Enrolling your child in a preschool has its advantages. Your child gets a chance to explore the world within a community of little thinkers and doers just like them. But the options for preschools seem to be endless, and you might find that making a decision is more challenging than it should be. How do you choose the right preschool for your child? How do you know they will thrive?
We have some advice to help you through the decision-making process.
Choose the Approach
Over the years, there have been branches of education that pertain to a specific philosophy. Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Bank Street, and High Scope preschools are just a few out there. Here is a quick glimpse at what each of the popular styles offer your child:
- Montessori: Promotes independence in a mixed-age classroom. Children focus on sensory-motor activities and are encouraged to learn on their own time. Collaboration and group work are allowed but not compulsory.
- Reggio Emilia: The curriculum is based on the child’s own interests and aims for hands-on discovery, collaboration, and creative play.
- Waldorf: Focuses on individualism, creativity, and imagination. Students do not use media to learn, and they don’t have homework or tests.
- Bank Street: Play-based learning with activities based on social studies. Student-directed but teacher-guided.
- High Scope: Lesser known preschool type that promotes math, science, and reading skills as well as developing daily routines.
There are other varieties, such as community organizations, parent co-op classes, and faith-based organizations to consider as well.
Observe The Classroom
The number one thing any parent or guardian should do is visit the school they would like their child to attend and sit in on a class, if possible. After all, it is difficult to get a pulse on the school when all you have is virtual tours and images on a website to go by. So ask if you can watch for 20 minutes or so to see the classroom, how it looks, what the children do, and how the teacher educates them. You will have a much better understanding of the school and their approach to learning this way.
Some things to consider when observing the classroom include:
- Cleanliness and organization
- Proper materials
- Aesthetically pleasing layout and color scheme
- Child-sized items. In a Montessori school, for instance, children should have access to child-sized furnishings and tools to help them develop independence.
Observe The Children and Teachers
Next, watch the students and the teachers. How do they interact with one another? Do the teachers focus on rote memorization or do they take a different approach? How are the students treated? Are they respected? Depending on the kind of educational approach the school takes, the way a classroom looks, and how the children interact with the room and their fellow students is going to be different.
For instance, in a Montessori classroom, you will notice that the students are guided by teachers but allowed to practice freedom in how they go about completing tasks. Students can work together or independently so that everyone can concentrate. A more traditional approach might have students working at desks together or have the teacher be more active.
The teacher also plays a role in the quality of the preschool. In a Philadelphia Montessori school, teachers guide students individually more than they conduct a whole-group lesson or activity. Also, those teachers tend to observe the children rather than interrupt tasks. Individual development is favored over moving the entire class together through the curriculum.
Then think about what kind of setting your child would prefer. Do they seem more oriented towards individual work? What are their interests? What is your home structure like? These questions, along with your observations, will help you decide. You know how your child will react better than anyone.
Ask The Right Questions
After you have observed the classroom, sit down with the teacher or the administrator and ask some pivotal questions:
- What does the daily schedule look like? How much structure is there?
- What does the curriculum focus on?
- Do the children have homework or tests?
- What kind of training have the teachers had? Are there designated credentials for this kind of approach?
- What kind of materials are provided and what do children need to bring with them?
- How do teachers approach conflict resolution?
- What is the typical class size?
- Is there recess, nap time, snack time, and so on?
Choosing the right preschool for your child also means considering how the choice will affect the whole family. There are some logistics that factor into the decision and may impact your experience with the preschool.
Whether you have chosen a traditional preschool, a faith-based school, or Fishtown Montessori, always consider how close it is. For example, if you are looking for a Montessori school in Philadelphia, you might find several but only one that is within walking distance. Make sure the commute is easy from both work and home.
Some preschools have full and half-day programs that range from 2-5 days per week, others only offer full time. When choosing a program, consider how it meshes with your work schedule, cost differences, developmental goals, and how well your child does with being away from home.
Regardless of the school’s philosophy, you are the best at deciding which school is best for your child. As long as you are excited about the option and believe your child will thrive in the environment, then you have chosen correctly. Trust your intuition on this one.