Let’s face it! Choosing preschool or child care can be overwhelming whether it’s your first child, your first experience with child care, or you have experience with child care but life has thrown you a curve ball and you need to start searching again. Here are some helpful tips to consider when making this very important decision for your family.
Start early! Start looking as far in advance as you can but at least one year prior to attending. Tours are typically offered October through January. Some schools/centers have year round admissions and attendance is accepted as long as there is an open slot. If you are expecting a new baby, begin researching your options now! Depending on where you live, you may need to get on a wait list even before your baby is born. No matter what type of care you are considering finding the right child care center or preschool is a process that needs to be started as early as possible. After all, you will be searching for the best fit for your child and your family when it comes to providing care and/or preschool, their daily needs, and a safe/happy environment that you trust. Begin thinking about what type of care may fit your family’s needs and your child’s personal style best.Where to look? The best ways to find preschool programs are to attend preschool fairs where you can talk with teachers in person, get recommendations from fellow parents and scope out the programs’ websites. Join a local mom blog or neighborhood social media group and get references. Locations close to home or work are a good start but remember they may not be the best fit for your family. It may be worth your while to check out other centers or schools recommended by families like yours or families in your neighborhood in addition to the ones that are closer to home or work.
First, make a call and schedule a tour. Then submit the application and fee if it feels like a great fit. Usually you can tour the school while classes are in session, and sometimes you can even bring your child to spend time in the classroom. Bring your child to see how they respond to the setting and teachers. Bring anyone with you who may drop off or pick up as well. Be ready with a notepad on the tour, and bring a list of all your questions. If your gut says, “I LOVE it!” and your child responds well, go ahead and submit the application and fee. If you are still on the fence, schedule a tour for each center/school you are considering. Be patient as this is a very important decision.
Know your needs. Children usually attend preschool for two years between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Often, preschools run half-day programs for a nine-month school year. Some preschools have half-day and/or full-day programs and some offer before and after school care. Child care centers vary from birth to age 12. Most are year round five days a week. Some parents opt for a half-day preschool and hire a nanny if they need additional hourly care. Be very specific to what your needs are when it comes to days of the week and hours needed. Do you need to make a different schedule each month and will the facility be able to accommodate it? Do they offer a drop-in program for those unexpected days when your child isn’t already scheduled for that day? Grab your pad of paper and write down exactly what you need for your kiddos’ schedule.
Ask questions to make an informed choice. Visit all the child care facilities you are considering. Before your visits, create a list of questions that you plan to ask and note indicators of quality that you will look for. Make special note of these key qualities:
- Adult to Child Ratio – the smaller the ratio, the better!
- Group Size – the smaller the group, the better!
- Teacher Qualifications – what is their training and education?
- Turnover – how long have they been with this facility?
What to look for? Observe the staff and child interactions in each classroom. Pay close attention to the language used in the classrooms and the friendliness of the staff. Make note of how the teachers interact with students and with YOU.
Home-to-school connections are important. Preschools that have high family involvement are often the schools with the strongest programs. When families are involved, children do better, teachers feel supported and everyone works together for the children.
High-quality preschools have structure and routines. They follow a specific philosophy or model (i.e. play based, Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, faith based, or an outdoor program). Do they have a daily routine? If so, how does that work? What are their guidelines for addressing challenging behavior?
Discipline policies should emphasize positive approaches to teaching children new skills and proactive strategies for behavior management such as classroom rules, routines and social-emotional lessons or curriculum.
Ask about policies. Find out the policies on potty training, discipline, tuition, drop-off and pick-up.
What is the philosophy on learning and development or their Core Values? Ask about their philosophies on learning and development. You’ll want to hear an enthusiastic and passionate response to this question. Preferably, you’ll want to choose a preschool that follows a play based emergent curriculum. Having a solid set of core values not only helps the children but also the families and the teachers. It is vital to have a strong partnership between the school/center and the families who are enrolled.
Trust your gut and know what’s most important for your family. Does the program seem like a place that your child would enjoy coming to each day? Does it seem like a place that you can trust? Will their program accommodate your families needs and calendar?
Decision made! Now stay involved as much as you can. Now that you’ve found the best fit for your child, the work continues as you are now partners with your chosen child care/preschool. Here are some ways to be involved: Meet regularly with your caregivers and teachers, and ask questions. Volunteer whenever needed, like being a special reader for the day, help with fundraisers, or join their parent group or Board (if they have one). Enjoy your child’s birthday with their classmates. Join in special events, field trips, family events, music programs, or for holiday parties or gatherings.
Printable version FREE Guide to Choosing Preschool or Child