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.