– By Allison
In the spring, schools are recruiting for the upcoming school year. If you have a child who will be entering preschool early spring is the time to begin researching where to send your darling tot; and if you still have a year or two to go, it’s not too early to begin researching, as some places have waiting lists, or require registration as early as December.
Where to Begin
Before researching individual preschools you need to determine what preschools may be available. To find those schools there are a few places to look: daily and weekly newspapers; online searches; your city’s Family Resource Center; the phone book; and most importantly, those you know who already have children/work with children.
Once you have the list, you can narrow down some of the choices by discussing with your spouse your familial priorities. Do you want an art-infused, secular or religion-based program? Is the preschool affiliated with a particular grade school, church or organization?
Then you may want to consider how far you want to travel and/or if bussing is available. You may have to drop off and pick up your child two to five times a week, in all types of weather, so a place that is convenient to where you work, or where your older children go to school, may be worth taking into consideration.
“The location we picked was about 10 minutes from my house and 10 minutes from my mom's house. This way it's convenient for either of us to drop off/pick up. It's also 10 minutes from my job, so often I'll drop her off and get to work quickly,” said Ginamarie P., Huntington Station, N.Y.
Do Dollars Make Sense?
While the cost could be an issue, don’t use it as your sole deciding factor. Lots of schools offer partial or full scholarships if you cannot afford the “expensive” one; and the most expensive one, isn’t necessarily the best. Checking out all the options available is important.
“You can spend a long time regretting a school based on price,” said Laura P., South Keene, N. H.
There are also discounts at some schools if other family members attend the school. “The program we picked gave us a discount because we had family members in the school, my brother and sister,” said Ginamarie.
When are classes held?
Depending on the program, there may be a variety of options available for classes, from two to five days a week. Some classes are a.m. only, others mornings and afternoons. Other programs may have the option of daycare. Determine what you might prefer and be sure to inquire about what options are available.
“The program we picked had morning and afternoon sessions,” said Ginamarie. “So even though the afternoon segment wouldn't work for us, we were able to use the morning session instead.”
Visiting the Classroom
Now that you have (hopefully) narrowed down your choices to the top two to five schools, it’s time to schedule a visit to the classroom where you observe the class in action. If a school will not let you observe a classroom that can be a huge red flag and move on.
“Bring your child to the school and observe the school and your child for at least an hour, or longer, if possible,” advised Laura, mother of four. “You should be looking for teacher-student interaction, methods of discipline, how well the children interact with each other and how well suited to the environment is your particular child. Luke is my only one to go to Montessori -- it fits his personality really well, whereas Robert needs a lot of structure.”
While in the classroom pay attention to how the room is set up, their discipline techniques, how learning is incorporated into play and what the structural environment is like.
“I look for a wide range of activities: snack time, gross motor and fine motor work, free play, circle time and so forth,” said Laura. “Also, some schools focus more on kindergarten readiness--saying the pledge, doing a calendar, and so forth. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you're looking for. Some schools are also quite academic, focusing on knowing your letters, numbers, colors and so forth. I personally prefer a school that incorporates these things into other activities -- maybe cutting shapes out of paper or finger painting letters. This keeps the child engaged while still reinforcing the basics.”
When the teacher speaks to the children, pay attention to his/her body language. Are they speaking directly to the children? When speaking to you and your child is the teacher focused on you or on your child?
How many teachers and helpers are in the classroom? Who covers the class if the teacher is out sick?
Observe to see where the children’s bathroom is, if it’s easily accessible, if there are sinks available for hand washing and if the room is well lit.
How is the room decorated? Is it age-appropriate, colorful? Is the children’s artwork up for display?
One visit may answer a lot of questions, making it well worth your time.
Do children need to be potty trained? Can they wear Pull-Ups? This can be important to know if you’re child has not yet reached this milestone. And be sure to ask the teacher this question directly, as what’s in their brochure may differ from the teacher’s preference.
Does the teacher rotate themes throughout the year? What holidays are celebrated (if any)?
Are parents expected to volunteer throughout the year?
What fundraisers are held and what are the student’s requirements via those sales?
Are snacks provided or do parents bring snacks?
How are birthdays recognized/celebrated?
While this does seem like an awful lot to consider, being prepared and knowing what is in store for the year can make life easier on you and your tot. Not to mention, this is your child’s first introduction to school, making it a positive experience gives your loved one a great start to a lifetime of learning.
Most of all, enjoy this experience. Before you know it, it’ll be time to research colleges!