Choosing a preschool
The question: My husband and I are considering preschool for our four-year-old daughter. What sorts of things should we look for?
The expert answers:
There are many factors to consider when choosing a preschool. You will first need to identify what you would consider the ideal setting, and what you are willing to accept. Then schedule visits to the schools that seem to meet your financial and philosophical limits. On your visit, consider the following:
Student to adult ratio:
Interaction and close supervision are important at this age, so it's important to observe how many adults are available in the class. Is there one teacher who is run ragged? Or is she in control? Are there other adults (aside from you) who are participating with the children?
Take note of the children currently in the class. Are they happy and content? Are they actively engaged? Do you see any children being left out of the activities? Do the children seem to enjoy being there? Are they smiling or somber?
Appropriate discipline strategies:
Ask the teacher her philosophy of discipline, and then watch for children who misbehave. Does the discipline used coincide with the teacher's stated philosophy? Do you agree with how they are disciplined? Is the punishment too harsh? Too lenient? How do the children in the class react to the misbehavior?
Every parent has a different idea of what and how their children are taught. Some may want a program focused on play and social interaction, while others are looking for more formal education. Think about what you want your child to gain from this experience, and evaluate each school's program based on your individual philosophy.
When the children are involved in an activity, watch to see if it is developmentally appropriate for the age level. If the children are struggling, the activity may be too hard. If they seem bored, it is probably too easy. Look to see if the majority of the class is challenged but not defeated. Ask about the activities the children will be involved in. Will there be singing? Story time? Large muscle movement? What about cooking or gardening?
Look at the physical makeup of the classroom. Is it colorful and inviting? Is the furniture safe and comfortable for children? Is there room to maneuver safely around it? Are there age-appropriate toys? Are there areas for pretend play? Is the room clean and well lit? Is there a playground or yard for outdoor physical activity?
Watch the teacher to see how he/she interacts with the children. Do you sense a genuine love of children? Is the teacher kind and understanding and patient? How do the children interact with the teacher? Do you get the feeling they enjoy being around him/her? Does the teacher baby the children? Does he/she talk "with" them or "at" them?
Although not highly scientific, this is usually your best indicator of the quality of a program. How did you feel being in the classroom? Did you like the setting and the teacher? Would you trust the school with your child? Even if it didn't meet every ideal you held, did it feel right? Did you have any serious apprehensions?
While visiting the school, be sure to ask questions and take detailed notes about what you see and feel. Don't make a hasty decision -- look at all of the opportunities available to you. After completing your visits, compare your notes to see what program will work best for you and your child, and then make your move.
Her first experience with school will be a good one, as long as you have completed all of your homework!