I have three boys, my eldest son is now 6 years old. He attended a pre-k program in our area and I have my 3 and a half-year-old currently enrolled in a preschool program as well. Here are questions to ask and observations for you to make when interviewing preschool programs for your child.
1. Know What You Are Looking For! Prior to interviewing schools, know at least a little bit of what you are looking for. Large or small school? Public or Private (or do you care?), philosophy (there are so many out there), etc. If you haven’t much of an idea of what you are looking for, keep in mind that intuition is key. If you don’t get a good feeling about a certain school or it’s teachers, it’s probably not the place for you.
2. Atmosphere: Take a look around the room. How much space do the children have to move and play? Are the toys age-appropriate and varied? Is there art work on the walls? Is it safe? When I was visiting local preschools for my first son I knew almost immediately if a school was just simply not for us by looking at my surroundings. If there was little room, a ragged, worn and dirty area, little art work produced by the children in view, and not a good amount of varied toys, I didn’t go much further in my interview process.
3. Turn-Over Rate: I personally find the turn-over rate of any school to be very telling on how happy a teacher may be. If there is a lot of turn-over rate and the school has a new teacher almost every year, I question how pleased these teachers are at this particular school. If, on the other hand, there is very little turn-over rate, I make the assumption that the teachers are happy in their positions. For many, happiness helps you get out of bed in the morning looking forward to another day. Unhappiness in your job makes you drag your feet and can absolutely seep into the classroom where our children will be. I much prefer people teaching my children when they love their job!
4. Teacher to Child Ratio: Each state has a student to teacher ratio that cannot be exceeded, so classrooms can fill up rather quickly if they are in high demand. Some schools have the maximum number of children that are legally allowed to attend their school based on the number of teachers in their classroom. Other schools have very small classrooms, perhaps even just a few children. Would you prefer a classroom of five or 25?
5. Level of Curriculum vs. Free Play/Child-Lead Learning: As stated above, you may interview five potential schools for your child and each one may have a different philosophy on teaching your child. There’s child-lead learning where your child will choose his/her own toy, book, puzzle, etc. throughout the day and the teacher asks questions/facilitates learning with what your child has chosen. There are schools that have a set curriculum where on any given month they are working on particular colors, numbers, letters, etc. and form art projects and such around these skills. There are combinations of both these methods. Do you want a circle time with songs, weather, stories, etc? Ask if they do this – not every school does. What’s the ratio of curriculum to free play? And what are you personally looking for? Does this school go on field trips? If so, do you want your child on field trips or would you prefer them to stay in the school at all times? Take a look at the playground. You’ll find that the school’s philosophy often even seeps onto the playground. Some playgrounds have many gym structures with swings, slides, monkey bars, etc. Some schools have sandboxes for the children to play in.
Other schools go back to nature and have absolutely no man-made play structures but instead use an open space (is there a gate for safety?) for the children to play socially with one another in games such as tag and duck-duck-goose. You may find with these schools that they have their own gardens where the children help tend to flowers and vegetables as a hands-on learning experience.
6. Safety: Is the school safe? A pretty open question, I know, but ask and look around. Are there background checks on the teachers? What policy do they hold for other people picking up your child? Do you have to ring a bell to get in a locked door or can anyone get into the building while school is in session?
7. Drop-Off and Pick Up Policies: Do you drop off your child in a car-line and have a teacher bring them indoors or do you park, get out of your car, and bring them in yourself? Parents differ on what they’d like to see. I have done both these methods. Bringing my child into school was something I enjoyed because I could see him in action for a few minutes with his friends and in the school environment before I left him for a few hours. I do have two other children as well, so it’s also nice to have a drop-off line where I don’t have to get out of my car with all three children. Because of the differing personalities of our younger children, I’d also advise you to learn how strict they are with their policies. If you have a child that is extremely timid and has never been in a school setting before and happens to have transitional difficulties, is the school willing to work with you on this and allow for you to find another method (perhaps bringing him in for a week or so) or must you continue in the current situation?
For some of us, our children attend daycare either part-time or full-time and have the experience of being away from us during the day. For others, this will be our child’s first time away from us on a regular basis. Either way, we always want the best for our children and most certainly want a school that we feel comfortable sending our children to. The above list will help aid you in choosing a school that fits your family.