Key questions to prepare and other tips before narrowing your search and visiting schools
Published: June 29, 2021
By: Jan Pierce, M.Ed.
When it’s time to search for the perfect preschool for your little one, you want to be sure you’re making the right decision. If you’re lucky enough to have friends who’ve done their research and are happy with their choice, you’re fortunate. You’ll have first-hand recommendations.
Be aware of the difference between daycare and a functioning preschool. Daycare facilities provide custodial care but don’t usually offer an educational curriculum. Daycares often take children of all ages and offer extended hours. A preschool usually has limited hours and may or may not offer before and after school care. In daycare, children of all ages may be grouped together while a preschool offers segregated age groups.
The NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) has a database of accredited preschools you can access at families.naeyc.org/find-quality-child-care. This site lists currently accredited daycares and schools all across the nation and is updated weekly. Spend a little time on their website for top-notch thinking about early childhood education.
Where to Begin?
Start your search early. Many excellent preschools have long waiting lists. In general, you’ll be looking for a school that provides:
- The convenience of proximity to your home and/or your workplace.
- A solid reputation and up-to-date accreditation and licensing. The state has approved the school.
- Clear rules and regulations, health/illness policies, pickup and drop-off times.
- Clean, well-kept facilities with adequate indoor and outdoor play areas.
- Qualified, caring staff.
- Stimulating curriculum and age-appropriate toys.
- A philosophy and climate pleasing to you and right for your child’s temperament.
Questions to Ask
Ask these questions before narrowing your search and visiting schools:
- Is there currently room for my child? Is there a waiting list?
- What are the fees? How and when are we billed?
- How do you communicate with parents? (phone calls, e-mails, newsletters, website, etc.)
- What is your staff to student ratio? (NAEYC recommends one adult to every four to nine children as optimal at ages 2-3 and one to eight to ten for ages 4-5.)
- Do your staff members have credentials and training? Are they background checked? Up to date on CPR? Receiving ongoing training?
- What is your educational philosophy? (academic-oriented, exploration, faith-based, etc.)
- What health/hygiene standards are enforced? (immunizations, sick child rules, hand-washing, etc.)
- How do you handle discipline?
- Are meals and snacks provided? Are naps taken?
- What safety precautions are in place? (strangers on-campus, release policies, sign-in/out)
- Can you give me a list of references? (be sure to follow up and call them.)
- Can you provide a sample of your weekly curriculum and activities? How often do you change the activities?
As you gather information, you’ll be able to narrow your list down to two or three good choices. Then visit the schools. You can do this with your child or on your own.
Visiting gets you a “feel” for the school. Do you feel welcome? Are the children busy and engaged in work or play? Is the facility pleasing to the eye and orderly? Do you get the sense that you’d feel comfortable leaving your child in this school’s care. Are the children happy?
Jot down your first impressions and any new information you find during the visit.
If for any reason, you don’t feel comfortable with the school environment, trust your instincts and look for another school. It might be preferable to find a safe daycare situation and use that until you can locate a preschool of the highest standards.
You want the perfect preschool and your child deserves it. All the time and effort you put into your search will pay huge dividends in a happy, healthy, and well-cared-for child.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is a retired teacher. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.
More information at www.readingrockets.org, www.niche.com/blog, www.naeyc.org and www.ourkids.net/school/preschool.
Preschool Visit Checklist
- Do the stated learning goals match mine?
- Do the goals address all areas of my child’s development including social play, control of emotions, language skills, learning letters and numbers, engaging in science, art and physical development?
- Am I comfortable with the school’s discipline policies?
- Is the school licensed by the state? Is it accredited by a national association like the NAEYC?
- Does the lead teacher have a bachelor’s degree or certification in Early Childhood Education?
- Are support workers trained?
- Is there one adult for every 10 children?
- Are there separate learning centers for various activities such as art, reading, dramatic play, writing, etc.?
- Does the school use a well-known quality curriculum preparing children for kindergarten later on?
- Does the class follow a daily routine that offers a variety of activities? Do the children play both outdoors and inside?
- Are parents free to drop in without making an appointment?
- Does the school have a means of regularly communicating with parents? Do they report the activities of the past week or month?
- Do you feel welcome?
- Are the teachers warm and caring with the children? Do they have conversations with the children as they work or play?
- Are the children happy and engaged?
- Do children have the opportunity to choose their activities part of the time?
- Are the children talking and interacting with each other?
- Are books and read-alouds a regular part of the day?
- Is children’s artwork and other work samples displayed?
- Are the furniture, equipment, and toys age-appropriate and in good working condition?