Worried about choosing the right preschool for your child? In this handy and helpful checklist, you’ll learn exactly what you need to look for before you find one.
Choosing the best preschool: how does one do it? This is the biggest question when the time comes to let your child out of your own care. Over the past several years, I have personally met thousands of parents on this journey. I have had the privilege of understanding their needs and concerns and discussing suitable preschool choices.
November is when most schools begin their admissions process for the next academic session. Announcements are made on the school’s website, on various digital platforms, newspapers advertisements, pamphlets, hoardings, or to parents directly by sending out mailers and word of mouth. Additionally, some schools process admissions year-round and enroll students when seats become available.
What should you consider when choosing the best preschool? First, you must ask yourself:
- What do I want for my child?
- How do I picture my child in a few years?
- Away from home, in a new environment and with unfamiliar adults, will my child be happy and well taken care of?
Choosing the best preschool: 9 Crucial Tips
1. Tap into your network
Ask around to form your opinion. What do other parents in your neighborhood, extended family, and workplace know about the preschools their children went to or are currently attending? Record these impressions against the shortlist of preschools you are considering.
2. Develop an understanding of early childhood care
What makes these years so important in your child’s life? How does ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) impact the cognitive development and the social/behavioral development of young children? To read about how various faculties of children are shaped by the environment in which they develop, you may refer to the links at the end of this post.
Educators like Froebel, Montessori and Steiner agreed that young children learn best when they are given responsibility. They do not need adults to inspire. They are self-motivated. They also do not need extrinsic rewards. They enjoy experimenting, and learn in the process of making errors and making choices while at play. When children initiate their own task, they take agency of their own learning.
3. Visit, visit, visit
Most parents I have come across are intuitive about their child’s needs. Visit the preschools, meet the adults present in the environment and see if you can picture your child there.
- The preschool needs to be near your house or workplace. This is important as young children fall sick often and/or get into small accidents. It will be your responsibility to pick up and attend to your child when the school notifies you.
- A short commute, ideally a walk, is the most comfortable option for going to school everyday.
- Examine the route to school for congestion during school timings. Check whether the school has clear access for ambulances or fire engines.
5. Fee structure
- Preschool is a 3 to 4 year commitment. Ensure you are comfortable with the fee structure accordingly.
- Check whether the fees include things like admission, refundables, donations, tuition, transport, field trips, meals, uniform, stationery, library, co-curricular activities, extended day-care etc.
- Consider fee escalations and whether that would happen on an annual basis. How have the escalations been the past? Is there a proposed structure for escalation?
- Some schools accept fee in installments and that could be monthly/bimonthly/quarterly etc., while some need the entire annual fee upfront. Check for provision for refund in case you have to withdraw your child mid-session.
- After preschool, a reasonable amount of money is needed for grade school admissions, so plan the education budget accordingly.
- The preschool must have spaces for active play as regular physical activity supports development of your child’s gross motor skills.
- See if the school has a clean sand pit area, large enough for individual and collaborative play.
- There should be a few other outdoor play opportunities, e.g., a garden, water play, story corner, floor space and sidewalks to scribble on, construction areas with wooden and/foam and/or plastic blocks etc. for the children to spend time outside of the classroom engaging with various materials and interacting with each other.
- When you visit the school, take a look at classrooms for different age groups and other indoor learning areas. Are they well ventilated and with natural light?
- Look at the educational aids available. Are they accessible easily to the children? Is there a range of puzzles with varying difficulty within the same classroom?
- Is the curriculum same for all children in the class?
- What is the provision for meal areas and how is it set up?
- Young children might need a nap during their stay in school if it is more than a few hours. What is the provision for that? Would the school be providing with bedding or would you need to send them?
- If your child is not potty trained then ask if it is a requirement, as some schools need the child to be completely potty trained before starting school. Some schools will allow children in diapers and train them with you as part of the settling-in process. Find out what role you would play in this process and what supplies you need to provide, such as wet wipes, diapers, change of clothes, additional knickers etc.
- Is the toilet child friendly, that is, supervised yet privacy is managed? Supervision during toilet visits, cleaning routine for toilets are some of the matters to be kept in consideration when you inspect the preschool’s restroom area during your scheduled tour or open house.
- Do the classroom teachers have adequate ongoing training and professional development for working with young children?
- Consider the staff (teaching and non-teaching) to child ratio for the age groups. This might vary from the toddlers to kindergarten years.
- If it is an inclusive school, there should be teachers who have qualifications for being special educators.
- Find out if the staff is trained for safety of the children – to handle first aid, CPR and fire drill, evacuation process.
8. Educational philosophy
- Does the school have an inquiry and discovery based program?
- How much structure and flexibility does a typical school day offer to the child?
- How often are parent meetings and feedback sessions scheduled?
- What is the school’s methodology for handling discipline? Are there any behavior rules and consequences, and how are they communicated to the children? Are there charts of rewards like stars, frogs on the log etc. for behavioral guidance or is it an empathy and discussion environment or a mix of both?
- How do the staff show empathy and acknowledge the children’s emotions that go through ups and downs in any typical day?
There are a number of popular educational philosophies for preschool, some of them are:
The Montessori method
The Reggio Emilia approach
The Waldorf Approach
The Bank Street approach
The High/Scope approach
The Play-way method (a mix of several approaches)
Know and understand each philosophy, and ask which the school uses.
9. Grade school choice
While choosing a preschool, keep in mind the kind of grade school (especially primary school years, grades 1 to 5) you would like your child to attend. These early years will shape the personality of your child.
Middle and senior school choices can be different from the early and primary years as by then you will better understand your child’s needs. The child would have figured out his/her strengths and interests as well.
The jury on parenting is always out. What defines best is debatable. Please share your thoughts and experiences with preschools as a reply to this post, and help other readers form their opinion and make the best choice for their child.
*A version of this article was previously published on the writer’s blog.