If your child is ready to start preschool, you’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed as you navigate the selection process. When choosing a preschool remember that early childhood learning is built on trust between the children and teachers. Here are some things you should for when you visit a possible preschool. First, narrow down your options by looking at location, hours, and price. Every family is different, so these considerations will vary based on your needs. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few preschools, schedule a tour. The first tour is best done without the kiddos so you can focus on observing and asking questions.
Adults are talking to children in nurturing and encouraging ways. They get down on their eye-level, address them by name, listen carefully, and seek to understand.
The classroom is fun and joyful. Play is the vehicle through which young children learn everything from vocabulary to math to self-control. That doesn’t mean classrooms should be a free-for-all. Teachers should continually provide new activities and challenges, ask thought-provoking questions, and nudge children to think deeper.
Children are active. They are not expected to sit for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, and they get plenty of outdoor time. They are also active contributors to the classroom; they get to choose their activities and their work covers the walls.
Communication between the school and the parents. Ask the director about a school handbook, as well as their communication habits. A handbook clearly states what parents can expect from the school. Monthly newsletters and emails may be some ways the school will communicate with you.
Individual communication regarding your child. Find out how individual teachers communicate with parents. Communication can be daily notes, weekly emails or apps. There is no “right” way to communicate, but constant communication is important in keeping the classroom and home connected.
Staff are supported — and seem happy. Working with young children is a tough job, and teachers are more successful when they receive regular professional development and planning time, not to mention a livable wage and benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Don’t be afraid to ask the director about these factors and about rates of teacher turnover.
Spend time observing. Schools will often conduct thorough tours. Watch silently in the classroom and observe the interactions. Ask yourself, “Is this the kind of environment I can see my young child thriving in?”
What is the look and feel of the school? Does it feel warm and inviting? Or is it cold and institutional? Is it clean and organized, or messy and chaotic? What kind of work is up on the walls? Do you see original art, or posters and worksheets? Is the work placed at eye level so young children can see it? Are the facilities old or new? Do they have a gym or play yard? How often do they use it?
Is the atmosphere exciting? Do students seem happy? Do they look busy or bored? Are they having positive interactions with each other, the staff, and the teachers? Do the teachers seem like they enjoy teaching here? Would your child be happy here? Would you?
Time to play outside. Are the children playing, running, climbing, riding bikes, etc. outside every day?
Is the space safe? Is it up to code? What evacuation plans are in place?
How teachers interact with students. Teachers should get down to the students’ eye-level when talking. It’s also important to see real conversations taking place between the staff and the children. This shows a real interest in what the children have to say, as well as a real interest in the kids themselves.
Staff who obviously care about the children. This can be seen in so many ways when you’re touring a preschool. You should see smiles and hear laughter in the classrooms. The staff members should be really listening to the students. There should be lots of interactions between teachers and students, as well as between students and their peers. Hugs, high fives, and encouraging words are great indicators too.
A plan in place. Ask the preschool director about the school’s emergency plans, as well as the teacher-student ratios. Take a look at the playground while you’re touring, too.