My daughter turned 3 in March. Up until now she has been going to a family daycare. I had no intention of changing from where she is at, but I have realized that she isn’t being challenged enough. It’s a more casual homelike environment, play based, but not structured like a traditional preschool. This worked out great when she was younger, but it’s time to move on.
Boy, has this preschool search been an eye opening, “I’m not prepared at all” experience. I wanted to share this with you in hopes that when you are ready to start looking you ARE prepared and not scrambling like I’ve been over the past few weeks. Now be warned this is a LONG blog post, so exit now if you wish, but it’ll give you the tools and right questions to ask when the time comes.
I’ve prepared a free downloadable questionaire for you to print out when you visit schools so you don't have to scramble looking for this post. I wish I had this list when I started!
When to begin looking?
Now. Seriously, I thought I was ahead of schedule for a September start, turns out many, and I mean many preschools do their enrollment in January! Yes, January, 9 full months ahead! Here I am in April/May realizing that I’m late and many preschools are fully booked.
Don’t despair, many fully booked preschools have a waiting list. Ask how many parents are on the list. If only 1 or 2 parents are on the list, you’ll have a better chance of getting in. If it’s a long list, don’t even bother. What if you’re just having a baby? Start informing yourself before the baby is born. Some day cares/nurseries have up to 2 year waiting list!
What’s the difference between a daycare, nursery, and preschool?
A daycare is a childcare option, usually for children as young as 6 weeks old to as old as thirteen. Daycares can be more convenient because they can offer extended hours, a full year calendar vs a school calendar, and possibly a more home environment feeling. Daycare workers may not need to have formal education in early childhood.
A nursery school typically accepts children around 3 years of age and older and is similar to a preschool. They have a more education focused program. Many people use the words interchangeably. However, some nursery schools do accept younger children, where preschools typically do not.
Once you decide what your preference is, what to ask?
There’s a lot you want to ask. The more informed you are the better equipped you will be and you won’t experience any unexpected surprises or fees! Here’s my list.
Start With Credentials
1. What are the preschool’s credentials?
Are they certified? Do they have any listed complaints? Do your homework, find reviews, and get as much information about the preschool as possible. My sneak move, find out what time school's over and just happen to show up at the preschool. Find a relaxed parent, introduce yourself and simply ask them what they think about the school. Of course, tell them you're thinking about signing your child up so you don't seem "stalkerish." And don't do it in the morning when everyone is stressed on their way to work.
2. What are the teacher’s/caretaker’s credentials?
How long have they been teaching. For me this was very important. I wanted teachers that had degrees in early childhood education not some random whatever degree. If the teachers are new, investigate why they have only been there a year or two. A high turnover rate may mean the teachers are unhappy in their work environment and can be a red flag.
1. What is the school’s teaching style?
Some preschools are more play based others are more education driven. What’s important to you?
2. What programs are included?
Do they teach art, music, foreign language, yoga? It was very important for me to find a preschool that taught music and Spanish that didn’t cost a fortune. Ask for a weekly schedule. What’s on your must list? What are you willing to compromise?
3. How does the school accommodate students with special needs?
If your child requires any sort of therapy can the therapist come to the school? Do they have their own on site special needs workers?
4. What is the ratio of students per teacher?
What is the maximum amount of students allowed in a class? Large classes and large ratios of students to teachers may mean that your child will not get as much one on one attention as you'd like.
5. Does the child need to be potty trained?
Do they make exceptions for nap time? This is a big one parents! Many preschools will require your child to be fully potty trained before they begin the school year. Victoria is potty trained except during nap times, so I'm having a mini panic attack, but as I was assured 4 months is a long time in a child's development. We have four months!
6. How does the school handle discipline?
This is important. You don't want the school to differ greatly from you but you also have to understand that there are boundaries. Talk to the school. Communicate what works for you, how you handle specific situations, you are the parent and you know your child best. Remember to communicate with your child too, the more you open the lines of communication the more your child will communicate about any issues at school.
7. Are there student evaluations, parent teacher conferences, if so when?
You want to be involved in your child's education. You don't have to be the parent at every school function if you don't want to, but make sure you are there for when it matters. Evaluations and parent teacher conferences are your opportunity to listen to see how your child is doing, progressing, how they are socially, and also your opportunity to voice any concern. There should be no surprises if you communicate regularly with the child's teacher.
8. What are your parent & child/classroom policies?
Can I just drop by? Is parent participation required/ encouraged? Some parents like the thought of being able to drop by whenever they'd like, maybe take their child out to lunch. Make sure that you know what is acceptable and what is the protocol for the school. If you would like to participate in any events make sure the school is ok with what you have in mind
Meals & Snacks
1. Is breakfast included?
If not does the child need to have breakfast prior to attending school?
2. Is lunch included?
If it is, ask to see a menu. It’s well known that foods in schools are not the healthiest. Ask what is required if you send your child food. Some preschools are very strict.
3. Are snacks provided? If so which ones?
4. How are food allergies dealt with? Victoria for example, has quite a few food allergies, so I have to make sure that we are very clear on procedures for children with food allergies.
5. Is there a nurse on staff?
Tuition & Application Process
1. How much is tuition?
Is there a payment plan? When is payment due?
2. How much are application & registration fees? They may be different.
3. Is a deposit required?
One school I went to required a $1500 Non Refundable deposit 10 months in advance! And they were fully booked, um can we say a little insane. Of course it also depends on where you live. I live in NYC so you can just imagine.
4. What happens if we move?
Is there a financial penalty? How far in advance must we let the school know?
5. Are there any additional fundraising, activities, or fees that I need to know about?
As I was surprised to find out, some preschools are just like schools and you may have to do fundraising like selling chocolate, gift wrapping paper, or even raffle tickets. Ask so you are clear of any additional fees.
6. Does my child need to be interviewed during application process?
Yup. Some preschools may want to "interview" your child. Maybe they want to see if they'd be a good fit for their school. I was surprised and Victoria went on two "interviews." They simply talked to her small talk and engaged with her.
7. What are your regular school hours?
This is important as some schools require that you pay additional for early drop off or after school care.
8. Do I have to pay for additional after school hours? How much?
I told you it was going to be a lot of information! But now you are informed, better prepared and armed to face any preschool, nursery school, or daycare. I have created a special Free downloadable Preschool Questionnaire for you to have during your preschool search. You can download it here or click on the image below.
Good luck parents! Remember start early. It is my sincerest hope that you find a great facility that will look after and educate your child with great care takers. We found a very nice preschool, but we're waiting to see if Victoria is officially in, we'll see how it goes!
Think I missed something important in my list? Let me know in the comments so I can add it. It takes a village and we all need all the help we can get :)