Before you start looking at options, think about your “must haves” for preschool. It’s important to start here, because otherwise you might fall in love with a program and then discover that you can’t possibly make the logistics of it work for your family.
Things to consider:
- Child care or enrichment:
- Do you need your child to be cared for several hours a week while you work? If so, you may really be looking for child care. Some child cares offer a preschool component, but if your child is there for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, you don’t want all structured time. Children this age need a mix of structure and free play and down time over the course of a long day.
- If you are primarily a stay at home mom, you may only need a few hours of child-free time a week, and may just be looking for a very part-time preschool for enrichment. You may choose a few hours a day, few days a week program.
- Note: sometimes names are misleading. Some things called “preschool” do not offer learning experiences. They may be a day care that knows parents pay more for the name preschool.
- Schedule: What do you need/ want?
- How many days a week? Number of hours per day? Extended care?
- Drop off or stay? Do you want a drop-off so you have some child-free hours? Or would you like a co-op where some days you stay with your child? Or would you like to do all parent-child programs. (They’re not called preschool, but there’s certainly dance classes, gymnastics classes and so on that you can do together.)
- Do you have specific days of the week you must do? Absolutely can’t do? Or are you flexible?
- What time is the earliest you could be there? What time is the latest?
- Location: How far are you willing to drive two to three days a week? How far is your child willing to be driven? (Some parents find the “perfect” preschool a long drive from home, and only later realize that it’s not so perfect if they have a child who hates to be in the car!) What will you be doing while your child is at preschool, and would it be convenient to get back and forth to there in the time your child is at class? Is the location convenient for other family members / friends who might occasionally do drop-off or pick-up duties?
- Cost: What’s manageable for your family? (Note: if all you’re finding when you search for preschool is expensive options, think about where you’re looking. If you look for ads in slick expensive looking magazines, you’ll see ads for expensive preschools that can afford expensive ads. Try asking friends, family, neighbors and co-workers what options they know of. There are a lot of preschools hidden in church basements with no advertising budget but great programs!)
- Potty training requirements: If you’re looking for a preschool that will start several months from now, it can be hard to predict what your child’s needs will be. As a general rule, the majority of 2.5 year olds are not potty trained, so if you want to start preschool young, you may choose a preschool that doesn’t require this. The majority of 3 year old girls are potty trained (though not all), so it might be a safer bet to choose one that requires it. With boys, it’s less likely, so again, you might err on the side of assuming your son won’t be.
- Parent Involvement: Do you want to volunteer in the classroom? Would you want to visit your child during the school day? Do you want communication from the school about your child’s day? In what form?
What are your goals for enrolling your child in a preschool?
Before you start asking for recommendations or before you start looking at schools just because someone else said it was great, spend some time thinking about your goals. What do you hope your child will get out of preschool? Look at the list of essential skills: where do you think your child most needs to grow? What are the things you feel least confident providing at home? What do you think will engage your child the most?
At every step of my daughters’ schooling, one of my goals was to choose a school that would preserve their love of learning. All babies and toddlers LOVE to learn new things… but sometimes a bad school experience can lead a young child to decide “I hate to learn” or “I’m bad at learning things” and it’s hard to recover from that. Each time my girls moved up to a new school, I wanted (and was lucky enough to find) schools that honored their passion for learning. It was actually the final deciding factor for my oldest in choosing a college – she chose the place where everyone she met on campus was passionate about learning – there were hugely excited about ideas and geeked out about everything from Dr. Who to the physics of musical acoustics.
In evaluating your goals, don’t just think about what you want your child to get out of it. What do you want to get out of it? Do you want to meet other parents? Choose a co-op program. Want to learn more about parenting skills? Choose a program with a parent ed component. Want a few hours a week when you’re not responsible for your child just so you can relax? Choose a drop-off program that has activities you enjoy nearby. Want your child to be exposed to nature but you’re an indoor person? Choose a nature preschool.
Once you’ve done these steps, you’re ready to start researching your options… check out my next post…
Note, if you’re having a hard time coming up with goals / reasons to send your child to preschool, you may want to check out this post on whether preschool is necessary for your child.