How do I choose the right preschool?

Preschooler in Training
Choosing a preschool for your child is among the most important decisions you will make as a parent. Children in child care settings that are of the highest quality tend to be much more successful in school and in life. It can often be a difficult decision, because what works for one child may not work for another. This is particularly true for a preschooler with special learning or behavioral needs. A crucial role for parents is situated in the cautious selection of a preschool to ensure that the program gives your child a great head start.

How is preschool different from daycare?

Preschool, as a general rule, is used to describe programs aimed at children between the ages of three and five. The primary difference between a preschool and a daycare program is that preschools focus on the complete development of the child–physical, academic, emotional and social, while the principal reason for daycare is providing outside the home care for parents that wrok (although some daycare centers also have a learning curriculum as well.)

Preschool can truly be a fascinating, wonderful time, but it is vital to comprehend your child’s personality and developmental level in order to make the right choice.

Priorities in selecting the right preschool

Choosing the best preschool is also one of those life decisions that can feel completely overwhelming. After all, this is where your child will be spending her days for the next several years. Among the first factors I would consider is if the preschool environment is safe. Basically, each preschool can be evaluated along three dimensions: the people (teachers, staff, parents, other classroom helpers), the location, and the philosophy behind their curriculum and lesson plans. Discovering the one preschool that is perfect for your child will make her days enjoyable and stimulating and give you peace of mind. If you are considering preschool for your child, choose a school that will turn your young child on to the thrill of learning. This will be your daughter or son’s first glimpse of the learning process, social, emotional and academic.

Too many parents and caregivers take on the task of choosing a school for their three to five year old child with blinders on. Instead of reflecting on the importance of the school’s philosophy, the foundation behind their curriculum, and other important considerations, they may choose based on convenience. It is key to examine a variety of factors, such as location, hours of operation, cost, curriculum, and environment.

Preschool Curriculum Philosophy

The curriculum philosophy (play vs academic) will be the determining factor in terms of what your child does all day. This PBS article has a good summary of the major preschool philosopies. Within those two broad categories of play and academic, are a variety of sub categories, child-centered (like Montessori schools), teacher led, structured, free-play. There are also structural things to think about: is it a co-op and/or is parent volunteering expected or not, is it secular or religious, and is it a full day or half day program? If you are sending your child part time, do they allow flexible scheduling or is it fixed what days and times you can get part time care?

Before you and your family make a final choice, visit the school to see what it is truly like during the day. Ultimately, it will come down to whether or not the school will work for your little one. If you can, visit the classroom. While evaluating your potential school, pay attention to your gut reactions and impressions, these will help you a lot. Selecting a preschool is very similar to finding a new pediatrician, a house or a job. You put lots of energy into research, comparing, getting recommendations, inspecting, and so forth. In those situations, you know in advance that you will spend lots of your energy and time to make the very best choice.

Think about what questions you should ask: Are parents able to drop in during the day? How is children’s progress tracked and how are parents kept up to speed? Is there much teacher and staff turnover?

The cost of learning

One of the main determinants of preschool choice for most families, especially when more than one child is involved, is the cost. And be sure to ask about discounts for more than one child (although this is rare). Don’t let it be the only factor, however. At the same time, a higher priced school doesn’t automatically mean it’s the best school for you. You still need to do a thorough investigation. Another thing to ask about, while not a deal breaker, is whether the preschool has an attached elementary school. This can not only keep you from having to do all the research all over in a year or two, while helping your little ones possibly make long time friends early on.

Don’t worry, (try to) be happy

I clearly recall, how anxious I was about selecting a preschool. Ultimately, everything worked out really well. The teachers and staff were awesome. My son loved them and his friends. He was super prepared for kindergarten and has excelled ever since. Choosing the right preschool is not the most difficult decision in the world. The key to choosing the best preschool (best being a relative term based on your child and your family’s needs and wants) is knowing what factors are important to you in advance, and be willing to ask questions. With a good concept of what you want your child to get out of preschool, you will be well equipped to make the right choice.

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