I worked in a preschool for fifteen years. I mixed finger paint, drank blue milk and knew how many monkeys were jumping on the bed. During the last six of those years, I was a preschool director, which meant bandaging skinned knees, giving tours of the school and conducting annual reviews for my staff.
As a director, I was bewildered by how little research parents did when choosing a school for their child. Other than the obvious details—cost of tuition, hours of operation and holidays observed—questions such as "W ho will be watching my child?" rarely arose. My school had a great reputation, so parents may have been so relieved to hear we had an opening that they quickly signed on the dotted line. Yet after evaluating this situation, I began to wonder if parents even knew what questions to ask.
To help solve this mystery, I came up with the following list of questions to ask when selecting a preschool.
- What are your goals for placing your child in a preschool program?Childcare? Socialization for your child? An early start on academics?
- Is the school licensed by the state? Call your state licensing agency and ask if violations have ever been filed against the school, and if so, why.
- What types of accreditation does the school have? Check the Internet and read about these accrediting associations.
- What teaching method does the prospective school adhere to (for example, Montessori, academic-based, developmental/hands-on)?Research these methods on the Internet. Compare these methods to your child's learning style, needs, and personality, making sure your child's style and the school's methods are compatible.
- Is the school a good fit for your child? Does your child have special needs? Ask how these needs will be met and what procedures are in place for administering any medication your child might take.
- What is the staff like? Are the director and the teachers personable? Do they take the time to greet your child by name and show an interest in him/her? Find out how well the director knows the staff. Do the teachers show respect for the director?
- What qualifications and/or credentials do the teachers have? Do they meet the state requirements for teaching? Have they been fingerprinted and passed state and FBI clearance? Find out what additional training and experience they have acquired that may benefit your child.
- Who's watching the children? Observe the playground. Are the teachers scattered around the yard, keeping an eye on all the students, or are they gathered in a group talking about the latest movie they've seen? Note any conversations you hear between a teacher and child. Envision that teacher having this conversation with your child. How does this make you feel?
- How does the tuition compare to other schools in the area? Take into consideration extra programs the school has to offer; for example, breakfast, hot lunch, gymnastics, ballet. Depending upon your needs, find out if the school offers a half-day program. Do they have a two-, three-, or five-day-a week program?
- Is the school clean, comfortable, and safe? Note the size of the classrooms, playground equipment and shade, location of the restrooms, and supplies in the teacher's resource room. Is there a printed menu of snacks and hot lunches demonstrating healthy food choices? Consider the height of the fence enclosing the playground. If the classrooms are not comfortable, restrooms are not within the teacher's sight, toilets are not preschool-accessible, supplies appear lacking, and/or the fence is not at least five to six feet high, take your child by the hand and continue your search.
- Is the school a nonprofit or profit-based organization? Church-related preschools are often able to provide their staff with higher salaries and better benefits than profit-driven schools. This results in minimal staff turn around which, in turn, benefits the students.
- What security measures does the school have in place? How does the school stop strangers from entering the campus? Find out the procedures for dropping off and picking up your child from school. What is the policy when someone other than you or your spouse needs to pick up your child from school? Written permission from you and checking identification of the person sent to pick up your child—is a must!
- Is the school prepared for a natural disaster? In earthquake country, each school needs to be ready for the next shake, rattle and roll! Find out what type of evacuation procedure the school has in case of a fire, tornado, or other crisis situation. Are emergency kits clearly marked and hanging inside each classroom door? Are fire drills conducted on a regular basis so that the children are accustom to them?
- What is the school policy for sick children? Do they allow sick children to attend school? Does the school require a child to stay home for twenty-four hours after a fever?
- What is the school policy regarding discipline? Do they employ spanking, time outs or redirection? Once you have received answers to your questions, ask yourself, "Am I comfortable with this?"
- Is the school in need of paint or repairs? Does the playground equipment look stable and sturdy? Is the school clean? Take a walk through the restroom facility your child will be using. Is it sanitary? Find out how often it is cleaned and by whom. Does the school have a custodian, or is cleaning restrooms one of the teacher's additional duties?
- Are parents welcome to visit at any time? What is the attitude of the staff when parents drop by to check on their children? What are the school's policies pertaining to parent involvement in the classroom? Ask to see a copy of their handbook.
In summary, ask yourself, "Can this school meet my child's needs and provide a safe and positive preschool experience for him or her?"
Keep in mind, there is no "perfect" preschool. However, choosing the best one for you and your child is crucial. The preschool experience can enrich your child's life. The play and lessons learned are taught in a sandbox and with your child's buddy by his side. What lessons will your child learn? The answer will be determined by your educated choice of schools.
Once you've made your decision, support the staff who will nurture your child throughout the day. Show an active interest in the things that happen in your child's classroom. Participate in as many class projects as you can. And don't forget to pray, thanking God for leading you to such a wonderful school.