We’re not gonna lie: Finding the right preschool is a daunting task, involving lots of research and hand-wringing. If you’re not even sure where to begin, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s advice. Start your search early enough so you have time to consider all your options. Depending on where you live, this search might be best started not long after your little one is born! But typically, start this process at least a year before you plan on enrolling. Here’s the flow of the process:
Do your research.
Talk to neighbors, friends, colleagues, and other moms at the playground. Scour the Internet, local parenting magazines, and blogs. Many communities offer preschool fairs in the spring, but frankly word of mouth is probably the number one way most families find a school.
Decide what you want out of a preschool. Are you looking for a creative outlet for your budding Picasso, or do you want the focus to be on outdoor activities? If you’re not familiar, read up on different educational philosophies–is the Montessori method right for your child, or would you prefer a play-based curriculum? (link to types of preschools post) Are you only considering schools that have an accreditation? Obviously you’re looking for a nurturing environment, but be sure to consider the school’s founding philosophies and beliefs, too.
What communication tools does the school use? Do they primarily send paper notices home in lunchboxes? Or have they joined the modern world, making use of email, social media, and all the great communication tools for preschools that exist? Brightwheel is an easy-to-use mobile app that helps schools stay better connected with families. Teachers use brightwheel for recording and tracking daily events and activities in the classroom. As a parent, you’ll get private, real-time updates on your child delivered to your mobile device throughout the day. Brightwheel also allows for digital check-in/check-out, and a paperless billing system.
Carefully consider a school’s location. You probably want the school to either be close to home or close to the office. We recommend choosing a spot close to the office–that way if your little one is running a fever you can easily zip over to pick him up. It also allows you a little more precious time together–even though it’s during your commute, it’s still time for you to connect, talk about your days, be together.
Does the school offer before and after school care? Can you drop in on these services if you have a late meeting? What about spring break and summer vacation–does the school offer daycare services on days the teachers are off? Does the school offer enrichment activities like Spanish or yoga? Figure out what’s important to you here as you consider your options.
Narrow it down.
Now that you have a short list of possibilities, it’s time for school tours. Typically you’ll meet with the director, have a chance to ask questions, (link to preschool interview questions post) and then get a tour of the facility. Request a classroom observation so you can check out the teachers in action. Don’t be seduced by shiny new toys–if the teachers and staff aren’t top quality, it doesn’t matter that they have a beautiful facility. (link to preschool tour questions post)
Visit at least once more, this time with your child. You want to give him a chance to look around and see how he fits into the mix. How does he react to the environment and the teachers?
Don’t be shy–talk to any parents you may run into when you visit. Hang around at drop-off or pickup time. Try to get a feel for the parent community, as this can also be a huge part of the preschool experience.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, apply to several schools, so that you have some options if you don’t secure a spot at your top choice. When the time comes to finalize your choice, go with your gut. The most highly regarded preschool may not necessarily be the best fit for you. In the end, your choice has to feel right for your family. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Go with your gut!