An exciting rite of passage for most children is going to preschool. Since it’s the first time they've been away from you in a school setting, it's easy to see why parents can spend a lot of time researching the different options.
Unfortunately, it's not always clear what makes an excellent preschool. Is it the price? The location? The teachers? There are many factors that go into a high-quality preschool, including those listed below.
One of the most important things to ask a preschool teacher is what the daily schedule is like for the children. After all, preschool is far different from daycare, where children generally play and socialize throughout the day. To make sure your child is being stimulated and has a structured schedule, ask their potential teacher the following questions:
- How long is physical activity?
- How long is quiet time?
- Do they have time for individual activities?
- When are snack time and free time?
- Does the schedule vary, or will it stay the same?
By understanding more about the curriculum that the teacher follows, you'll get a better idea of how your child will develop and grow while they’re in school. However, don't set high expectations for what your little one is supposed to learn. While preschool is school, it’s designed to stimulate the child's imagination, creativity, and overall development.
If you notice that the school doesn't have a lot of different activities and sticks to the same ones every day, you may want to check out other places. When kids do the same things on a daily basis, they’re far less likely to grow during their time in school. Of course, they won't leave preschool adding or multiplying, but they should know more than they did when they started.
Just as you probably researched daycare centers before you chose one, you must look at the reputation of any preschool before committing to it. One of the best ways of deciding is by researching online to learn more about how they work. By doing so, you may also find reviews from other parents, which can teach you a lot about individual experiences.
However, if you can't find much information online, then ask the school if there are any parents with kids currently attending that you can speak. They can offer insight about why they like or dislike the school—and if their children like it.
Another sign of a good school is one where you see kids smiling. If you visit during the day, try to note if the kids look like they're glad to be there.
Most parents don't realize that a preschool must carry many credentials, includinga license in their state. While you can certainly ask the school if you can see their license, it's much more effective to call the social services department in your state. After giving them the name of the school, they'll tell you whether or not their license is current. Fortunately, if they are, you can celebrate, knowing that the school has met health and safety requirements set by the state.
Does an up-to-date license automatically mean the school is great? No. So it's still important to do your own evaluation of the grounds and teachers. If the school doesn't have a license, choose another school.
The School Rules
Some of the most important questions you want to ask about the rules of the school include:
- When are pickup and drop-off?
- Do they allow flexibility in pickup and drop-off times?
- When does the school open and close?
- Are there emergency plans set in place, and will the children learn them?
- Is there an open-door policy?
An additional question you should ask is whether or not kids are allowed to go to school sick. The answer is important for your child's safety, and you need to know because of your work schedule. Depending on the facility, you may be required to keep your child home for a certain number of days (or until they don't have a fever).
A good preschool will also request that children and employees have regular checkups and all required immunizations.
The School Is Safe and Clean
Never choose a preschool before you've had the chance to see it in person. Even if the online pictures look great, things could be completely different when you set foot on the grounds. While you're there, look at the following areas to make sure they’re up to state standards for safety and cleanliness:
- The kitchen and bathrooms are clean.
- Trash cans are taken out (and there isn't trash overflowing onto the ground).
- It's a comfortable temperature.
- The school doesn’t allow strangers to walk into the building. (In other words, there are standards to keep kids safe.)
- There are smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the appropriate places.
- There’s a nurse area with first-aid supplies.
- The toys and outdoor equipment look well-maintained.
- If there isn't an outdoor play area, there’s a large indoor play area. (This is common in urban areas.)
Upon walking through the school, if you notice that it doesn't look sanitary or safe, then you should move on. Things will only get worse as time goes by.
A Staff That Loves Their Job
A safe, clean preschool is very important, although many parents say that the teachers and staff are what truly make the difference in their school. It's easy to see why—as these individuals will be caring for your son or daughter for several hours per day throughout the week.
If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable with these individuals, then stick with your gut. If you're not sure what to look for, here’re some important considerations
You should ask to see how many years of experience the teachers have. Additionally, they should have a minimum of two years of college—with early childhood education as their specialty. You may also want to inquire about whether or not the teachers know how to give basic CPR and first aid to small children.
You should also inquire about the class size—and how many teachers will be working per group. If the class size is larger than 20 kids per teacher, it could mean that each individual child is not getting enough attention. The teacher-to-child ratio is a detail that many parents miss out on, and it could end up playing a huge role in your little one's development. Don't be afraid to go to a different school if the class sizes are simply too large.
Last but not least, talk to the teachers about discipline. By learning more about their guidelines, you'll know if they’re similar to the ways you treat your child at home. Make an effort to get to know the teachers, so you can feel comfortable discussing issues with them in the future. A good relationship will ensure that you‘re able to give your child the best experience possible.
While you might not see the rest of the staff, it's still recommended to ask about how many other adults are working on any given day.
Are there janitors who clean throughout the day? If not, the school could become unsanitary and dangerous.
Is the front desk staff friendly? A friendly receptionist will ensure that your child is taken care of, and that you have a positive experience working with them.
By noticing these details, you'll be less likely to be surprised in the future.
The Bottom Line
Although checking to make sure a preschool is high-quality may sound like a lot of work to, it's time well spent. The last thing any parent wants is for their kid to spend time in a school they're not going to like—or where they won't learn anything. By being diligent about the details and asking any questions you have, you'll enjoy peace of mind about your decision.
Fortunately, once that's out of the way, you can look forward to your little one's big first day of preschool!