My son just turned three. He was a Spring baby, which I love because in addition to having a new bundle of joy in my arms, we were able to go out and experience the world awakening all around us. To this day, Spring is by far my favorite time of the year.
With his third birthday came many changes. The terrible twos diminished, although the tantrums they are famous for haven’t fully disappeared yet. In fact, even though they are fewer and farther in between, they are more emotional and intense than any we’ve experienced so far. But, for the most part, three has been wonderful. Each day he’s learning new things and becoming more and more interested in exploring the world of written letters and numbers. He’s my first, so I’m always amazed by how he learns in leaps in bounds.
This coming Fall, which seems both forever away and almost here, brings a new adventure in our lives. Preschool. While my son did spend the first 18 months of his life in day care, he’s been under my wing at home for the last 20+ months. Going away to preschool, without me, is going to be a new challenge for us. One that we are already preparing for, but one that I think will be both harder and easier than I can imagine.
This brings us to an important and difficult decision: picking the right preschool. Oh the pressure! Seriously, even in my small Midwest town there’s a lot of pressure on picking the right school. Thankfully we don’t live in an area where parents are applying for preschool soon after their kids are born. And yet, the pressure is there just the same, from friends, peers and the schools themselves.
Over the last few weeks I’ve ventured out to a few schools around the area, trying to find the best one for my son. And honestly, for me too. A school isn’t just about teaching our kids, it’s about putting them in the right environment for them, with teachers who will nurture and encourage their individual growth.
Talk about pressure.
Thankfully I had some help from my mom who was a preschool teacher for more years than I can count. She gave me some hints and insight into qualities to look for in a preschool. Add that to my personal thoughts and experience, and I have some hints for making the preschool search more enjoyable and a little less stressful.
Be a detective.
Ask friends and peers who have preschool-aged kids or older. Find out where they sent their kids. What they liked best about the school. What they liked least. Why the sent their kids there and if they would send them again. Word of mouth is the most powerful selling tool, even for schools.
Look for a curriculum that fits your child’s personality.
Whether your child thrives by working independently or does best in a group of friends, finding a program that fits with your child will help him to thrive.
How are their days structured? Do they have play or gym time? What tasks are expected of the children on a daily basis? Do the classes take field trips? What kind of art projects do the children create? Is music a part of the daily activities? What is the experience of the teachers? How many children are in each class? Is there often a waiting list? Don’t be afraid to bring a list and take notes, it can be difficult to remember everything after the tour has ended.
Bring your child.
Watch how the teachers and staff interact with your child. Do they engage her? Do they encourage her as she explores the classroom and brings out toys? Do they help your child? Or do they only talk to you? How the teachers interact with your child on a one-on-one basis is a good signal for the type of attention she will receive in the classroom.
Money matters, and sometimes the cost of a school’s tuition can be the deciding factor. Especially when you are struggling between two schools that will offer similar experiences for your child. There’s no shame in letting money play an important role in your decision.
Find your school.
It’s tempting to send your child to the same school as all of his friends, but don’t base your decision solely on this. What may be a perfect fit for your son’s best friend may be less than ideal for your child. Set up play dates for after school so the friends don’t lose contact.
It’s preschool, not college. Yes, it’s important. Of course it’s important. But if you enroll your child in a program and later find out that it isn’t the best fit, it’s not the end of the world. At this stage of the game, you can always search for a better school. Find an environment where your child learns best.
Most importantly, follow your heart.
Or your gut, which ever happens to be speaking the loudest. In my personal experience, the preschools that I toured offer similar activities and social interactions for the kids. The one that we will finally settle on is the one that feels right.
Do you have preschool-aged children, or older? How was your experience finding the right school? Do you have any other words of advice to offer parents looking for a school for the first time?