8 Simple Steps for Finding Your Perfect Preschool
by Sarah Bradford
Although I was a Pre-K teacher before becoming a parent, the things I looked for in a school changed drastically after becoming a mom. Finding a school for my own two children took on a whole new level of importance and I approached it much like some might approach finding a mate. Instead of dating, however, I toured (and toured, and toured, and toured) until I found “The One” - my family’s preschool soul mate.
My children are now teenagers and I’ve spent almost twenty years as a preschool teacher and director. Here’s what I have learned: No school is right for every child, and there is no such thing as a one size fits all program. Every family’s soul mate school is different.
As you begin your preschool search, I suggest starting online. Visit school’s websites and social media pages to get a feel of their values, culture, and style. Next, use your network and see what other local parents have to say. Finally, schedule tours at as many schools as you feel you need to make the best decision for your family. As you begin your search, here are just a few things to consider:
Some families already know exactly which philosophy feels right for their family and others are still learning about all the options. Touring several types of schools, and bringing your child, is a good way to see what feels right for your family.
Each school offers its own schedule, with some allowing parents to customize their own plan, and others offering a set schedule based on the child’s age or stage of development. Finding a schedule that fits with your own family’s needs is important.
When touring, one of the most important things to consider is how you feel when you walk in the door. The children, teachers, and volunteers should be happy to be there, and it should feel warm and welcoming. Most importantly, is should feel like a place your child would want to spend their time. Preschool is the first of many, many years of school for our children, and it is so important the experience be a positive one! A preschool classroom should be specifically designed for the age and development of the children spending time in it. Chairs, tables, toilets, sinks, and materials might feel small to us grownups, but should be just right for the children. When visiting a classroom, I always kneel down and look at things from a child’s perspective. It’s interesting to see things from their vantage point.
Teachers and Ratio
Happy teachers make for happy schools and happy children, so it’s important to me that a school takes excellent care of their staff. In addition, I look for teachers who are highly qualified, passionate, and who love their job. Watching the teachers interact with their students can tell you a lot about the program. Often the teachers’ qualifications or bios are listed on the school’s website, but if not, it’s okay to ask about it when you are touring. The state of California sets very minimal standards for preschool teachers, so I want to know that the school has its own, more rigorous requirements. I also ask about the school’s teacher to child ratio. While California requires a ratio of 1 to 12 for preschoolers, many schools aim for significantly lower ratios as it allows for more interaction, supervision, activities, and personal attention in the classroom. (Ratio requirements are different for infant, toddler, and school age children)
It’s important to make sure that the school’s philosophy on parent involvement jives with what you are looking for. I very much wanted to volunteer, so finding a school that allowed and encouraged this was important to me. If you don’t want to volunteer, it’s a good idea to make sure the school doesn’t require it.
Again, this information can usually be found on the school’s website prior to touring, but finding out if the school is within your personal budget is important when making your decision. In addition to tuition, ask what other fees are expected of families, such as an enrollment fee, registration fee, supply fee, materials fee, required fundraising, etc. If you find a school that is your soul mate, but is out of your budget, it is always worth asking if they have a scholarship program, or if they can refer you to a school with a similar philosophy and style, but with lower tuition.
Most preschools in California are required to be licensed by Community Care Licensing. I always suggest that parents check a school’s licensing history to see if they have any serious violations or things that would raise concerns. In Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, parents can call the Oakland Community Care Licensing office at (510) 622-2602 to check on a school’s licensing history, or use the online facility search tool found here: https://secure.dss.ca.gov/CareFacilitySearch/Search/ChildCare.
If you’ve fallen in love with a school, or think that you might, make sure to get the registration information before leaving. Find out if the school registers year-round or if they have a set registration date and time. Also make sure you know who to contact if you have further questions.
I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child, and I am forever grateful to the one I found when my own children started preschool. Parenting is often exhausting and lonely, and the relationships I formed with other preschool parents encouraged me on my hardest days, and made the great ones even better. As you find your soul mate preschool, I wish the same for you!
Sarah Bradford is the Director at Valley Parent Preschool in Danville, California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org