Preschool, where kids go between the ages of 3 to 5, is an important stage. Children are beginning to learn the social and problem solving stills they’ll need to be successful later in life. Their personalities are still developing, and they need lots of healthy guidance from adults.
Choosing the right school for your child can make a big difference. You want them to go to a preschool that helps your child feel supported, safe, cared for, and challenged to learn new things. Your child’s preschool experience can set the stage for many of the things they’ll experience and strive for in grade school.
Here are 12 positive signs and considerations to keep in mind when visiting schools.
While not key to your child’s development, the location of a school is important to your needs as a parent. How will your child get to and from preschool? If you or your partner will be doing pickups and drop-offs, you’ll want to look for schools that will work with your schedule. For example, is it on the way to and from work for at least one of you? Also consider what happens if you run late. Is there an aftercare program?
A school is accredited if it meets the standards set by a trustworthy external organization. Public schools are held to state and local district requirements. Private schools also get accreditation from outside organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the American Montessori Society, and the National Association of Independent Schools.
Keep in mind that the standards a school needs to meet can be different depending on the state. Some private schools may also meet the standards without being accredited by an outside organization. Find out what your state requires.
3. Educational Philosophy
Some preschools focus heavily on the early development of reading and writing skills, while others take a more relaxed approach and emphasize learning through creativity and play. Neither approach is incorrect, but your child will respond better to the one that fits their personality and needs. Not all children are ready to jump right in and learn to read, and pushing too hard can create negative feelings around the subject.
Ideally, a teacher will be able to adapt to activities to be more or less challenging based on the needs of different children in the class.
4. Class Size
The number of kids in a classroom and the ratio of adults to children are important when considering whether or not your child’s needs can be met at a preschool. A smaller number of children to adults in the classroom allows the teacher to spend more one-on-one time with students and provide personalized instruction.
Regulations for class sizes vary from state to state. Check with the department of education in your state to find out what’s required. Then you can measure the schools you visit from there.
5. Classroom Appearance
Look around the classroom. What’s on the walls? How well is the space organized? A positive and stimulating preschool environment will display learning tools, such as ABCs, and children’s artwork on the walls. The displays should be hung low enough for young children to see.
A classroom should also have a variety of different playing and learning areas and tools, but still be clean and well-organized. The U.S. Department of Education recommends using tables, dividing screens, and cupboards to split a classroom into spaces that are designed for specific types of play and discovery.
6. Amount of Playtime
Children between 3 and 5 years old learn about the world around them through play. This is how they explore their environment. They also need the opportunity to move their bodies throughout the day. A good classroom environment will allow kids to play constructively.
For example, the class may have a dress up corner where they use their imagination, or a block and puzzle area where they can learn how things fit together. Ask the school how much playtime is part of the children’s day and how this time is usually spent.
7. Variety of Materials
Hands-on learning is important for preschoolers. They need the opportunity to explore and use different materials. Look to see if arts and craft supplies, markers and crayons, and other objects such as blocks, a water station, or sand, are in the classroom.
8. Time Spent Reading
Reading and fun with books should be encouraged, but not forced. Ask the preschool how much time teachers spend reading to their classes. What is done after the reading? Does the teacher encourage the kids to discuss the book? What types of books does the teacher read?
Check to see if teachers are choosing books with a purpose. Some books can help kids learn about the world, and others focus on certain concepts, like learning the alphabet.
9. Teacher’s Time
Find out if the teacher takes time to work with children in different ways — as a group, in smaller groups, and individually. Each style is important for helping kids develop social skills and learning in ways that work for them. If the teacher can only work with the class as one big group, for example, some kids may not be having their needs met.
Healthy eating habits start early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend limiting how much sugar, salt, and solid fats preschoolers get. When looking for preschools, ask about the types of snacks and lunches the kids are provided. Do they get sugary drinks and chips, or fruits and veggies?
Ask for specifics about how behavior issues are handled by teachers. Do the kids get a timeout? What does that involve? Make sure the school’s discipline policy is something you agree with and feel will work for your child. You can also ask how parents are involved in the process.
12. Staff Happiness
How happy a teacher is with their work environment can directly impact the children in their classroom. When you’re observing the class, look to see if the teacher seems excited and engaged, or bored and going through the motions. You can also ask staff and supervisors how long teachers typically stay at the school.
Remember that every child is different. An atmosphere and learning style that’s very effective for one child may not work for another. Pay attention to your child’s specific needs and compare them with what the preschool has to offer.