Guest Post by Jennifer Landis
The preschool search is on, and you think you’ve got this application thing in the bag. Your child’s obviously a winner, and every preschool will vie for her attendance.
You’re ready with your checklists and research — from the playground equipment quality and safety to cost comparison. You did the obvious research, but what about the least obvious and also important considerations? Does the preschool fit your family vibe? Are the parents at the preschool like you or vastly different?
You need to remember that you’ll make playdates with these folks and possibly build lifelong friendships as your child starts learning how to form theirs. Being a parent is hard, and making and sustaining friendships as an adult proves more challenging than in your younger years. You’re joining a tribe — not just finding a preschool. Use these eight less-obvious considerations to help choose a preschool for your toddler.
- The Director
The director won’t be part of your child’s everyday life, but they matter because they run the school.
You need to know the director’s philosophy for the preschool. What about teaching values, discipline and kindergarten prep? They set the curriculum, recruit and motivate teachers, and manage the school budget.
Some directors try to know every student’s name and come across as warm. Others maintain their distance and focus on management and fundraising. The bottom line comes down to this: Is the director successful in running the school and keeping the staff and kids happy and growing? Arrange a meeting to find out.
- The Teachers and Their Methods
There are as many teaching methods under the sun as spring flowers in bloom, such as Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. Websites like to use words like “faith-based” and “holistic learning,” but what do those really mean?
For example, Montessori teaching methods focus on the whole child beyond academics and incorporate four principles: respect the child, provide sensitive periods of learning, have a prepared environment, and offer independence and discovery. Kids make discoveries on their own, have smaller class-to-teacher ratios and learn at their own pace. Beyond understanding a school and its teaching methods, you must get to know the teachers and how they apply those methods with their own philosophies.
The teachers are a non-negotiable factor when looking at the pros and cons of preschools. Your child’s teacher should make them feel safe, comfortable and engaged. Get to know more than one teacher, and observe directed and free play throughout various periods of the day, along with the curriculum at work. Do the kids share, and are the teachers still teaching these valuable lessons at recess? Are kids encouraged to ask out-of-the-box questions or simply give answers?
Teachers must speak with you comfortably and honestly about everything, just as easily as they do with your kid. How approachable are the teachers? Do they engage in quick chats during drop-off? Are email addresses available to parents for questions? How quickly do teachers respond?
Many preschools use newsletters for spreading community information and accomplishments. Beyond that, how does each classroom share news and celebrate students? Do teachers personalize feedback for each child? Do they pay attention to their well-being in addition to academic productivity? How does your child rest during nap time? What projects are they most drawn to or disinterested in and why?
- Separation Guidelines
What is the school’s phase-in policy? Some preschools allow parents to linger near the classroom for a few weeks into the child’s integration, while others want them to stay away after the second day.
You and your child need to feel comfortable with the separation policy. Kids suffering from separation anxiety may display regressed behavior, such as missing the potty when continuously successful in the past. Stick to a routine and create a goodbye ritual to make your child feel more comfortable.
- Cancellation Policy
Preschool costs take a huge chunk out of the family budget, so if your family may have second thoughts, you need to know upfront about the cancellation policy for each preschool.
Finances are a big factor — preschool costs more than in-state college tuition in 23 states and counting. Is the deposit refundable? What withdrawal policy does the school follow? How does the waiting list work alongside finances? If planning a move midyear, will you get a portion of the deposit back?
- The School Calendar
You need to tie the school calendar in with your family and professional calendars. Most preschools follow local school district vacation days, but they may also designate other days off.
What special holidays, professional development and teacher conference days exist? Know in advance so you can budget and prepare for child care when these situations arise.
- Ongoing Development
What’s your five-year plan? While more of a typical job interview question, it matters when it comes to your child’s educational planning.
While asking that of yourself, you should also ask that of the school. Are the directors and teachers committed to the continuous improvement of the school and its students? What positive changes have occurred at the school within the last five years? Do teachers focus on their own professional development?
- Get Real Parental Feedback
Ask for recommendations, and you’ll get feedback almost as glossy as the preschool brochure. When the opportunity presents, ask leading questions when face-to-face with other parents.
If the parent has concerns, ask how teachers handled each circumstance. Ask about hypothetical scenarios, such as if your child has difficulty making friends or is slow to potty-train. Get real parental feedback on how the school is run to see if it’s a right fit for your family.
Choosing a preschool matters because you build a foundation for your child’s educational future. Don’t forget to ask about the cancellation policy and seek real feedback from parents. Take time to sit in on a few classes at various times of the day, including recess. Soon, you’ll find the right fit for you and your child.
More About Jennifer
Jennifer Landis is a mother, wife, and the editor Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys yoga, green tea, and dark chocolate. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.