It’s time to find a preschool or childcare provider and you might be feeling completely overwhelmed. Online data offers a wealth of information about public and private elementary schools, but finding a quality preschool can be more challenging. There is an array of choices out there, from co-ops to classrooms in public schools, smaller home care, to private programs. In this article, you’ll find tips to help you when you begin choosing a preschool or childcare center for your child.
Start with your family
A good place to start is to consider your family’s needs and budget. Do you need a full-day preschool program with extended care, or is a half-day preschool program sufficient? Are you looking for a program with a particular educational philosophy? Would your child be most successful in a center or a small home setting? This wish list can help guide your search once you’re ready to begin actively looking.
How do I find where the preschools are
Ask for referrals. Talk with your pediatrician, neighbors, and close friends to get their opinions, or search in a local parents Facebook group. Ask specific questions about a preschool program’s philosophy, reputation, teaching staff, and curriculum. Once you’ve narrowed the search down, it’s time to visit the schools.
Learn about accreditation programs. Many childcare centers and preschools participate in voluntary accreditation programs, such as the one offered by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Not all high-quality preschools have the resources to go through these rigorous programs, but preschool accreditation does offer an added measure of reassurance.
Schedule a tour
Contact the school and arrange for a time to visit the facility and meet the team. Some schools have scheduled times each week for visitors and others may be drop in. Pay attention to that first impression. How do you feel when you walk in the door? Is the space clean, bright, and inviting? Do you feel welcomed by the teachers and students? Where will children be taking a nap? How is the outdoor play area set up? Outdoor play has taken a back seat to academics in recent years. This trend, which began in elementary schools, is trickling down to preschools. Yet, children’s needs haven’t changed, and outdoor play is as important as ever. Make sure your preschool provides plenty of time for outdoor play and exposure to nature.
The human factor
Observe the teachers in their element. How are they interacting with the children? How are the children responding to their teachers? How do the instructors handle guidance and discipline? What qualifications and experience do the teachers have? What programs are in place to ensure ongoing training? Are the teachers supported with a livable wage and benefits like health insurance and paid time off? What is the rate of turnover with teachers? Teachers are the glue of the classroom and essential to your child’s well-being, so if they’re well supported, your children will likely be too.
How will my child be learning
Ask about the curriculum. Philosophies and curricula vary widely from one preschool to another. Look for a preschool that offers rich content, hands-on learning, and developmentally appropriate play. Will the classroom be taking field trips? What opportunities are offered to explore the world outside of a classroom? How does the curriculum foster social and emotional development, self-regulation, as well as academics? Children should be actively engaged in learning.
Look for signs of community. Your family will probably spend a lot of time at your preschool; it will become a place of community, where parents, teachers, and children support one other. Does the preschool offer events or programs to foster close relationships between the families and with the teachers?
Read the fine print
Be sure to read the parent handbook before you enroll. Find out about the school’s hours, registration fees, tuition rates, volunteer requirements, and illness and vacation policies. Do the policies seem fair to all parties?
Bottom line: ask questions, trust your gut, and follow up. You may want to consider using a resource like the Bright Horizons Quality Preschool Checklist. Even after you’ve chosen a high-quality preschool, it’s important to stay involved. Volunteer when you can. Work to build open communication with teachers and staff. Listen to your child’s observations about school. Discuss concerns promptly with your child’s teacher or the preschool director. Remember, you’re making an investment in your child’s well-being. Spending time to thoughtfully choose a preschool that’s right for your family and building strong relationships with the teachers are the key to a bright and happy learning experience for your child.
About the Author
To learn more about Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool, please visit: https://www.brighthorizons.com/early-education-preschool