Choosing a preschool is a lot easier than you may think. Really! In the end, it’s the facility in which you feel most comfortable and your child seems most positive about that could end up being the right choice. But where to begin?
Here are four steps to finding the right school:
1. Getting started
Ask yourself these basic questions:
- Is it important for the preschool to be near my home?
- Is it important for the preschool to be near my workplace?
- Is it important for the preschool to offer childcare services in the morning, afternoon, or both?
- Am I eligible for or interested in subsidized preschool programs (i.e. Early Head Start, Child Welfare League of America or state-funded programming) that offer services such as childcare programs with a focus on providing educational opportunities?
Answering each of these questions will help you narrow down the general location and type of setting you should research. Narrowing down your choices will make the process of comparing settings easier to manage.
2. Know the different teaching styles
Oftentimes the most confusing part about choosing preschools is trying to make sense of terms such as, “Montessori Approach,” “child-centered,” “Waldorf Approach” and “faith-based.” What do these terms mean and how can these terms help you choose a preschool?
Here are some basic definitions as outlined by The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD):
The Montessori Method
Focuses on maintaining the individuality of each child in the learning process. This method believes each child learns at their own pace and educational progress should not be rendered based upon comparing students to one another.
The Waldorf Approach
This approach places an emphasis on imagination in learning, providing students with opportunities to explore their world through the senses, participation and analytical thought.
The Bank Street Approach
This approach places an emphasis on learning through multiple perspectives, both in the classroom setting and in the natural world.
This term is often used to describe settings that take the children’s interests into consideration when planning activities. For example: In a child-centered setting, the classroom activities are based on the interests of the students, not on pre-scheduled topics chosen by the teacher. These settings often offer increased opportunities for children to choose activities throughout the day depending on their interests.
The opposite of a child-centered setting is a teacher-led setting. Teacher-led often means that curriculum and supplemental activities are implemented based on a set schedule developed by the teachers in the setting. This type of setting usually provides children with a structured learning environment.
These settings believe children learn best when they are engaged and interested in learning. Child-led settings wait for each child to initiate or ask for new activities and experiences, fostering individualized learning experiences rather than group experiences.
This term is used to describe preschool programs that are run through faith organizations such as churches or synagogues, according to their faith’s philosophies.
These settings often ask parents and families to assist in the running of the preschool. Parents and family members may build community by signing up to volunteer during the week, or by assisting in the day-to-day management of the preschool as well as helping with advertising, upkeep and fundraising.
Sometimes this term is used interchangeably with preschool. In general, a pre-K program is one that has children enrolled in the year before kindergarten, usually at age four. These settings are often more structured than traditional preschool settings.
3. Do your research
Once you have a good idea of what type of philosophy would best suit your child, here are a few things you can do to help narrow down your options:
- Reach out to other parents: Ask your friends, neighbors, pediatrician, older child’s teacher – ask people you trust for recommendations for quality settings in your area. Ask, “What advice do you wish you had received before choosing your child’s preschool?” Most parents will be happy to offer their insight and advice.
- Turn to the Internet: You might be surprised to learn that your community has an active preschool networking community, a great place to tap into useful advice and resources.
4. Schedule a visit
Now that you have narrowed down your choices and come up with two or three settings you are interested in, schedule a time to visit each setting. You can learn a lot about a setting by the way staff approach introductory visits with you and your child. During your visit ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel welcome here?
- Does my child seem interested in what they have to offer?
- Do the children in the setting seem happy?
- How do the adults and children interact?
- Is the setting clean and safe?
You should also come to the visit with questions for the director or tour guide:
- What is the turnover rate for staff members?
- What percentage of the staff hold degrees in early childhood?
- How does the setting handle discipline?
- What are the safety procedures for picking up and dropping off children?
- Is the setting accredited?
- What are the payment options and procedures?
Choosing the best preschool for your child does not have to be an overwhelming task. Successful parents go into the process aware, informed and ready to ask questions. Being prepared will make the process efficient, effective and meaningful for you and your child.
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