Things to Look for When Choosing a PreschoolMarch 14, 2019
Choosing your child’s first school can be both exciting and overwhelming. If your child has special needs, it’s especially important to thoroughly explore different options. As space is sometimes limited, it’s best to start researching early and apply to several programs.
There are several things to look for as you begin to visit preschools. According to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, look for the following:
Adults are talking to children in nurturing and encouraging ways. They address them by name, get down to their eye-level, listen and try to understand. A perfect example of this was a parent dropping off a recently potty-trained 3-year-old who wanted to wear his underwear backwards. The teacher understood that the little boy wanted to have the truck on the underwear in the front—where he could see it. And it wasn’t an issue.
Teachers focus on helping—not punishing—children who are behaving inappropriately. Good teachers help preschoolers develop social and emotional skills and self-regulation, with consistent routines, and strategies such as timers for turn-taking, and games for times a child needs to be physical.
Classrooms are joyful and fun. Teachers need to continually provide new activities and challenges in an environment focused on play.
Children are active. Artwork should cover walls, children should get lots of outdoor time, and they should not expected to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Staff seem happy and are supported. It’s ok to ask about teacher turnover, and availability of regular professional development and planning time for teachers. Do they seem happy and excited—or bored? Teachers can make or break a child’s experience, so go with your instincts. If you feel good about the teachers, your child likely will as well.
Once you have arranged to visit a school, asking questions can further help you assess the program and decide. Call in advance to arrange a tour and try to schedule a follow-up visit with your child to see how he/she reacts to the school. Below are some suggested questions to ask and points to consider, from pbs.org’s pbsparents:
Ask yourself “What kind of school environment am I looking for?” Do you picture your child in a busy, active place with lots of other children, or are you looking for a small, nurturing environment with just a few kids? What specific needs does your child have: toilet training, napping, socializing?
Consider if this school is a good fit for your child—and you. How will he do socially in this environment? How does the school fit with your child’s disability, unique needs, strengths and personality?
Spend time observing. During tours, watch silently in the classroom and observe the interactions.
What is the educational philosophy? Some philosophies are play-based, some introduce reading and math earlier than others, and many schools incorporate multiple philosophies.
How large are the classes and what is the teacher-child ratio? The important thing to consider is how your child’s needs and your own will be met by this equation.
What is the look and feel of the school? Does it feel warm and inviting? Is it clean and organized, or messy and chaotic? Do they have a gym or play yard? How often do they use it? Is there a separate room for Speech, OT, PT and Psychologist services?
Is the atmosphere exciting? Do students seem happy? Do the teachers seem like they enjoy teaching here?
What kinds of activities are children doing? Are the projects controlled or open-ended, enabling children to do many different things with the same materials?
What is the focus on reading? Ask if it focuses on teaching early literacy skills and at what age. Does this approach seem right for you and your child?
Are children working all together or individually? Is everyone doing the same project or activity at the same time? Are individual interests being accommodated?
Organization. Are the classrooms organized? For children with Sensory Processing Disorder, are there visual and auditory organizers such as wall charts, schedules and timers to help minimize over- or under-stimulation?
How much do the children play? Both boys and girls need room to run around and time to do it, with plenty of opportunity for imaginative play.
How do parents get involved in the school? Is there an active parent’s organization? Can parents volunteer in the classroom?
How is information communicated to parents? Is there a newsletter? Can you e-mail the teachers?
How does the school address social-emotional issues? How does the staff help children resolve conflicts? How are issues like hitting, throwing, and biting addressed?
Food and mealtime. Where do students eat? In a classroom or lunchroom? How does the school handle special dietary requirements and how are food allergies handled?
What are the discipline policies? Are children punished for inappropriate behaviors? Ask for details about their discipline policies.
Is this school accredited? Public schools need to meet state and district requirements. Private schools get additional accreditation from organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)and the National Association of Independent Schools. Accreditation standards vary, and some schools may meet standards without being accredited by outside organizations.
Specialists and therapies. What therapists visit the school and how often? Does the school have regular access to Speech Therapists, OTs, PTs and Psychologists? Does the school offer adaptive physical education? If your child has difficulties with speech and language, ask what method the school will use for communication. Do they have access to assistive technology? Are any extracurricular activities open to special needs students?
Paraprofessionals. If your child is going to need a para, ask what training is given to him/her. Will your child get the same para each day? Will the para be with your child at recess and lunch?
Request a copy of the class schedule. How is the day structured? Is it the right fit for your child’s intellectual, emotional and physical needs?
What are the medical policies? Is there a nurse on site full time? How are medications handled? How does the school handle injuries or illnesses? Can kids come to school with a cold but not a fever?
Is the space safe? Is it up to code? What evacuation plans are in place?
Can you get references from other parents whose children go to the school? If you haven’t been personally recommended, ask for some numbers of other parents who might answer more specific questions.
While there are many factors to consider when selecting a preschool, with some diligent exploration you’ll be able to find the right setting for your child—a nurturing yet stimulating environment that will positively shape his/her orientation toward learning for many years ahead. If you have any questions about your child’s development, reach out to us! You can call 516-731-5588 or contact us by email.
Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.
Child Mind Institute, childmind.org