Preschools are as diverse as our children themselves, and the decision of when and where to send your kid is not one to be taken lightly. It should be based on a variety of factors that take into account the school itself and also the specific needs of your family and child.
Here are some tips to consider as you search for your family’s ideal location.
- Determine your goals.
What are you hoping your child gets out of the preschool experience? Is it mostly about socialization with other children? Adapting to a more structured routine? Learning her ABCs and 1,2,3s?
What you’re hoping your child achieves through going to preschool plays a big role in determining which one is right for you.
- Make a list of your priorities.
Is it essential that the preschool be located close to your home or work? Are you looking for a morning or afternoon program? How important are factors like size and cost? What about food options, like snacks or lunch?
Other important considerations are the preschool’s approach (which can include Montessori, Waldorf, play-based, faith-based, and child-led) and accreditation status (the National Association for the Education of Young Children is the main accrediting organization for preschools and early learning centers).
It might be tough to find a preschool that fits every one of your desires in all of these categories, so decide which ones are deal-breakers for you and start there.
- Seek out personal recommendations and feedback.
Local friends and family can provide valuable insight into a preschool’s general reputation in the community. And you can always seek out feedback from parents with children currently enrolled in the program. Ask them for their honest opinion and you’re likely to get it.
- Visit in-person.
There’s only so much you can learn through a website or over the phone. Seeing a preschool for yourself gives you a much better sense of the way it operates, and if it will be a good fit for your child.
If possible, visit when children are present so you can see the site in action. Then make key observations and ask pointed questions of the staff.
Do you see any safety concerns? (A friend of mine was very excited about a childcare facility until she saw the playground, which is right next to a main street and has a frighteningly low fence between the swing set and traffic.)
How’s the noise level?
Is the space welcoming and inviting? What kinds of toys and learning items are present?
What are the staff members’ qualifications? Are they required to have any kind of certification?
You can even visit with your child to judge how he reacts to the preschool. Just remember that even if he seems reserved, the school might still be a good fit, especially if your child often takes some time to warm up to new places and people.
- Consider your child’s unique needs.
Every child is different, and some preschools are better equipped to handle those differences than others. For example, some preschools may require your child to be potty-trained, while yours is struggling a bit in that area. Or maybe your child relies on her daily afternoon nap, and the timing of the program doesn’t accommodate that. Or perhaps your child has special needs that the preschool’s staff aren’t well versed or experienced in handling. Think through what kind of environment your child will need to thrive, and seek out a preschool that’s a good match.
- Don’t wait.
Depending on your geographic area, preschool waiting lists can get long. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect one and then realizing it’s completely full for the next year.
- Consider if home preschooling is right for you.
I know some moms who ultimately decide to handle preschooling on their own, either because they’re planning on homeschooling for the long term or just because they feel it’s best for their child at this particular time.
I simply don’t have the creativity or patience to make home preschooling a success, but I admire those who do!
If you think this route might work for your family, there are plenty of online resources to give you ideas and inspiration. I personally love the site Learning2Walk.com, which is full of activities, crafts, and printable resources for preschooling at home.
- Trust your gut.
In the end, your list of preschool pros and cons doesn’t hold a candle to your mama instincts. If a specific location looks great in pictures but just doesn’t feel right to you, skip it. If another option doesn’t meet every single piece of criteria and yet makes you and your child feel comfortable, then it’s probably the one. Sending your kiddo to preschool is tough enough as it is; having a feeling of security and peace of mind will make the transition better for everyone.
Author Katie M. McLaughlin