You’re at the gym picking up little Timmy from the free childcare and before you can get near him you see something that makes your heart stop. He just smacked another kid and took his toy truck. Don’t panic! Do what you’ve been meaning to do for months- enroll him in preschool!
Easier said than done? Yes and no. Choosing a school is a process and it’s definitely not a one size fits all scenario.
First step: Make a list of what you want your child to gain from the experience. Is your child shy? Are you hoping they will make friends and break out of their shell a little? Or do you have an active learner who bounces from place to place and needs a little structure? There are programs and philosophies to suit just about any kiddos needs.
Second step: Now that you have narrowed down your “must haves” and have chosen a philosophy, you can begin to research schools. My best bit of advice? Ask your tribe. Reaching out to friends or posting to social media to see who sends their kids where is the best way to get recommendations with unbiased reviews. Trust me. The school I work for has stayed in business since 1961 on word of mouth recommendations only.
Once you get a few names you’ll want to call and see what their tour policy is. Ask to tour during normal class time. Touring during lunch or nap won’t give you the “feel” of how the class operates, but a class time tour will be very insightful.
This is a link to a super professional early ed organization that has done hours of research for you but I encourage you to investigate on a local level and see where your neighbors and friends have sent their children.
Third Step: Make a list of questions. I tour parents on a daily basis and something in the mind goes blank when they see all of the adorable faces smiling at them and having such a good time in preschool. If you’re armed with a list of questions you wont get sidelined by all the cuteness. (It happens to the best of us!)
If you are strictly there to observe and the school’s policy is to not disrupt what’s happening in class, ask for a point of contact that can answer those questions. Usually the teacher will have an email address to offer, or the school admins can help with questions.
This is the short list of questions to ask:
- What is the illness/vacation policy?
- What are class ratios and sizes?
- What is the discipline policy?
- What does the class routine look like?
- If they provide snack can you review the menu?
- Do they require a two week before you can leave the school?
- Are the staff trained in CPR/First Aid and back ground checked?
- How much parental involvement do they want?
- Is there an open door policy for parents?
- How is information shared and how will you learn about your child’s day?
Side note: You’ll see I didn’t list “Teacher Education” as a question. This is a total personal opinion, but it’s much more beneficial to ask how long the teacher has been in early ed. Let’s be real- preschool teachers don’t make much and college is a luxury most can’t afford. I have a staff of 38 that I would easily call experts, but very few have 4 years and loads of debt to back that up. Most counties require teachers to obtain a certain number of continuing ed credits per year. Here in Arizona, we require 18.
Fourth Step: Well, this isn’t so much a step as it is a suggestion. Even if you are still on the fence about a school, GET ON THE WAITLIST! No, really…I mean it. Fill out the waitlist form, pay money to the nice people, and take a business card so you can keep in touch and check your status from time to time. I can’t stress this enough. I have sent home paperwork with so many families to let them think about their choices and when they call back we no longer have a spot. This pains me so much because as a parent I remember how hard school choices can be. Registration fees are a small drop in the bucket to get into the perfect school and with schools waitlisting nearly two years out, it’s money well spent.
You have your school. You have picked out a backpack. Now what? It’s time to prepare for that first day!