Finding the right preschool can be an overwhelming task, which is one reason why families are likely to assume what fits for one child will work for the next. In some cases this model is applied just fine, while in other instances children within the same family have different learning styles, different needs, or are entering preschool with a different skill set than their sibling(s). In our case we have an amazing preschool environment for Big A and he is flourishing in his second year with the program; however, there are a number of factors at play in considering the right placement for both boys next year leading us to take a step back and visit other options.
Our tours and open house excursions have offered an occasion to reflect on Big A's preschool experience thus far and to consider what the right learning opportunity will look like for Little A. An important consideration at this point is the overall structure of the school day and how schedules may need to vary between the two boys. After two years in a multiage program, Big A is ready for an experience that includes the option for a longer school day. During his first year of preschool Big A thrived in a three hour morning program three days a week (M-W-F). This year we increased to five mornings a week, and the consistent routine and opportunity for more learning challenges in a school setting have proved to be a good fit. Knowing when to increase the length of your child's school day is a very personal decision and consideration of sleep schedule (naps) and overall family structure vary from family to family.
On the other hand, Little A will be newly three years-old at that start of next school year and likely in need of a morning program 2-3 days a week. We have encountered three year-old programs structured as full day (8:30 am to 3:00 pm) and different definitions of "morning" (one including lunch and running until 1:00 pm and others with pickup before lunch at either 11:30 am or 12:00 pm). It is wonderful to see the various options, how the school day is organized, and the opportunities available throughout each program. In our case, we will lean towards a morning program that allows Little A to be home for lunch and a nap. Even though this is our preference, it has been worthwhile to explore all options and contemplate the benefits of each setting.
Another important factor at this juncture is finding the right environment for Little A to thrive giving his significant food allergies. It is not my expectation that a school will completely change policy to accommodate Little A's food restrictions, but that the staff will be open to an ongoing conversation about the steps to ensure safety and to allow Little A an opportunity to learn safely amongst his peers. Establishing a snack plan for Little A is an obvious detail, but in addition preschools can be extremely dangerous territory depending on the type and severity of food allergy a child is managing. Whether you are managing food allergies, a learning issue, or have other factors to consider in your preschool plan, it is important to have trust in the staff from the moment you sign the contract. The preschool years are meant to be enjoyable for everyone, full of laugher and full of memories. Feeling a sense of trust and as though you are partnering with the school in your child's experience should be just as important as the academic curriculum.
Our preschool visits included both Open House events and individual tours while school was in session. Seeing the teachers and children in action was tremendously helpful, as was the opportunity to see the boys interact with current students. During these visits I was also interested in the following:
There really isn't such thing as the "perfect" preschool. After taking the time to visit, ask questions, and plan as best you can for your family, the last piece is to trust your own instincts. Be open about your wishes for your child's preschool experience as you meet with program directors and teachers. Start with an honest dialogue to form a strong foundation for the trust you will have in the school and also lay the groundwork for healthy communication.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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