(WTNH)-One of the bigger milestones of the toddler years is the first day of preschool. Remarkably, parents find themselves starting the hunt for the right school months (or years) before their little one will pose for that memorable “first day of school” photo. While there are many options for preschool education, it is not always easy to identify the right school and sometimes the favored choice is not available because of enrollment limits or cost. All factors considered, the weight of finding the school of choice and gaining enrollment can be a heavy one on parents. Chrissy Khachane has a few tips to help parents understand the process and find the right preschool for their child.
Where to look and how to find a school. Preschool fairs are a great way to familiarize yourself with schools and many institutions will offer open houses or tours beginning in October and running through January/February. While these admissions opportunities provide a nice snapshot of the school, make sure to schedule time to visit while school is in session to see the classroom activity and get a better sense of the culture and feel of the community. It is certainly helpful to seek recommendations from other parents and caregivers in your area, and to submit applications at a few schools to ensure you have options. As you visit schools in your area consider some of the following questions:
What type of environment do I see best fitting my child? Whether you are contemplating a more traditional model, Montessori, Reggio Emilio, or nature-based program, consider the structure of the school day (including the hours), classroom make up (multi-age classroom or single age/grade), and layout of the classroom.
How do I know if a program is well-run and has a strong curriculum? Strong preschool programs follow a specific philosophy or model, have specific guidelines for addressing challenging behavior, and are open about these components of their program. Don’t be shy about asking:
- What the students are currently working on and how the curriculum is structured?
- How the teachers handle poor behavior?
- What type of parental involvement is expected?
- How does the school handle medical emergencies?
- What accommodations are made for food allergies?
- What is the policy on potty training?
- Ask teachers about their longevity with the program and what they enjoy most about being part of this particular school community.
- How often do teachers participate in professional development (continuing education) and what kind of teaching certifications do they hold?
What types of exposure do I want for my child in the preschool years? Preschools, by design, are an opportunity for children to develop social skills, learn early literacy and math skills, and engage in play activities that support motor development. Some schools include a focus on other trends, such as foreign language, outdoor (nature-based) programs, or music education. Decide what is important to you and weigh this into your decision as you research, visit, and apply to schools.
Ultimately, you have to trust your gut as a parent or caregiver. Make sure to visit each school you are interested in and form your own opinion.
- Will my child be happy at this school?
- Is this an opportunity that will set my child up for success?
- Is the school’s values in line with our family’s values?