January. Let's slow down after the holidays...and gear up for registering young children for preschool! Many preschools have application deadlines in January, with waitlists due to limited enrollments at small schools. Having trouble choosing the best preschool for your young child? Here are some tips to help you through the process.
The first step in choosing the best preschool is remembering that that is what you are looking for: the best preschool for your child and your family. Do not be tempted to search for the "right" preschool. There is no right preschool. But there is the best preschool you can choose, based on the information you have.
The first information you need to collect before making this choice is about you, your family, and your child. The next category of information you need to collect is about the preschool itself.
What are the particular needs of your family next year? Do you need a full daycare set-up or half days? Do you need your child in preschool every day or a few days a week?
Many churches house preschools. Consider if you are interested in a preschool experience that includes religious formation.
What is your budget when it comes to early education? Do you want a classroom set-up in which you get to participate or does it not work for your schedule to volunteer? Do you need lunch and extended day options on certain days but not every day?
Think about pick up and drop off times and logistics. I chose a preschool precisely because I had a newborn and they had a carpool line that did not require me leaving the car. This is a legitimate reason to name a preschool as the best choice for your child, trust me.
In addition, preschool is a great opportunity to build relationships with other parents. Know your needs, as well as your limits, in regards to the community. If you are new to town and looking to build relationships, consider choosing a preschool that schedules family events and structures get-togethers. If your schedule is full of older children's activities, a preschool with a few outside events, meetings, and fundraisers might be a good fit.
To choose the best preschool, after thinking through the needs of parents and family, consider any particular needs of your child. Does your child have any special needs that can be addressed by certain preschools, such as the need for speech or occupational therapy? Are there certain curriculums that would excite your child - such as more hands-on play or STEM activities?
When choosing the best preschool, consider your child's future kindergarten. Is there a neighborhood preschool which many of the children headed to your same kindergarten attend? You can choose the best preschool based on the goal of entering kindergarten with familiar faces.
Do Your Research
The next information you need to collect in order to choose the best preschool is information about the various preschools in your area. Drop in for a visit. Most preschools offer tours and Open Houses. Talk to parents you know about their preschool experiences. Ask for recommendations.
Some of the factors to look for when visiting preschools are class size, appearance, and feel of classrooms, and the relationship between teachers and students. Observe the amount of structure versus free play when choosing the best preschool. Watch circle-time with the teacher, as well as child-centered playtime with toys.
Ask the preschools you visit about any educational goals that are important for you? Know if are you interested in a traditional educational model or more play-based philosophies such as that of Montessori and Waldorf Schools. Some preschools follow strict accreditation guidelines and offer detailed conferences showing benchmarks children have met.
Research public preschool and Pre-K options when choosing the best preschool. Many public school systems offer preschool classes with limited enrollment. Ask about admissions requirements and what processes are available. When researching private preschools, inquire about scholarship programs.
Choosing the best preschool can feel overwhelming. Keep reminding yourself that there is no "right preschool," only the best preschool for your family and your child, for next year.
Do your research. Talk to your friends. Visit schools and trust your instincts. Then take a deep breath, enroll your child, and be thankful for all of the different schools valuing the teaching and nurture of our youngest children. And get excited! Preschool communities are such encouraging supporters and partners as you parent your children through these early years.