When my daughter was born, I remember calculating the date when she would start school. It seemed so far off and the numbers of the year seemed strange to me. Now that time has arrived. Days and months roll into years and we all get older. Our lives change little by little, and pretty soon we are facing milestones. Sending my daughter to preschool was not an easy choice. We talked about waiting until kindergarten, but we didn’t want our daughter to be at a disadvantage when she started school. Plus, there are so many learning and social opportunities that we didn’t want her to miss out on. And some of our decision was selfish. I looked forward to a break from the daily routine and to having more time to devote to my writing. Choosing a preschool requires research and deliberation. Eventually, it’s a personal choice based on which school provides what you think your child needs. If they go to public school, you won’t have to worry as much, as you don’t have a choice. But private schools and preschools are abundant, and they are competing for your business. Here’s what I looked for before making my decision.
Find out how many children attend the school and particularly, how many will be in the same classroom as your child. I took their literature and I also asked directly. Sometimes the answers varied. Also, find out roughly the student to teacher ratio. Be concerned if the number is over 10. You want your child to learn and to have their needs met. You don’t want them warehoused all day at an institution that’s just trying to make money.
It would seem obvious, but I needed to make sure my daughter wasn’t just there to play all day. I wanted to know what learning opportunities she would have for the money I was spending. Would she have access to today’s technology? I can’t tell you how many little kids I have seen who have apparently mastered their parent’s iPhones. I want my daughter to have access to computers and tablets so that she will be comfortable with technology when she goes to school. Younger kids learn best through hands-on experiences. I don’t want them learning from a book in preschool. They need to learn by doing. I remember learning the alphabet through these big blow-up characters who had names like Miss O. who was “obstinate.” Big word for a little kid, but I learned it. (She was later changed to an optimist instead). I want them to have attractive learning materials in their classroom. I want them disguised as toys in big, bold colors and shapes. They learn by engaging their senses. I want my daughter to be able to build with blocks, play with beads and figure out how to put together puzzles. I want her to be part of planning her activities and also part of cleaning them up. I also want her to be able to express her artistic abilities. She should have access to crayons, colored pencils and paint. “Arts and crafts” never go out of style. It’s important to try new artistic activities and see if your child has an interest or ability in a particular art form. Play can also be disguised as drama and music. Will my daughter have an opportunity to sing, to put on plays? Are there basic musical instruments she can experiment with? Kids have a lot of energy and expressing themselves through music, dance and drama is a great way to release it. Even though they can’t read, I want a school which values reading. Getting in groups to listen to a story and then discussing it among themselves is a fun way to pique interest in learning to read. Children can learn to read simple words from books with big print and colorful pictures to correspond with the words. Are foreign languages taught in this school? Children pick up on languages much quicker than adults. I want my daughter to be exposed to another language at an early age so that it is natural for her to learn and speak one. I have found that schools with foreign language curriculums tend to cost a bit more. It’s a matter of how important that is to you and about how much money you are willing to spend on early education. You could always wait until your child goes to public school, but foreign languages often aren’t offered until high school.
Religious vs. Secular
Since preschools are private institutions, many of them are run by religious organizations. They do not usually require you to be a member of their particular church, but they will require you to adhere to their rules and to respect their curriculum. If your religious faith is important to you, this is an opportunity to have it incorporated into your child’s learning environment. Religious schools offer the same excellent educational opportunities as any secular school. I looked at several. For me, it was not a factor one way or the other. I simply wanted the best school for my child. If it was religious, that was fine. I’m going to pay for them to learn what I feel is important. If religious principles are also taught, I see it as a bonus.
I want to make sure the teachers and staff foster a sense of community and togetherness. I want to make sure my child feels like she belongs, like she is part of a team. I want her to have new friends to play with and I want her involved in group activities. I want to make sure children are instructed to respect each other’s differences and to always cooperate and “play nice” with each other. I ask about their discipline policy. I don’t expect my daughter to cause trouble, but if she does, I want to know about it immediately. I want to make sure that bullying will never be tolerated and that my daughter will always feel safe coming to this school. Kids will misbehave and mistreat each other at times. I just want to know how it will be handled and I want to be assured it won’t be overlooked. I spent many years with my daughter. I have taught her as best I can. I have comforted her and protected her. Putting her in the care of a preschool for several hours a day is not an easy decision. I know she will learn more if she is exposed to other thoughts and teaching methods. I want her to have friends and to learn to get along with others. I want what is best for her. I just don’t want to let her go without being confident in my decision.