Finding a good preschool program can be tricky. Many do not stay in business long enough to build a long-term reputation. Others remain hidden away due to a small, local clientele. Well-established centers are worth the search because they can prepare your child for a state-required academic experience that begins typically at age five.
How do you find a quality preschool?
Start by asking extended family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. You may want to contact local school systems in your community to see if they post a suggested list of preschool programs. Libraries and civic centers also may be able to suggest a reputable program. After narrowing your search to five or six centers, pick up the phone to begin the interview process.
- Request literature. Many programs will mail brochures, pamphlets, or handbooks to interested parents. Some even sponsor an orientation event or visiting day. Others host recruitment activities at local education fairs or academic galas. Find out how to get basic information about the center before talking with the administrator. That way you will be prepared with more serious questions instead of using that time for frivolous inquiries that can be answered beforehand. Information to look for initially includes a weekly operational schedule with opening and closing times, staff to child ratios, certification and licensing requirements, enrollment figures, how long the program has operated, chief administrator information, and other general details.
- Arrange a tour. Take a friend or family member to help you glean objective observations. Look for evidence of cleanliness, hygienic practices, staff attitudes and practices, menu items, nap protocol, learning objectives, and play activities. Also, ask about staff training and experience. Are children being taught by a high school dropout or a college degree recipient?
- Examine the curriculum materials. A preschool program should be designed to teach children, not just supervise them as in daycare. What will your child be expected to learn? How will each subject be taught? Which evaluation measurements will be used? How often will children be tested and results reported to parents?
- Discuss discipline. Find out what the rules are and how your child will be punished for infractions. Inquire about the type of values, if any, that will be instilled in the children. Determine whether the disciplinary policies mesh with your family’s.
- Ask about parental interaction. Are visiting days offered? Will parents who visit be seen or hidden from the children? Are parents expected to donate time or money for fund-raisers or special events? Do volunteer opportunities exist? How can parents help their children adjust to preschool? How does this preschool program help children prepare for kindergarten?
- Seek references from the administrator. Talk to parents whose children currently attend or did so in the recent past. Ask what they most liked and disliked.
Finding a quality preschool program is an important first step toward your child’s education. Take the time to make a careful selection so that neither your child nor you have later regrets.