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.
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. 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. 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. Consider class size and ratio of teacher to students, as it is more likely your child will receive one-on-one attention and for teachers to be more responsive with fewer children in the room. (The National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC, recommends preschool groups no larger than 20 and the adult-to-student ratio not exceed 1:10.)
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 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.
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 and design ideas based on our adventures building a home from the ground up.
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