A few days ago, a family member was asking for suggestions on how to find a good quality preschool — one that isn’t just a glorified day care. While it seems there is this debate between choosing a fun preschool or an academic one, there really isn’t any reason why a respectable preschool can’t be both. As a parent, you should expect learning to be exciting and engaging in any school environment.
The teacher inside me cringes whenever I hear a parent say, “Oh, I don’t want to send my kid to an “academic” preschool. Kids have their whole lives to learn. They should be playing and having fun now, just being kids!” Who was the smarty that decided learning and fun are mutually exclusive? There must be some preschool conspiracy underfoot because I have heard these same beliefs from neighbors and parents at various classes. The truth is learning and play should go hand-in-hand, especially at this young age. It should be a combination of natural learning opportunities from hands-on experiences as well as structured lessons throughout the day. You know that old adage, “Children are like sponges”? Well, it’s definitely proved true in my experience! Noob Baby is always absorbing, learning, copying, singing and pretending. So, please bro… don’t tell me that kids should be playing now and learning later. Let’s do both, now. Balance is the key.
I hope my preschool guide proves useful as you search for the perfect school. If I missed some elements, please add your suggestions in the comments section! I’m also offering my very first free printables here on Noob Mommy. Feel free to download/print the Preschool Finder Checklist as well as the Preschool Comparison Guide. I think they’ll be very helpful as you begin your quest!
Noob Mommy’s Guide to Choosing a Preschool
Type of School
There are many different types of preschools, each with their own teaching philosophies. For example, you can find religious preschools, montessori, or Waldorf. Babycenter offers a helpful overview of a few popular preschool programs. You should consider your noob’s personality and learning style to find the happiest match.
As you start to check out many preschools, you’ll notice that there is a schedule for everyone. Two days a week. Three days a week. Five days a week. Half day (usually 9-12) or full day (9-3) and many offer additional hours to accommodate your work schedule. Keep in mind that a full day includes naptime. Will your noob adjust to nap/rest time in the classroom, or would it be better for him to take a nap at home? What are the varying costs for the different schedules? Noob Baby attends 3 days a week, and I can already say that there are pros and cons with this schedule. It’s great having two days where we get our own time together, but it also makes the transition back to school every other day a bit more challenging. The teachers have told me that 5 days a week can be an easier transition for kids instead of yo-yoing back and forth. You may want to consider a 9-12 schedule if your noob hasn’t had much socialization or class time (dance, sports, Mommy & Me preschool, art, etc) yet. It’s just a small amount of time to be away from home.
Word of Mouth
This is the best way to find a well-respected preschool in your neighborhood. Ask your friends, family and neighbors for recommendations. A great way is to ask parents in your Mommy & Me or community classes. All these moms are in the same circuit, and there’s bound to be at least one Alpha Mom (aka Momzilla) out there who’s got the schools, waitlists, and teachers’ names all memorized. It doesn’t hurt to compare these recommendations with some online reviews from a website like GreatSchools.org.
The Waiting List
You’ve heard the tales. A sister of a friend of a cousin of your Great Aunt Nell said that their kid was on a waitlist for three years before getting accepted into preschool! It’s true, many preschools did have ridiculous waiting lists. But after talking to a few preschool directors, it appears that enrollment has gone down since the economy tanked. Thus, those decade long waitlists are now less than a year. Needless to say, I’m sure there are some exceptions in those shmancy neighborhoods (i.e your noob wears Louboutins and already has her own teacup poodle). The best way to find out is to call ahead of time or talk to friends and neighbors. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but chances are you don’t have to register your hypothetical fetus. Yet.
Is your noob fully potty trained or still living it up in diapers? Each school has its own potty training policy. Some are willing to help with the potty training process. Others may assist when necessary. At Noob Baby’s preschool, the motto is… you’d better wipe your own a$$ solider! Since potty training is a huge milestone and can be rather traumatic, definitely consider this carefully when selecting the school.
Every school and teacher should have the appropriate state-approved licensure and credentialing. Be aware of your state’s legal teacher-to-student ratio per classroom. In California, it’s 1:12 (teacher:child) or 1:15 with an aide, see Child Care Advocate Program for more on CA requirements.
Tour. Tour. Tour like you’re U2 about to bloody retire.
This is the most important step! No matter how many recommendations you get, or how many Nobel Peace Prize winners this school churns out, you have to see for yourself. There’s nothing like touring a school to reaffirm your expectations or scare the bejeezus out of you. I suggest you bring your noob on the tour and gauge her reaction. Does she find the classrooms stimulating and exciting? Is she drawn to the books, toys, or sand table? Try and schedule your tour after instruction has already started. Not only can you get a feel for the teacher and quality of instruction, but you can watch the engagement (or happiness) of the other kids. While we were on our tour, one child was dropped off and immediately went all Chernobyl. The teacher didn’t check on him once while we were in the room. He could have been doing coke lines off a hooker’s ass and she wouldn’t have noticed. And that’s just not sanitary!
Quality of Environment
While you’re touring, make a note of how the classroom is set up. Are there different areas for play, reading, quiet time, pretend, science, art, snacks, etc.? Remember that balance is key. In my book, a preschool should have that fun interactive kiddie feel. Think… class pet, photographs, stuffed animals, costumes, and all that warm fuzzy stuff. However, if you see lots of loud, electronic toys … be wary! A respectable “library” or bookshelf is also a must. Again, the teacher inside me immediately checks for artwork on the walls or engaging learning materials/posters that are age appropriate. Preschoolers love to see their work up on the walls, even if it is just a scribble.
Curriculum & Extra Curricular Activities
Yes, you may be surprised that even preschools have curriculums. Don’t be afraid to ask if the school follows a specific curriculum, or how they teach the alphabet, phonics, etc. If they don’t have a curriculum, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you definitely want to ask to see a sample lesson plan for the week to make sure there is time set aside for instruction. Many teachers will post a lesson plan for the week or provide one if you’re curious. I love asking NB about some of the lessons. It’s a great way to stay connected and carry those themes into our conversations at home. FYI, preschool curriculums are often shaped around weekly themes (colors, animals, transportation, seasons, food, senses, etc.). Some schools also offer extra curricular activities during the day or after school (music, performing arts, foreign language, dance, gymnastics).
We often forget how important it is for our little guys to get out and exercise their large motor skills. While we were at the park this weekend, Noob Daddy brought up a good point about how kids need the playground experience to learn about spacial coordination and safety consciousness. There’s something beautifully organic and youthful about zipping around a playground and twirling on the monkey bars till your palms get calloused. Check out the playground and note if it’s really crowded, unsafe, or doesn’t offer several play choices. Is there a slide, climbing equipment, ride-ons, play houses? One really sought-after preschool we visited didn’t have any grassy areas, and the tiny little playground backed up to a major street. Playground fail.
Preschool is a huge milestone in your life as a new parent, and an even bigger change for your noob. You will be freaked out, anxious, and very very curious about what that little person is doing all day without you to boss guide him. Find out how you can stay in touch with the teacher and school. I appreciate that our school and teachers are email savvy. I also ask to get a daily report, which is very helpful in finding out if NB took a nap or not (NOT!) and who she plays with at school. It’s a great ice breaker. You can also find out if the school holds parent conferences. I’m really looking forward to ours next month… the first time I’ll be on the other side of a parent conference!
Go with your gut
On our first tour, I knew immediately that the school wasn’t right. Something about the teachers’ zombie eyes drove me away. After you tour a few, I guarantee your instincts will push you towards one school or away from another. Is the office staff friendly and helpful? Remember that you’ll have to interact with the rest of the office staff at some point. Finally, trust your instincts. You know what’s best for your child!
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