Questions to Ask/Consider When Searching for a Preschool for Your Child
Published: July 1, 2019
By: Carol Muse Evans
Preschool is often a child’s first time to be away from Mom or Dad for part or all of a day. Parents need peace of mind when they leave their children. When looking for the right place for your child to feel safe, thrive, learn and grow, what should you be asking during the search and interview process? Better yet, what should you see to make your decision?
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?
Sonya Prater, executive director of Woodland Park Christian Learning Center, says the caregivers are very important people in the life of your child. They need to have your child’s best interest at heart at all times, so look for the interactions between the teachers and children. “Can you see evidence of a loving bond between children and the teacher?” Prater says.
Bob Mitchell, president of Odyssey Early Schools, explains that at minimum parents searching for quality childcare programs should look for five critical elements: stability in management, consistency of staff, child-to-teacher ratios, quality of curriculum and state licensing or certification, which protects parents by ensuring third-party oversight of the program so that minimum standards are guaranteed. “I wouldn’t enroll my child in any program in which I wasn’t totally comfortable in meeting all of those criteria,” Mitchell says.
Katie Kuehner, area director of School for Amazing Kids, says parents should look for a school that focuses on preparing your child for kindergarten, that loves and cares for children and nurtures their curiosity, DHR licensed so that they are required to meet all ratio and cleanliness standards, and a school that takes care of their teachers and serves the families who attend.
“The right facility and program is always one that will nurture your child’s curiosity and provide loving care,” Kuehner adds. “Multi-million dollar facilities can look incredible and impressive but none of that matters if they don’t have the right programming and the right people in leadership.”
“It’s extremely important that the program exceeds the safety and health standards of DHR and that they are licensed through this organization,” echoes Michele Wilensky, Head of School, Hilltop Montessori School. “In addition to this, parents should make sure the program is accredited by a nationally recognized organization and that all instructors are certified teachers, with experience in early childhood development and significant classroom experience.”
While Wilensky echoes the others about student/teacher relationships, she also suggestions a bonus would be a daily foreign language immersion program, music, arts and a heavy emphasis on reading and math skills. “Low teacher-student ratios are important but also that the children are given opportunities for independence to develop the ‘I can do it myself’ mindset.”
She also suggests parents should be wary of too much emphasis on technology or programs that allow children unrestricted technology access. “Learning should be hands-on and outdoor play areas that are well-stocked and inviting are a must.”
“Most of all, parents should look for a preschool environment that is inviting and the staff are happy, genuine and engaging. The preschool should also meet the parents’ expected safety and cleanliness standards as well as be a program that aligns with the needs of the child,” says Tracy LaBreche of Ardent Preschool and Daycare (formerly Covenant Classical School).
“I don’t know if there is an ‘ideal’ age,” Mitchell says. “I believe that, given a curriculum focused on learning through engagement and play that’s guided by effective teachers, children can benefit from being in a childcare program throughout our entire age range. Even our youngest infant programs have a curriculum following those principles.”
All that said, Mitchell says a child should at least be in a structured program, at least on a part-time basis, at least a year or two before entering kindergarten.
Prater believes the “ideal age” depends on a family’s needs. “All families are different. Some may need something at 6 weeks, while others need something around age 3. Always consider what works for your family.”
Some preschools, like School for Amazing Kids, serve all ages. “We serve all ages, even up to 12, for our summer program and before and after school program,” Kuehner says. “We recognize that many families have two parents that have to have full-time jobs, and our focus has been on providing excellent care for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years for over 35 years.”
For Wilensky, she says the idea age to start is 18 months, as children will begin to understand social relationships, develop friendships and can actively concentrate and “learn” in a school setting. “The average cost of a good early childhood program are usually more expensive, but parents that are more concerned with cost can take advantage of half-day programs to make the experience more affordable.”
At Ardent, LaBreche says the ideal age depends on the child, but they have found that children who enter into their program at 3 to 4 years of age become acclimated fairly quickly.
IS TECHNOLOGY IMPORTANT?
Some schools have video in the classrooms or cameras around the perimeter. But not all. Wilinsky says to be wary of a school where parents are not welcome. “We have an open observation policy,” she explains. “Early childhood education is a partnership between home, school and child, and with younger students, parents should feel involved and welcome.”
Prater echoes the “open door” policy for parents to visit. Some provide photos and reports throughout the day, like School for Amazing Kids, Kuehner says. This school does it through a special app.
At Ardent, the cameras are in the classrooms for the staff’s own accountability, LaBreche says. “Our parents are always welcome to view live video on our lobby TVs or recorded video if they have a concern,” she explains.
Some schools, such as Odyssey Early Schools, offer Internet video monitoring. Odyssey began this in 1996, Mitchell says, and was one of the first schools in the nation to do so. “We want our parents to be connected to their child and to all classroom activities, and we believe that this service provides our parents with a peace of mind that things are going the way they are promised in our classrooms,” Mitchell adds.
HOW TO CHOOSE?
When it all comes down to it, the experts say you have to do your homework, research and weigh your needs/your child’s needs and what the school has to offer, along with cost. Talk to friends, relatives and neighbors, and eventually, it will come down to your gut. Not every school is right for every child, but with a little research, you’ll know the school that is right for you and your child.
Carol Evans is publisher of Birmingham Parent.