Choosing A Preschool

Choosing a preschool is not just a matter of dollars; it's a matter of sense! Parents must determine what their needs are for their children and look for a preschool which matches those needs.

So, it's time to start your child in preschool, but how do you know which one to choose? Which school is best for your child? How do you know which preschool is best for you? Here is some advice on what to look for and questions to ask when choosing daycare for your child.

1. Decide if you want your child to attend a preschool or daycare center. What's the difference? Preschool is usually (but not always) a half day program and offers a more structured learning environment.

2. Learn about the school's teaching philosophy. Is the school's philosophy education- or play-based? Do they rote teach the alphabet with the teacher sitting at the front of the room drilling the students or do they let the children learn through their play? Some preschools blend both education- and play-based styles into the curriculum.

Does the school stress process over product? In other words, do all of the children make art work which looks exactly alike? An example would be a cut out teddy bear with 3 buttons down the front, 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth all placed where they belong. Most likely, the teacher did the majority of the work on such a project. An alternative would be to stress creativity by encouraging children to create art projects on their own, such as providing them with various art supplies and letting them create whatever they desire.

3. Learn about the school's discipline policy. This is very important. Will your child sit in a corner for an hour if she pushes another child? Or, after attending to the injured child, will the teacher help the children to work out their differences? Are children taught ways to solve their problems without violence? Are the children taught how to "talk it out" with others they may disagree with?

4. Observe all of the teachers in action. Yes, credentials and degrees are important to some degree, but there are some gifted teachers with no degrees and some teachers who have graduated from accredited universities with early childhood degrees who have difficulty interacting with children. Do the teachers treat the children with love and respect? Do they seem to enjoy what they are doing? Remember that your child will be interacting with many students and teachers in a preschool setting; don't just observe the class your child will be placed into. In many schools teachers just care for a certain age group. Shortly after your child's next birthday she may be placed in another class with another teacher.

5. Observe the children in the classroom. Do the children in the room seem to be happy? Are they involved in activities that are age appropriate? Are there lots of things that they can do or are all the children sitting at the table working on the same thing at the same time?

6. What kinds of policies does the center have? What do they do if a child is injured or sick? Do they always notify the parent in some way? For example, if your child has a small cut there may not be the need to inform you immediately, do they let you know when you pick the child up? Is anything in writing? At some schools, all injuries are written up with the parents receiving a copy. If all injuries are written up, ask if they have statistic available that you can look over. Are there a lot of injuries? Major or minor?

7. What kinds of meals/snacks will be served? Do you need to provide snacks or lunches your child? If the food is supplied by the center, how nutritious is it? And, what happens if your child is allergic or just doesn't like the food? Are parents informed as to how much their child eats?

8. Find out other details such as the hours of operation, the cost, etc. What happens if you are late to pick up your child? Some preschools assess a financial penalty, perhaps $1 to $5 per ten minute period after closing time. In some cases the preschool may contact social services advising that the child has been abandoned.

How does the school release children at the end of the session? Are children permitted leave with anyone who may come for them? Or do persons need prior approval of the parents along with the requirement proper identification be presented prior to releasing the child to an individual?

9. Can your child "test try" the center before actually enrolling? If so, how does she like the experience? Listen to your child and go with your gut instincts! If your child can verbalize well, ask her why she likes or doesn't like a certain aspect. Observe your child as well and see if her answers seem to match the experience she has.

10. Does the school have an "open door" policy allowing parents to drop in at any time? If they do not, forget it! Find another place. A "call first" policy may suggest the school has something to hide.

Choosing a preschool is a big step. Your child is precious and you don't want just anybody taking care of her. It's important to ask questions, talk with other parents about the preschools their children attend, and to take your time choosing a preschool. If you are under pressure to find childcare quickly, you are likely to make a hasty decision you may regret.

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