By Brittany Carlson
My oldest son starts preschool in two weeks. I’m feeling excited for him, and a little nervous, but nowhere near as nervous as I was when trying to pick out a preschool.
The pressure to pick the right preschool can be intense. There are so many preschool options today, each with different philosophies and focuses: Montessori, Waldorf, play-based, language immersion and international schools, to name a few. Then, there’s the cultural pressure that wherever a child attends preschool affects his or her chances of success for life.
To add to that, my husband and I had to pick out this preschool months ago, while we were still living in another state. It was nerve-wracking.
However, I believe the best preschool isn’t necessarily the most expensive or most popular school, but one that reinforces your family’s priorities and values and fits your child’s personality.
Here are some factors to consider as you navigate choosing the right preschool for your child:
Cost and location
Preschool costs can range from low cost (homeschooling) to eyebrow-raising. For example, the popular Montessori schools can cost more than $14,000 per year, according to a 2009-2010 NAMTA survey of North American Montessori schools (www.montessori-namta.org). You also have to factor in the transportation cost of going back and forth to school (twice) each day. We wanted something affordable that was close to home, which helped narrow down our search.
Your child’s personality
My son is a natural introvert and needs plenty of time to process new things, so I looked for a preschool that would allow him to start off slowly (three days a week, three hours a day) with the option to add more days a week when he is ready. I also looked for play-based learning schedules with lots of outdoor play time, since Adam can only sit and focus on learning something new for about 10-15 minutes at a time.
Ask yourself: What are your goals for this year? Are you looking for specific academic programming? Do you want your child to focus on learning to read? Learning a second language? Classroom etiquette? Learning to share? Thinking about these questions helped us to narrow down our search.
When you’re researching preschools, check out each school’s mission statement on their website, or call to ask. Do teachers emphasize the values you want to instill in your child? We wanted to give Adam a faith-based curriculum that includes Christian values and Bible stories, so a church-based preschool was a natural fit.
The tour test
In spite of all of our advance research, it wasn’t until my family took a tour of Adam’s new school that we really had a peace of mind about sending him off for the first time. Listening to his teachers talk about how excited they were to teach, and seeing Adam get excited about classroom activities really helped us solidify our choice.
In fact, kindergarten and pre-K teacher Mary Catherine writes that one of the best ways to select the best preschool for your child is to take a tour of several schools, paying special attention to how the staff interact with children, the classroom environment, class schedules and expectations for classroom behavior (found on Catherine’s blog site, Fun-A-Day).
Similarly, an article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (How to Pick a Preschool by Suzanne Bouffard) notes that while touring a preschool, parents should focus on the way teachers speak to students, how teachers manage misbehavior, the classroom atmosphere and how active children are throughout the day.
After visiting Adam’s new school, I feel confident that we chose the right school for our son. It just matches with the priorities we have for this year: giving Adam a place to socialize and make friends, teaching him classroom etiquette, and reinforcing in him the values we teach at home.
My hope is that other parents like us won’t let the pressure to pick the “right” preschool prevent them from picking the preschool that is right for them.
*name changed for privacy
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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