Diego is going to school! Not quite yet, but it’s coming soon! We started touring schools at the end of last year. I had no idea that we should start looking into schools while he is just one, but there can be up to year-long waitlists.
I shared my mommy panic via Instagram Stories and so many of you reached out feeling the same way and having the same questions. You can hear my entire experience choosing a preschool in this video, and below I’m sharing some questions that you should ask when touring a school. You don’t want to be like me when I toured the first school and after got in my car and realized I didn’t ask anything important! So I have created a preschool checklist for all of you searching.
While searching for answers, I decided to go straight someone on the other side for help. I called up my friend Molly Petchel, from award-winning preschool Bright Beginnings in Virginia. She was kind enough to share with us her advice AND the six questions every parent should ask at a preschool visit. Here is what she shared:
First, Be Crystal Clear About What You Require:
- Part or Full-Time
- Academic or Play Based
- Licensing & Regulations
- Amenities (such as days and hours of operation, suitable and convenient location)
This is where your friends come in for referrals and as well as some online sleuthing: look carefully at websites and reviews, Facebook posts especially behind the scenes program pics and explanations, wins in local magazine contests and fun promotions the school may be offering. Be very aware of your own personal deal breakers in a school.
Know The Different Educational Philosophies
This method focuses on each child as an individual learner and the teacher as the guide. There can be different ages in one classroom because they believe that students learn at their own pace. Children are encouraged to participate in hands on activity and responsibility.
The Reggio Emilia approach emphasizes problem solving through creativity. Similar to Montessori, the teacher gears projects towards the student’s interest and curiosities.
This approach is rooted in a consistent daily and weekly routine, that focuses on the emotional and intellectual state of the child. Often the same group of students are taught by one teacher for 8 years which incorporates group learning scenarios and a home-like environment.
Bank Street preschools regard the world to be the greatest teacher. They emphasize imagination and social sciences.
The High/Scope Approach allows the student to independently decide their materials and activities. It favors academic skill over social and gives a good amount of one-on-one attention.
What to Ask During A Visit
First off, we suggest asking open-ended questions and taking the time to observe the respondents’ answers. Do you feel rushed? Are your questions met with enthusiasm and respect? Does the tour giver take the time to listen more than speak? Is your child welcomed?
Here are 6 specific questions to ask:
1. Tell me about the teachers’ experience, education and training.
The most essential element in early childhood education is the relationship the child has with caring adults.
After all, you’ve spent all your time forming a close bond of trust with your baby and now it’s time to build upon this essential relationship. On your tour, ask about each teacher’s tenure-how long they have been working at the preschool? What is their background in education? Is each teacher at the preschool CPR and First Aid certified?
2. During a typical day, what percentage will my child be outside?
Best practices encourage children to be free to explore the natural world as much as possible including all ages and all weather. Research shows the benefits of outdoor play include physical fitness, lower stress, prevention of Type II diabetes, better vision, strong ability to solve problems creatively and developing age appropriate risk taking skills. How many hours a day are spent not only playing outdoors but doing fun, structured activities outdoors?
3. Tell me about the social interactions my child will have and the school goal regarding social development.
Here, you’ll want to hear that the school is play oriented, offers plenty of opportunities to explore feelings, solve problems and is quite confident in their behavior management philosophy. Take the time to research any “buzz words” you hear and don’t be intimidated by them. In fact, it’s appropriate to ask for clarification!
Current buzzwords: Outdoor Education, Free Range Parenting, Conscious Discipline, Tinkering Labs, Loose Parts, STEM and STEAM Curriculum and Organic Gardening and Farm to Table meals. Popular philosophies may be Developmentally Appropriate, Reggio Emilia, Responsive Classroom, Montessori, Waldorf or High Scope among others.
4. Tell me about the history of your school and the management philosophy.
This question is rarely asked and brings enormous insights to the manner in which the school is run. Will the teacher or director solve the inevitable problems and answer day-to-day questions, or will they need to consult a corporate entity? Does the school have a solid and long-term growth plan even if it’s simply adding onto the playground? Asking about staff turnover is a great question keeping in mind the industry standard is around 30% yearly turnover so find out what the school is doing to combat it.
Does the school treat the teachers as valued members of the team and celebrate wins and personal achievements? Schools that focus on healthy lifestyles for teachers including Fitbit contests, providing water bottles and encouraging wellness days show they truly care about their team.
5. What sets your school apart, makes it unique, and well-regarded?
Listen for unique opportunities for your child such as baby sign language, ballet or Spanish, cooking or soccer clubs as well as family events such as Parent’s Night Out, Breakfast with Santa or Mother’s Day Teas.
These days, many schools offer electronic day notes to parents. Family members can sign up and receive photo updates of their children throughout the day as well as reminders for Mom and Dad. Be sure to ask about how the preschool communicates to their parents!
6. Is the preschool you’re touring secure?
It’s a best practice for a preschools to always be locked, and for parents to have individual key cards to have access to the building. Does the school ask for a photo ID for anyone new who is picking up your child? Who is allowed on school grounds? Safety of the children should be the number one priority for any school that you tour.
It’s great that you elaborated on how a Waldorf-based philosophy gears more towards building an effective routine and fosters a home-like environment for learning. We’re moving to a different state because of a better job opportunity that my husband came across. I’d be sure to keep all of your tips in mind for when I start looking for a preschool for my child. Thanks a lot!
Thank you so much for reading the post! I hope the move goes great and that you guys find an amazing school. Have a great day!
Thank you for all the questions to ask a preschool. I really need to find a preschool for my son, but I don’t know how to find a good one. I really like your tip about asking about the teachers how long they have been working there, and what their background in education is. I would love to know their experience before I choose a place.
I completely agree! I was a little scared when I learned that you don’t need to have any education background to be a teacher. I hope you find an amazing school!
Yes!! I completely agree, it is also so important that you have a good connection with the teacher for you to feel comfortable. I hope you find a school that you love!
In selecting a preschool for our son, Max, my husband and I have been concerned about how to be certain we are choosing the best option. I appreciate you mentioning that the preschool you choose should be secure, parents having individual key cards to access the building and employees requesting a photo ID for anyone picking up your child. Thank you for the tips on how to choose the best preschool program!
Thank you so much for reading the post! I am so glad it was helpful!
I am looking for a preschool for my daughter and you make a great point that you should find out about the teachers’ experience and training. I definitely want to find a preschool that has teachers who are qualified and love their job. My daughter is a little bit shy, so I will make sure to find a preschool that has a friendly environment and that has a small student-to-teacher ratio so that she can get individualized attention.
I appreciate your comment about how a preschool should be located close to you. I also like how you said that they should be affordable as well. My husband and I are looking for a preschool for our twin daughters that fits within our budget.
I hope you find one soon! Thank you so much for reading the post!
Thanks for the tip about considering different educational philosophies when you are choosing a daycare. It would be good to consider these differences in order to find one that is best for you. My husband and I need a daycare for our son now that we both work, so we’ll have to consider their philosophy first.
Yes! I agree, every kid is different and so there will be some philosophies that will work better for you and him 🙂 Thank you for reading the post!
Thank you for pointing out that you need to be clear about if you need full, or part-time preschool. My daughter is getting to the age where I think preschool would be very beneficial for her. I’ll have to look into finding the best preschool for her in our area.
Hi Preschool had made such a difference in Diego! I highly recommend!
Thanks for the tip about finding out about preschool teachers before you choose one. It would make sense to find a place with qualified and experienced teachers for your children. My husband and I are looking for a preschool, so we’ll have to find out about their teachers first.
I like reading blogs about a variety of topics and sometimes I run into articles with titles like “X things to ask” or “best ways to do this or that,” only to find they’re rudimentary (or useless) and that anyone could have written them. This article was exceptional and contained the type of information every parent (or guardian) should have, not only for preschool, but for any school in general (particularly private). Even though I don’t have kids, I still get people asking me questions about things such as this. I am going to bookmark this page because it is excellent information to have.
The list of 6 questions to ask was helpful, but what caught my attention was the description of the different learning methods. I’ve heard about the Montessori method (in fact, I had a client who was pursuing a degree that focused on this method and explained it in detail to me). However, I never heard about the other methods such as Waldorf, Bank Street, etc. so this was enlightening.
I like what you said about asking if the preschool teachers are trained in first aid and CPR so you can feel a lot more confident in leaving your baby with them. I would imagine that toddlers can still sometimes put a lot of things in their mouths unintentionally, so the hazards of choking can be concerning. Having teachers that are trained in first aid, CPR, and the Heimlich maneuver can definitely make parents feel more at peace.
I liked your recommendation to ask about the history of the school. I never think about something like this, but I think that it can tell you a lot about the quality of education. It’s definitely something that we’ll be asking the various preschools we’ll be looking at.
I need to start looking for the perfect preschool for my daughter. It’s a good idea to go on a tour of the preschool first. I’ll have to remember all these questions. I especially like the suggestion of asking about social interaction. I want to make sure they are play oriented, like you said.
Thanks for sharing this excellent blog about preschool questions and the checklist that help us to find the better one.
Well written articles like yours renew my faith in today’s writers. You’ve written information I can finally agree on and use. Thank you for sharing such a nice information regarding choosing a preschool for a child.
Your advice to ask about the teachers’ experience, education, and training so that they can properly care for your child and provide quality services would be useful. While you ask questions on visit potential preschools, it might help to see if they’ll allow you to walk around while you talk. This could give you the chance to check the classrooms and get a feel for the environment and could even give you the opportunity to see the teachers working and interacting with the kids so you can figure a preschool that you’re comfortable with and trust the staff with your child’s care and education.
I really liked your suggestion to ask about the school’s history. I have never thought to ask this question when we started touring different preschools that we were considering. It would definitely tell us a lot about the quality of the institution.
I had no idea that so many preschools offer electronic day notes for parents. Locating the right preschool for your child is important for their early education. When my kid is old enough for preschool, I’ll be sure to find a preschool that is known for keeping parents in the loop.
Thanks for these tips on how to find a good preschool. I agree that you want to consider how long each teacher has tenure at the school to get a gauge for their experience. My husband and I are looking for a preschool, so we’ll have to check their teacher’s experience first.