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How to Choose a Preschool

by Pam Martin of "Mamapedia"
Photo by: iStock

It’s hard to believe it happened so fast, but your baby is old enough for preschool. How do you know which school is best for your family? What should you look for when selecting a preschool? Obviously, cost is a consideration, but there are other concerns. After you’ve done your research into reviews and gather references from friends and family, schedule a visit to the facilities and check out these factors. As a starting point, Nekeshia Hammond, Psy. D., encourages parents to look for consistency in the ratings of the school found in reviews and references.

Check the Activity

Jennifer McCarville, director of Marvelously Made School, reminds parents that, “A school should be for children. That sounds so simple and obvious, but schools now are not for children. They are for adult ideas of what children need to eventually become.” With that in mind, look around and listen. Does the “vibe” seem to be all about the kids?

McCarville insists that activities and lessons must be done for the children, rather than to them. She points out, “Children are whole people right now. They’re not partial people who need worked on.” The focus of the activities should not be “getting ahead of the curve” or preparing for kindergarten, although that preparation will follow when the learning tools are developmentally appropriate. She asks, “When asking a toddler to build a tower, would you give her heavy bricks and mortar, or would you give her small building blocks that fit her hand?”

Gabrielle Row, Head of School at The Village School, encourages looking for kids who are moving, interacting, and working together, instead of sitting in rows, silently completing worksheets. Alana Chemeski, educator and designer at Brillante, echos that, adding that children should have open-ended opportunities to discover and theorize and then to communicate their learning through many different methods of communication, pointing out that, children communicate in a myriad of ways: through painting, storytelling, dreaming, drawing, singing, experimenting, sculpting amongst so many others.

Rowe also supports the inclusion of real-world experiences, saying ,as a parent, you should make sure that the school you choose or place-based learning activities that engage children in activities such as growing a class garden or engaging in a classroom recycling program.

Author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten Alina Adams reminds parents considering a preschool to look for an outdoor play area and to ask how often and for how long children have the chance to play outside. She also encourages checking for classrooms well-stocked with age-appropriate games, books and other materials and in which kids have a choice of activities.

Communication Expert Alisha Griffin, LLC, uses the acronym SAFE for evaluating preschools. She advocates having a schedule that is both planned and implemented. Her “F” stands for fun, friendly, and family-centered, and “E” is for education; she states that learning should be occurring, even if it is through play and similar activities, rather than formal instruction.

Evaluate the Environment

For the “A” in the acronym, Griffin addresses the physical environment. She points out that it should be attractive and bright, with plenty of natural light and vibrant, child-centered colors. She and Chemecki both agree, however, that it shouldn’t be overdone, so that furnishings, toys, books and decorations don’t become distractions.

Adams also reminds parents to look for clean classrooms. While there might be clutter during some activities, look for signs that, as Adams describes it, every germ is going to go around and around in infinite circles.

Hammond also encourages looking for a school with a structured method of communicating regularly with parents and a staff who share how parents can also communicate with the school for various purposes.

Know the Credentials of the Staff

Barbara Harvey, early educator and author, advocates finding a preschool in which the director has a early education degree, with the remaining staff having at least Certified Development Associate (CDA) qualifications. Adams adds that, along with or in the absence of that specialized training, you should look for a staff with experience working with small children. Harvey also suggests that directors should have at least two years’ experience working with small children in a classroom, along with the ability to lead a staff and communicate clearly.

Finally, at the end of the day, all of the experts say to trust your mommy instincts. If you aren’t comfortable after visiting the school, it probably isn’t the best fit for your family’s needs. What matters most is different for every family, and sometimes even for each child in the same family, so a great preschool still might not be the best for you. Check the basics and choose the place that make you and your child comfortable.

Pam Martin has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, on a wide variety of topics. She brings 20 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience to the party, including early elementary classes and courses in writing, reading and literature, history, geography and government at middle and high schools. She is also accomplished in crafting and in writing about projects, including her blogs, Roots and Wings From the Village, The Corner Classroom, and Sassy Scribbler, which encompass crafting, cooking, lesson plans, and professional writing advice.

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