Shopping for Preschools is the Biggest Decision you Didn't Know You Had to Make
If your town is anything like my town, you have options for everything. Restaurants, ballet classes, karate studios, and coffee shops to name a few. But the one that really threw me for a loop the first time around... Preschools.
In my town, there are six that I can think of, PLUS this is not to be confused with daycare which also has preschool in it. There are a few of those too.
So when a new mom is looking for a place to send her little guy or gal for the first time, you have to do your research.
Here are a few questions to get you started.
1. What age program will your child be going into?
In my experience, there is a 2's program, 3's, 4,'s and then something called transitional kindergarten, which is for kids who could technically go to kindergarten but aren't quite ready yet. Depending on your state's cutoff date for kindergarten, your child could be in a program that they aren't technically the age of yet. For example, if your state's cutoff for kindergarten is late, like here in Connecticut, a child who turns three in December, would be eligible for the 3's program in September even though they're starting at 2 years old. Oh, and for registration, it can start almost a year in advance! So if you have an almost two year old who would start preschool in the next year, you're going to want to start making this decision in the fall the year before they start! Sounds silly but the good times/classrooms/teachers fill up quickly. You don't want to be waitlisted.
2. Do you want certified preschool teachers?
Some schools advertise that their school is staffed only by someone with an early childhood education degree. Other schools don't have this. After experiencing both, I'm not convinced having the degree is better, but perhaps a combination of the two. If there are two teachers, one with a degree and one without.
3. Which brings me to question #3. What is the student to teacher ratio? This is required by state but sometimes there is even stricter requirements in the school itself. Ask.
4. How do they handle bathroom accidents?
A lot of three year olds will have an accident. Some kids even go to school in their pull ups. How does the school handle this? Do they change their pull ups? Will they call you? Can you pack extra clothing and they change themselves? What do they do about a #2?
5. A lot of preschools are in churches. It's good to know if the preschool is affiliated with the church in some way. My children's preschool seemed pretty separate from the church. It was in its own building. However, they prayed before snack and they worked with the seniors in the church. The pastor came to visit them. I loved this, but it's something that was never brought up beforehand so it's worth asking.
6. Oh, and ask about snacks too!
All preschools seem to have snack time. Find out what the snack is. I've seen everything from parents bring fruit for the kids to share, to every day they're given goldfish and juice. Allergies and the way they handle that is important too if they're packing lunches. And that brings me to my next question.
7. Is there a nurse on staff?
Usually it's just cuts and bruises that the staff can handle. But if your child has severe allergies or other medical issues, you may want to consider a school with a full time nurse. In our community you can find this at the Catholic preschool that is affiliated with the Catholic school. They have a school nurse who is also available to the preschoolers.
8. Is the classroom play based or academic?
There's strong research supporting both. Play-based classrooms have shown to foster social skills. They help build the child's vocabulary and their imagination. And let's be honest, you're only young once, preschool should be enjoyable! But... then again... academic preschools have a more structured approach to learning. My friend's children learned their alphabets before they were two. Their approach aims to prepare a child for kindergarten which is important nowadays when kindergarten is considered the new first grade. You know your child best and what will work for them. Definitely ask this question.
9. Do the preschool classes take field trips?
Where? When? Can parents come with? In my experience we've visited a lot of farms and local museums. Also the local firehouse. And what special visitors come to share their talents with the class? Important to note how the kids get to the field trips too. Will they be driving in someone else's car?
10. And this is especially important to consider... where do these little people get to have recess?
On every preschool tour, I was shown the playground. These might be amazing outdoor structures, sensory gardens, and blacktop surfaces for running. But what about when it's raining or snowing? In the northeast, our weather is so bad that they are inside for recess fifty percent of the time. An indoor playground is a huge win especially if your child has a lot of energy. But at a minimum they should have some kind of large room with toys and games for the kids to play.
There's lots to consider when selecting your first preschool for your first child. It doesn't seem like it should be such a big decision but it is!
Another thing to think about is that you will most likely be there for a long time. By the time all my children have gone through preschool, I'll have been there for nine years. You need to find somewhere that works for your family. Best of luck, Mamas!!
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