Seven Questions to Ask When Touring Preschools
Of all the milestones in childhood, starting school can be the most dramatic. Your baby has grown into a school aged child and they will spend their days in a classroom. Therefore, the transition to school can be a big change for the entire family as the child further increases their independence. When first shopping around for preschools, it can feel overwhelming. There are several styles of preschools which vary from Montessori to public school. While each preschool will be different than the next, they all serve the same purpose: to prepare them for kindergarten.
Regardless of the style of preschool, they all share similar goals and values. Keeping your child safe is their first priority above all else. Guiding their development, establishing routines and habits, introducing them to letters and numbers and teaching them how to be a successful student in the classroom are all objectives that each preschool has. The varying teaching styles of each preschool is unique to them and gives you choices when choosing a preschool. Researching each method is helpful when selecting a preschool as well as taking tours and talking to the staff. When asking questions about a potential preschool, there are seven questions that you could ask which may help you select the right school for your child. Bring a list with you if you need to, but be sure to ask these questions when you tour a preschool:
- What certifications or accreditations does this school have?
Many preschools have a National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation or something similar. Having these accreditations certify that these places of learning are up to par with current educational standards. Review their accreditations and find out what they mean. Avoid preschools that do not follow current guidelines and standards as they may fall short of other more viable options. If a preschool is a particular style of education, such as Waldorf, ask if the school is certified in that style. Also, ask if the teachers are certified in that style of teaching. While preschool teachers have an essential requirement for their education, it is optimal for them to be educated and certified in the method of teaching that they teach.
- Is there a nap/rest time?
One thing that can vary widely from preschool to preschool is nap time. Some preschools do not have a nap time while others have time set aside every day for the children to lay down and rest. Some kids have outgrown naps by this period while others still need them. A question you can ask yourself is if your child is ready to lose their nap time. Some preschools have part day options which would allow the child to attend school in the morning and then have a nap at home in the afternoon. If your child has outgrown nap time, it is important to ask what the preschool typically has children do if they do not nap any longer. Some will have the child simply lay down and rest while others may have a table or activity set aside for children to occupy themselves quietly while the others rest.
- What is the daily schedule?
Studies have shown that a consistent routine can positively influences children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. This helps establish a routine in the classroom while also preventing behaviors, putting the child at ease and communicating clear expectations of the child. Review the daily schedule and see what is included as part of the learning schedule. Ask questions about the schedule such as what happens if it is raining during outside play time or how rigorous they are in maintaining the schedule. It is always a good idea to show up at the preschool unannounced to review the state of the classroom and schedule on a typical day. Each preschool varies in how rigorous they are in maintaining their schedule, but all should have a basic daily routine schedule as it helps the children establish routines and further prepares them for kindergarten.
- What do the students eat?
While your child is hard at work learning and developing, they will develop an appetite. Ask what meal time looks like. Does the school provide the food or should you pack your child a lunch? If snacks are given, what do the students eat? If your child has a food allergy, is the school willing to accommodate that? If food is provided, do they follow a nutritional guide when preparing the menu? Some schools provide fresh vegetables to the students, and they encourage the students to try new foods. Also, ask what the policies are should you desire to bring food to share in the classroom.
- What is the child to teacher ratio?
For safety, it is important that the teacher has a low ratio so they can attend to each child. Some preschools have teacher’s assistants to help with supervision in the classroom while others have a meager ratio allowing the teacher to focus on only a handful of students. If a teacher has too many students, accidents can happen and students may receive inadequate attention. If there is a field trip, will there be additional supervision? Also, ask what happens when a teacher is sick or otherwise not able to work. A preschool could align perfectly with your values and goals, but they could have an unsafe ratio.
- What does outside play time look like?
Some preschools provide a playground or similar equipment while others intentionally provide only nature. Ask what the students typically do during play time. It is a good idea to be familiar with the style of outside play time as that is often unique to each preschool. Some preschools provide tricycles, balls or similar while others provide open ended items such as buckets or sticks. Ask what the supervision looks like during outside play time. Are there teacher’s assistants to help supervise the students? In addition, ask how long outside play time is and how frequently the students get the opportunity to go outside. It is sometimes once a day, but other preschools may have outside play time several times throughout the day. Whatever style of outside play time you desire, ensure that it has adequate supervision and aligns with your goals and values.
- Can parents volunteer in the classroom?
Even with teacher assistants, the teachers may still need additional help. Volunteering in your child’s classroom can take pressure off the teacher while also increasing student achievement, promoting positive self-esteem and encouraging positive behavior. Sometimes your schedule will not allow for you to volunteer in the classroom, but you may be able to do things at home such as make activities, cut out cardstock, create worksheets or prepare newsletters. These home projects allow you to contribute to the classroom without having to interrupt your work or school schedule. Relieving the teacher of these job duties gives them more time to spend with the students and gives them a less stressful work environment. Volunteering in the classroom is a good way to encourage your child to have a positive experience in school. However, some students may react negatively to their parent being present so use your best judgment. Try out different ways of contributing and see what works best for your child, yourself and the classroom.
When choosing a preschool, keep your goals and values in mind. This will be your child’s first experience in a classroom so ensuring that a new preschool aligns with your style of parenting and your child’s personality can make it a positive experience for both you and your child. Preparing for the days of preschool can set your mind at ease as you will be confident when you take your child to preschool. Bring a notepad and take notes, ask as many questions you can think of, review the handbook and licensing information and meet the teachers. Being prepared for this transition will make you more comfortable with leaving your child, and when you are comfortable, your child will be more likely to be comfortable themselves. Going to preschool is a big step toward growing up and having a positive experience will put your child on the right path towards a positive educational experience.