Your little one is growing up, right before your eyes. They can drink from their very own sippy cup, they can put on their own hat, and they’re ready to discover the world. Now is the time to take that leap into preschool – a major step in their development, and one you don’t wish to take lightly.
Picking a preschool can be a daunting experience. Just as no two children are alike, no two preschools are alike either. Here are some helpful tips on how to evaluate a preschool:
When you walk into a preschool do you feel at ease? Is it exciting, or stressful? Chances are, whatever your first impression of the place is, your child will feel the same way.
“If you are tense when you walk in, your child will pick up on that, and feel the same emotion,” says Debi Evans, director of the Murray Early Education Center.
“It would be very important to visit the school and take a tour. You should be able to expect that [from a preschool],” says Robyn Eriwata-Buchanan, owner and school director of Montessori Community School.
A good preschool will go above and beyond your child’s safety, by providing an enriching environment from which children can learn and grow – happily. It should be safe, fun, and full of educational tools and hands-on toys to engage your child in a nurturing environment.
What is the goal of preschool? What are you looking to provide for your child’s development at this stage in his life? Are you more concerned with his (lack of) social skills, or are you mostly concerned about his ability to identify his ABCs and write his name? Every preschool should be able to provide you with their mission statement. Every mission statement should clearly state their intentions, and their curriculum outlines.
Keep in mind that a mission statement is a goal and not an expectation for each child. “One should be able to expect a school to stick to their mission statements and to their outline curriculum, but there are many reasons as to what progress children make – things like [their] home environment… if they have any learning challenges, etc.” reminds Eriwata-Buchanan.
Every child learns at a different speed, and in a different way. Be an active parent – figure out which way your child learns best, and supplement what they learn from school at home to reinforce it.
Just as important as the Mission Statement, is the school’s ability to incorporate a “strong emphasis [on] respect towards all other people, peace, education and the ability to communicate well, independent work and showing initiative, creativity, etc.”
You don’t want to send your child off to a preschool that won’t cultivate the weaknesses into strengths while they encourage their strengths to get even stronger.
“Every parent thinks – and rightfully so – that their child is gifted. That no other child has the same wonderful qualities that theirs does,” says Evans with a smile. “However, equally important to remember and be aware of is the child’s weaknesses as well.”
Here is where many preschools differ. There are the hard-core, academically-focused preschools, and there are the lackadaisical ‘we’ll do what we can’ preschools – with everything in between. Every preschool should strive for “kindergarten readiness” by the time they graduate. A good preschool will be discussing what is needed within their school district once a year and adjusting their curriculum accordingly, says Evans.
Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the rules. “We would not make a solid promise that all 5-year-olds would have completed a certain aspect of the curriculum because we believe that all children are individuals who make progress in different areas of their life,” says Eriwata-Buchanan.
Many preschools will offer different numbers of days, and different hours to attend. Some children will do just fine in an all-day preschool – especially if they schedule ‘down times’ in between to help your little one recharge his battery. Other kids aren’t going to learn past a couple of hours – they are just ‘done for the day’ and ready to go home and relax. There’s no point in having your child signed up for an all-day preschool if they aren’t going to pay a lick of attention past the first two hours no matter how engaging the teachers are.
Every parent wants to give their child the best possible educational start, but that does, unfortunately, come at a cost. In some cases, a very big cost. While you must consider just how much you can actually afford, it’s equally important to make sure you’re ‘getting what you paid for.’ You will want to weigh in the amount of time the child is there, what the school hopes to accomplish, how many field trips or other activities they will have, if they will provide snacks and whether or not that’s included in the cost of tuition.
“It is obvious to me that money spent on a quality program while children are in Early Childhood is money so well spent.” says Eriwata-Buchanan. “The possible developments in children aged from birth to six years old are so much greater than at any other time of their life and giving them a strong foundation during these years is so important.” She goes on to explain, however, that she is “absolutely opposed to “pushing” children” as that will not help them developmentally.
For families that are in a lower-income bracket, there are still options available: Head Start is the most recognizable one. Head Start boasts that their children are “found to have higher achievement test scores, respond more favorably to grade repetitions, and graduate more often” than children who do not attend preschool. It is important to start your child’s education off on the right foot – don’t let a lack of income prevent your child from getting the best possible start.
Last but not least – make sure you’ve found a school that has good communication with the parents. Does the school send home information regularly regarding your child, or the school activities? Do you get a calendar of events at the beginning of every month? What if your child is injured or sick while in school? How will they contact you?
Of equal importance is knowing the best ways for you to communicate with the school. Each preschool will have certain protocols in place to ensure the teacher’s time – and yours – is efficiently spent. Your child might have a teacher that prefers you speak with them a moment or two before class begins, or you might have one that prefers to focus on the students during school hours. In which case, email, phone calls, written letters, talking to the administration – all of these are acceptable forms of communication. If you have any concerns at all, please address them. The teachers and administration of the preschool cannot fix what they don’t realize isn’t working properly.
There is a certain amount of proper etiquette to remember: be sure to focus only on your child when addressing a problem or concern. If your child is experiencing difficulties with another child in class, be sure to start the conversation with “my child has a problem/issue…” and keep the focus on your child and what we can do to ensure your child’s safety and comfort.
“Parents should be empowered to make the best decisions possible for their children.” says Evans.
The preschool should welcome and encourage questions from the parents. They want what’s best for your child just as much as you do. Most preschools will happily make an appointment with you to give you a tour, walk you through the school, and provide you with information and pamphlets.