For parents of two-and-a-half year olds, ’tis the season to think about preschool. (I know, preschool won’t start till September, and it’s CRAZY that you have to research and make decisions on preschools when you can’t begin to imagine how different your child will be 8 months from now…)
January and February are the season for preschool fairs, preschool open houses and tours. Many schools have application deadlines coming up soon and will encourage you to apply as soon as possible to ensure that there’s space for your child. It’s easy for parents to feel a lot of anxiety and pressure in this environment. It is true that the sooner you decide, the more options you’ll have. And it is true that SOME schools will fill up soon, and if you don’t apply now, you’ll miss your chance. But the honest truth is that there are a ton of great preschools that not only won’t fill up in February, they’ll still have some space available when September rolls around! So, don’t panic about making the choice now if you’re not ready.
One great way to find out about your options is to go to a preschool fair. They’re free, open to the public, and offer parents the chance to walk around, pick up flyers, read posters, and talk to representatives of many different preschools. If you’re on the Eastside of Seattle, we have two big fairs:
– The parent education department at Lake Washington Institute of Technology offers a fair in January. Details about the 2016 event are here: http://www.woodinvilletoddlergroup.com/preschool-night-2016/
– Parent Map holds a series of preschool previews in January each year. The info about 2016 events is here: https://www.parentmap.com/article/preschool-previews
When parents ask me “what’s the best preschool?” I emphasize that there is no one right answer to that question. A preschool program can range anywhere between 2 hours a day for two days a week to 8 hours a day for five days a week. The cost can range hugely. The way students spend their time, how skills are taught, and facilities range widely. Here are the steps I recommend to help you figure out what’s the best preschool for you.
First decide: Is preschool necessary? Is it something you want for your child?
If you decide you’re looking, the first thing to think about is your concrete needs and goals for preschool. This includes both logistics (location, schedule, cost) and also thinking about what you hope your child will learn at preschool that they can’t learn from you at home or from the other activities they do.
Then, research your options. Go to preschool fairs, do web searches, but also talk to friends, co-workers, and other parents on the playground. You’ll often learn about fabulous low-cost options by asking around.
Then visit, or attend an open house, and ask these questions to learn more.
Then make the decision that feels right for you! Don’t base it on other people’s opinions but go with your own best judgment.
Here are a few related articles and resources that might interest you:
- Coop preschools can be the best option for parents who are looking for a few hours a week of preschool (they won’t work for any family that needs full time daycare). They offer a developmentally-appropriate, play-based experience that’s a great learning opportunity for your child and for you, at a low cost
- Outdoor preschools are a play-based, nature focused option
- Academic preschools – why they may not be developmentally appropriate or necessary for long-term academic success
- Benefits of multi-age classrooms
- Essential skills – these are skills all children need to learn by age 5, whether they learn them at preschool or at home
- PEPS is hosting a presentation on Choosing the Right Preschool on January 21 in Bellevue and January 28 in Seattle. Learn more: http://www.peps.org/ParentResources/lectures/choosing-preschool
Note on ages: preschool is generally for children age 3 – 5. (So, for fall 2016, that means kids born between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2013.) There are programs for two year olds called “preschool” because many parents will pay more for something if it’s called preschool than if it’s called playgroup or day care… but really kids under 3 are operating at a different developmental level than a truly preschool age child, and would be better served by an age appropriate, play-based program.