As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. However, most parents pass the baton on to a certified teacher at a preschool or elementary school at some point. In the U.S., there is no standardized preschool for children, so the challenge of finding the right preschool falls squarely on the shoulders of parents. Here are some things to consider as you search for a preschool for your little one.
Over 8,000 preschools per year undergo a rigorous process of accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. This professional organization promotes high-quality education for children up age eight by connecting early childhood practice, research, and policy. Check out the NAEYC’s list of accredited preschools here.
Factors that contribute to accreditation include teacher-to-child ratio, adequate space, teacher education, and teacher turnover. A preschool does not have to be accredited to be a viable option for you and your family, but if accreditation is important to you, you may want to consider that first.
Some states have a licensure process for preschools to follow, but each state has different criteria. You could contact your local school district to inquire about licensure for local preschools.
There are several teaching styles and philsophies used when working with preschool children. The most common approaches are “play based” and “developmental based.” These approahces focus on guided play with developmentally appropriate lessons and activities. Some other approaches include the Montessori approach, the Waldorf approach, and the Bank Street approach.
The Montessori approach allows children to learn at their own pace through individual exploration and problem solving.
The Waldorf approach encourages children to explore their natural environments using their senses and puts emphasis on imagination and analytical thought.
The Bank Street approach is a child-centered approach also known as the development-interaction approach. It focuses on the whole child: emotional, social, physical, and intellectual.
There are some commonly used terms that describe various teaching styles. Child-centered and child-led programs are based on individual interests. Teacher-led settings are more structured and rely more on curriculum. Faith-based programs are typically run by churches or synagogues; these programs take the faith’s philosophies into consideration in their academics.
Including your child in the conversation about which preschool to attend will help build her autonomy and self-assurance, and it will boost her self-esteem overall as a valued participant in her education.
Location is a frequent logistical concern for parents when selecting a preschool. Is it important that your child attend a preschool near your home or in a certain school district? You may want to find a preschool within your home school district so your little one is more likely to make friends who will also be in her kindergarten class.
Tuition cost is another big factor. Does your family qualify for Head Start, Early Head Start, or another subsidized preschool program? If so, be sure to inform yourself of your options before enrollment. The availability of free or reduced-fee preschool is a valuable asset in many communities.
1. Ask questions
It’s important to do your research before you sign on the dotted line. Learn the details about the teaching style, class size, teacher-to-child ratio, and hours of any preschool you’re considering. Ask for references, and talk to the teachers or administrators in person to be sure your questions are properly answered.
In addition to the basics, here are a few other questions you might want to ask a school official before enrolling.
Does the school adhere to a particular curriculum? If so, which one?
Do teachers focus more on lecture time and academics, or do they take a more hands-on approach?
Do the children go on field trips? If so, what type of transportation will they use?
Does the school have special “theme” days for the child to look forward to? If so, what are the themes?
Will the children have outdoor recess? If so, for how long? What is the playground like?
Of course, it is up to you to decide what matters most to you — and what type of environment is best for your child.
Last but not least, it’s important to visit the preschools you are considering before you actually enroll. Bring your child along so she can have a say in the decision. It will also help you envision your child in the school — with the teachers and other children — if you bring her along for the visit.
While visiting, you will get to examine first-hand the cleanliness of the school, the types of toys and equipment available, and what the playground looks like. You will have the opportunity to interact with the teacher and/or administrator and ask specific questions. This will give you the chance to discuss any concerns you may have specific to your child, and you can clarify exactly what skills your child should have before the first day of preschool rolls around.