps I was looking for the unicorn of preschools, that didn’t really exist, especially not in my price range.
Another school I looked at was very impressive. The Director was young and energetic. She greeted me warmly, yet professionally. She asked me questions about my son and our family, seeming genuinely interested in us. The school was spotless and incredibly safe with cameras set up and a high-tech system in place to keep strangers out. The kids enjoyed the use of smart boards and tablets to learn pre-reading and writing skills. I was definitely interested in this one. As we went out to the playground, a child no older than 4-years-old ran up to me and said, “Hello Mam, welcome to X school, we’re having a great time playing on the playground.” This seemed impressive at first, but the rehearsed nature of it all haunted me a bit. In any case, this school became my top choice and I was almost ready to sign up.
When I got to the final school on my list, I almost didn’t bother to go in. Parking was impossible! Parallel parking is not my strong point and this seemed to be the only option at this campus. It was drop off time and parents were rushing in and out of the narrow school driveway. “Uggh, this will not be fun!” I thought as I pulled into a spot in the building next door. Just as I was getting out of my car, a woman began cursing at me for parking in her spot. I got back into the car and thought I was done. I drove out, ready to settle for the other school before even taking a look at this one. But as I made a block, I saw that the traffic had died down and a parking spot in front of the school opened up. So, I parked and went in.
To this day, I am so glad that I did. I was greeted by the academic Director of the school. Immediately I felt her warmth and sincerity. I was blown away by the colorful artwork in the halls and the sound of natural giggles filling the air. You know, those belly laughs that make you smile even on your worst day?! The kids were learning and having a blast, in a clean, safe and loving environment. I felt so good about this school that I could have started him there the next day! My instinct told me that this was the one, and I’m happy I followed it.
If you’re thinking of putting your child in pre-school next school year, don’t wait till the last minute to search for a school and register. Take your time and tour lots of schools until you find the right one. The best schools fill up very fast and registration usually takes place several months before the start of the new school year.
Here are ispeakmom.com’s recommendations for some important questions to explore on your tours:
· Is this school in your budget? Decide what your budget and range is is before you start touring. If you know a school is way above your price range, tread carefully. Preschool touring could be a bit like wedding dress shopping. You may have that “it moment” only to realize after that it's way out of your reach financially. Don't forget to ask if the school offers VPK, a program that subsidizes part of the cost for pre-k 4 (in Florida). Also consider some of the hidden costs that come along with preschools. These include registration fees, book and supply fees, uniforms and events and activities throughout the year that you will be encouraged to contribute to.
· Is it a safe place? What safety procedures does the school have in place? Who can access the school? Do they ask parents for identification at pick up?
· Does it meet your standards of cleanliness? Preschoolers should be allowed to make a mess, but do you feel that the place is clean enough for your standards? Do you see staff cleaning up? Do they have a sick policy that asks parents to keep kids home if they have a fever or other symptoms that suggest a contagious illness?
· What do your instincts say? More often than not, a mother's instinct is right. Pay attention to your gut feeling when touring schools. One of the most important things for me was feeling that my child would be loved and well cared for. If you get a sense that the staff will treat your kids like their own, that’s a very reassuring factor. At least it was for me!
· What is their discipline policy? Ask about this policy and make sure it is aligned with what you believe in and can follow through with at home.
· Do they offer after-care? Not all parents can pick up at 12PM or 3PM. Does the school have after school or after care programs that can accommodate the schedules of working parents? What are the pick up and drop off options and schedules?
· What is the curriculum? What learning methodology does the school follow? If you're not familiar with terms like "montessori" or "reggio emilia" it would be a good idea to do some research before you start looking at schools. Some schools are more play-based and others are more academic. Make sure you ask about this so that you choose a school that is aligned with your own beliefs about education at this age. I eventually chose a school that has a mixed approach. Originally I thought I would go for Montessori, but when I saw it in action I knew it was not for us.
· What is the teacher turnover? Although some level of turnover can be expected at this level, this can be a very telling factor. If teachers leave just as fast as they come, this could signal turmoil within the administration. Happy teachers create happy and loving environments for our kids. Unhappy teachers and constant changes in staff create instability and a possibly negative environment.
· What are their potty training requirements? Schools differ on this and have different expectations and levels of support. Find out of your child needs to be fully potty trained. Do they assist with wiping/cleaning? Do they help to potty train your child? This is an important factor to consider in your decision making process!
EDIT: After posting, I was reminded of some really important points that should be considered by a reader (thanks so much)! Please make sure that the establishment is licensed! Also pay attention to teacher education level and teacher to student ratio. They should be within the legal limits for your state, but better schools go above and beyond! Lastly, check to make sure that the school doesn't have any history of child endangerment or abuse!
I hope this helps you on your search for the perfect preschool for your child! Happy touring and good luck!
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© Nicola Rios Nogales and ispeakmom.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Rios Nogales and ispeakmom.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.