Sunday, July 3, 2011

Guest Blog: The Preschool Problem – Part IV: What to Consider When Searching for Preschools

I’ve been searching for preschools this summer as my twins will be three come August. It’s been peachy, let me tell you. There are a lot of ways you can make this easier for everyone involved, though, with just a little foresight. Here are some things to take into consideration when looking at preschool options.


You wouldn’t think curriculum would vary much for three and four year olds, but it does. Some schools combine ages, so that your three year old could be in with two year olds, or four and five year olds. Some schools center around activities. Others use a true school curriculum, complete with worksheets and homework. Others are play-based. Still others combine a preschool idea with a more daycare-like setting. Determine which would be the best fit for your child, and cross the others off the list.


There are going to be times when kids act out. Whether your kid is the troublemaker or the victim, you’ll want to be sure you understand the steps the preschool will take to resolve the problem and that they’ll notify you of the incident in a way you deem acceptable. Some preschools send home a daily report, others are weekly, and still others don’t send home any notes at all unless something comes up. Most schools will tell you they “discipline positive,” which means they’ll explain to the offending child what she did and what she should do instead before redirecting her. This method is meant to bring out lessons in misbehavior, rather than focus on the misbehavior itself. You may want to see this in action by dropping by the school randomly. They should have no problem letting you in to observe at any time.


Where I live, the ratios commonly hit 10-15 kids per teacher in the 3-4 age range. If you’re looking for kid-on-kid socialization, or if your child is fairly independent, this may be ideal for you. If you are looking for a more intimate student to teacher ratio, where there will be time and energy for more one-on-one guidance and attention, there will be several schools that offer ratios much lower than this. The downside is that they are often more expensive for a fairly comparable program.


There are options for preschool that follow nearly every religion, the most popular being Montessori schools (at least in certain areas), which can be completely religiously based, or all-inclusive with a minimal emphasis on religious beliefs. There are also completely secular options. When choosing a school, try to look beyond your own beliefs, unless you’ve predetermined that this is the most important factor for you. Try to think in the long term, as well. If you think your child might benefit from a parochial education when she is older, the preschool designed by that philosophy will best prepare her for the future. If your child will be attending public school, the preschools put on by the state or town will be similar in curriculum and schedule to what she will experience later.


Preschools all have their own hours and schedules. Some offer both full time and part time (either two days a week, or five half days a week). Determine which schedule meets your needs best. If a school doesn’t offer those hours, and you can’t find a reasonable way to work around the hours they do offer, cross it off your list.


I know, I know, you can’t put a price tag on your child’s education, but at the preschool age, really, sometimes you have to. In this economy, money is not as free-flowing as it once was, and school isn’t cheap. Be sure to ask about the price tag that accompanies the education the schools on your list are offering because if you can’t afford it…well, you can’t afford it. Talk to the schools, though, before giving up entirely. Many have payment plans, tuition assistance, co-op style price deductions or discounts for siblings. Exhaust all your options before throwing in the towel.

I still haven’t decided on which school my babies will be attending. I have more tours to go on, and more questions to ask. It’s a long process, so you want to make sure you have time to do it right.

At least that’s what I’ve been learning…the hard way.

For more on my preschool saga:

Part I – Should you do it 

Part III – The Visits

Darlena is a former television journalist turned stay at home mom to her toddler twins. She writes a daily blog at Tales of an Unlikely Mother.

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