From a Preschool Teacher :: What to Look For (or Steer Clear of) in a Preschool Program

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Sending your child to preschool can be so exciting for both you and your child. However, it can also bring some anxiety! One of the most important things to remember when you are searching for the right preschool is that you and your child should feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed. The specifics, however, may seem a bit more daunting. As an early childhood educator and professional for the past 16 years, I have some tips on what to look for and what to be wary of when you are scouting out preschools for your child. 

Child coloring butterfly with crayonPhilosophy of Program

It is very important to consider a school philosophy when you are looking at child care and preschool programs, as it serves as the framework of how they educate and care for children. There are many different philosophies out there; find which one suits your family and your child best. Whether you are looking for a more academic setting, a play-based approach, or a school that focuses on independent learning, you should be inquiring about what each program’s philosophy is. If it isn’t outright clear what their philosophy is, ask.

Tip: If they have trouble telling you what their philosophy is or cannot articulate it clearly, that’s a red flag. Some good questions to ask:
“How does your school believe children learn best?”
“What do you believe is most important in a child’s early years?”
“How do you and your teachers work towards the goals of your philosophy?” 

Teacher and Staff Experience

Wooden puzzle pieces and play-dohIn this field, it is much more telling to know how long the teachers of a program have been working with children than to know how many years of schooling or degrees they have. When it comes to working with children, it is important to have knowledge on child development and the ways children learn, but so much is learned and gained through hands-on experience. When I was working as a director of a large preschool  and was hiring teachers, the experience was always what I went to first and was how I made my decisions.

Tip: Some questions to ask might include:
“How many years of experience do your teachers have?”
“How long have your teachers been working here?”
“What do you do to ensure that your teachers feel good about working here? Do you offer support for your staff to learn and grow both professionally and personally?” 

Level of Parent Involvement

As an early childhood specialist and professional, I know and understand the importance of connection between home and school. I also understand that parents and teachers are partners in raising the children. A good program will understand that, as well. A great program will actively seek to involve you as parents in your child’s learning.

Tip: Helpful questions to ask might include:
“What do you feel the relationship should be between parents and teachers?”
“Do you offer ways for parents to be involved in the program?”

Health and Safety

This is always important, but even more so now. You should be making sure that the health and safety of your children – and the staff! – are a top priority of the program.

Tip: Possible questions regarding health and safety:
“What are your health and safety policies?”
“Do you have any COVID-specific guidelines?”
“Do you offer your teachers time off for health reasons?”

Whatever they answer, make sure that you see proof. If they say they do daily temperature checks or health checks, ask to see a roster. If they say that the teachers all wear masks, ask to tour around and see. (You should already see many health practices happening as you enter the program and if you don’t, take note of that.)

Here are a few more red flags to look out for when determining if a program is right for your family.

  • Speaking about their philosophy very generally with no real examples to back it up. (Ex: “Yeah, we believe in play-based learning because it’s good.”)
  • High turn-over rate of teachers. This can be an issue in this field because of the low pay, however a good school will provide support for their teachers in both their professional and personal lives that will encourage them to stay. (Ex: if they say that they have a lot of new teachers or are “building a new staff,” this usually can be a sign of unsupported teachers, which can lead to less than desirable care)
  • A high number of licensing violations. Most schools will sometimes have a few various violations that can be minor. However, if there are violations that include things related to the children’s rights or their health and safety, steer clear. (Parents have the right to see all instances of violations and a school is required to show them. If they don’t, parents can contact their local licensing agency and request it.)

Choosing a preschool for your child is a very important decision. These are just a few suggestions to help you along the way. Keep a look out for more tips and strategies as we get closer to fall!

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