April 26, 2017
Okay, you’ve got an idea about what kind of preschool you’d like to send your child to (read more here). Great! Now what? Warning: reading this next section might just make this decision feel even more complicated than it needs to be, so proceed with caution ;). Here are a few more things you might consider as you decide on a preschool.
- Playground and structure: If this is where your child is going to be all day every weekday, it would be great to find a play area that offers a lot of variety for gross motor development. My goal last year was to find a great play-based program, so I always made it a point to check out the outside play area and gave extra points for irregular surfaces (to develop balance and coordination, as opposed to just cement or rubberized play surfaces), a bike circle (to practice going on scooters and balance bikes), and a variety of play equipment (swings, bars, sand, climbing structures, etc.)
- Classroom environment: Does it feel warm and welcoming? Is it neat and organized? Is the room set up so that children can feel ownership of the space? Is it safe and open? Do the walls show student work? Does the student work look uniform, or does it look like students were given freedom to be creative?
- Teachers: This one is hard to tell during a tour, because everyone is extra friendly during observations and tours. We hoped to find teachers that were warm, nurturing, experienced, and knowledgeable. It’s a good sign if the teachers have been teaching there for many years. If they have been at the same site for a while, that also speaks strongly of the program, support and teacher satisfaction at the school.
- Teacher to student ratio: Generally, people look for a low teacher to student ratio. Most programs we were looking at had a 1:8 ratio or better, meaning there was at least one teacher or adult there for every eight kids.
- Class size: Most parents prefer a smaller class size. This allows the teacher to get to know the child better, offer more attention to the child, and keeps the group more intimate. However, some also prefer the large class size for the variety of social interactions.
- Age of peers: Some preschools are large enough that your child will be with other kids about the same age. Others have a large range, such as 2-5 year olds all in one class. There are pros and cons both ways. For example, in a mixed-age class, a younger child can learn a lot by observing older kids, and older kids can learn compassion, empathy, and learn to be responsible role models to younger kids. This can be great for confidence building. In a same-age class, teachers can focus instruction a little more on student ability.
- Flexibility in scheduling: Since I’m a stay at home mom, I was specifically looking for a part-time, part day program. I still wanted to have a significant amount of time with my daughter, but I also felt like it was important for her to spend more time with other kids and start learning the norms of a school environment. This narrowed down my search quite a bit, since I didn’t even consider programs that only had full-day (8am-6pm) programs and/or only offered Monday-Friday programs. That cut my options down significantly.
- Nap time: Many schools have a built in nap or rest time if your child stays for a certain amount of time. If your child is not taking naps anymore, you can see what the rules are for them. Some places will force your child to lie down for a certain period of time, while others will offer books. I personally didn’t want to pay more money for my daughter to stay an extra hour to lie down, so I actively looked for places that started nap time after my preferred pick up time.
- Adding extra hours: Does the school allow you to add extra hours if you need? This was important to me this year since my son was solidly taking morning naps for the first half of the school year. Having the flexibility to tack on an extra hour literally bought my son more sleep and eased the burden of rushing a hungry baby around to pick up my daughter from preschool. This may be less relevant for working parents, but has been really helpful as a stay at home mom!
- Proximity: Is it on the way to work? Is it “only” 15 minutes away? Do you have a younger child you’re taking along as you drop off and pick up the older one? Our preschool could potentially be only 10 minutes away (like at midnight), but is closer to 18-20 minutes with morning weekday traffic. This means that on a high-traffic day, I could be toting my youngest one around for about 45 MINUTES just dropping off and picking up my preschooler! I feel like this is unfair to him, and regretted the distance of our preschool when I realized how much time I was forcing my young baby to spend in his car seat every school day. Happily, Ben now does morning drop off, so that saves us a lot of car time!
- Potty training: Some preschools require your child to be potty-trained before enrollment. Others will potty-train your child, but this usually costs more.
- Lunch: Do you always pack your own lunch? Will the preschool provide lunch? Is there a variety in the food offered? Are you allowed to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or is it a nut-free campus? One campus I visited advertised a cook on campus that made lunch for the kids each day, but when I visited, the kids had been eating ham and cheese sandwiches every day for weeks as the school still needed to hire a cook.
- Cost: Did you know there are free preschool programs? Check with your local libraries and see if there are preschool or preschool-like programs offered nearby. The ones I’ve come across require parents to be present, but it’s a great option if you are looking for a way to ease in to preschool and also save some pennies (or benjamins).
- Waiting lists: I always thought the whole “put your kid on the waiting list when you get pregnant” thing was an exaggeration, but in our area, the most prized preschools really do have long waiting lists. One school that I tried signing up for already had a full 3’s program before enrollment for it even began, simply based on continuing 2’s that were moving up. I applied the very day enrollment opened and I had to wait for a call back to find out the result of the lottery for my position on the WAITLIST (not even to get placed)! The preschool my daughter is currently at begins enrollment for the next school year ten months ahead of time. Yowza. So if you think it’s way too early to be thinking about this, you might want to think again (unless you’re not pregnant yet, in which case I suppose you can bookmark this for a later stage in life).
Is your head spinning yet? Please don’t make a weighted spreadsheet. Only crazy people do that, and I think it probably only makes them/me more crazy. Hopefully your gut is more decisive than mine and it will be easy for you to make a choice without looking back. If not, then I hope this information was more helpful than overwhelming, and ultimately that you find a great preschool where your child can thrive and that also fits your family’s needs!
If you think of more factors to consider, please share in the comments below!