How to choose a preschool

It’s that time of year again.  Time to think about schools.  If you have a toddler at home you are likely thinking of preschools.  I stressed about the whole preschool topic.  Where should I find one?  What do I need to know about them?  Which are the best ones?  Does it matter?  I thought I’d share my experience of searching for a preschool for my toddler.

The Calgary Preschool Teachers Association is a great resource of things to look for in a preschool.  Their starting steps are:

  1. Compile a list of schools
  2. Consider time and transportation
  3. Consider the school’s philosophy
  4. Call the school and Plan a visit

I started with the dilemma of location.  Do I choose one close to our house or close to our dayhome (time and transportation)?  Our dayhome is a 15 min drive from our house and it was chosen since we really like our provider.  But that meant thinking about where I wanted the preschool.  I ended up deciding that one close to the day home made sense for us since I would be picking her up and taking her to school and then after picking her up I would need to pick my son up from the day home as well.  You need to think about whether it’s more convenient closer to your home, work, daycare, day home, etc.

It helped that I knew people in the neighbourhood of the preschool near my provider.  I was able to ask people what they thought of the preschools and which ones they planned to attend.  I spoke with 4 different parents who liked A Child’s Garden which was the school we ended up choosing.  To me it made a difference that other parents were happy with it.  Be sure to ask them why.  One mom told me she picked the place for a couple reasons.  They might be reasons you haven’t thought of.  For example, she felt is was important to have a washroom very close for the kids.  She said she visited a school where the washroom was a long walk down the hall and knew her son would not make it in time if he suddenly had to go.  I hadn’t thought of this and so was happy that the washroom is just outside the classroom.

When I looked at a couple other places I found policies that didn’t work for us.  My daughter was still new at potty training when we started looking and one school would take them if they weren’t trained but you would have to come and get them if they soiled themselves since they wouldn’t change them.  For some people this might work but for my daughter I knew that it would embarrass her and likely sabotage our potty process as well as the fact that I would be at work.  The school I choose needed them to be potty trained but accidents do happen and we send a set of extra clothes in case they have one.  Check the potty training policies at the school you chose.  Some will require it and some won’t.

Most kids start preschool at 3 years of age but when I was looking there was a parented 2 year old program at Glenbrook Community Preschool.  This idea appealed to me as a nice ease into preschool but never worked with my work schedule.  There are also many types of programs out there such as Montessori but since I was looking more for a convenient location that worked in our schedule I can’t say that I really looked into the specific programs.

My daughter is born at the end of the year.  Therefore we continually waffle on the debate of when she’ll be ready for kindergarten.  I chose to put her in 2 day preschool last year to introduce her to it.  Next year we plan to put her in preschool again for a year this time 3 days a week.  2 days is a nice way to ease them into school but 3 days will prepare them for 5 day kindergarten.

Visit the school.  Ask if you can view the school while classes are on.  See how the teachers interacts with the kids.  The first day of preschool the teacher was so welcoming and gave the kids all hugs as they entered the class.  This made a difference for my daughter’s confidence.  Do the kids seem to like the teacher?  You’ll get a feeling for that almost immediately.  Take a look around the classroom.  What activities are there for the kids?  I knew I had found the right place as soon as I walked into ours.  They had little activity areas set up for pretty much every interest.  A train table, cars, club house, dress up area, play kitchen, craft tables, playdoh area, and reading area.  Ask what the schedule for the day is like.  My daughter’s preschool lets them come in and play with whatever they want until everyone arrives.  They then all sit on the carpet and listen to the teacher talk about the day events.  It was important to me that we find a preschool with a nice balance of free play and structure to prepare her for school.  I am always amazed at how much my daughter does at school in the whole 2 hours and 15 minutes that she is there!  I need her teacher to hang out with us during the day to fill the hours!  The kids usually do some type of craft or drawing, play at different stations, do some type of gym or outdoor time, have a snack and read stories.

Another thing you want to consider is parent volunteer time.  Do you have time to be involved with the school?  Is parent involvement in the school accepted or required?  For our school it is accepted but definitely not required which works for us since both my husband and I work.  The school asks for donations of snacks for the Christmas party, parents to come on any outings and provides us with an opportunity to buy scholastic books through them which in turn helps the school get some books for the classroom.  Some school require much more parent involvement which is something you may want.

Yet another thing to consider is the staff to student ratio and the staff turnover.  The school we go to had 16 kids to 2 teachers but some have larger class and some have more teachers.  When visiting you can get an idea for your comfort range of the number of kids for the size of room.  My daughter’s teacher has been teaching at the same place for 20+ years which was very comforting to us.  It’s important that the teachers like the environment at the school.

The one thing I did learn in the whole process of looking is that there is no need to stress.  It’s just preschool.  Yes we signed up early but there were a couple openings by the time school started so just because you miss early deadlines doesn’t mean your kid will never get into a school.  Do your homework, visit a couple places and then let your instincts take over and help you decide.  And then enjoy the little break you get when they start going to school knowing that they are having fun, making friends and learning so many new things!

Danielle is mom to a 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son and always looking for fun things to do with the kids.  She blogs over at fourdayshome.

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4 thoughts on “How to choose a preschool

  1. Thanks for this Danielle – this is exactly what we are struggling with.

    We are having a hard time since the kids are in a great dayhome, but she does not have the ability to get our daughter to a preschool. And both hubby’s and my work are not very accomodating in allowing for time to get her to and from.
    It is fusterating since we have to figure out everything now or we miss out on the good time spots. Arrggggghhh!

    Anyway – thanks!

  2. I agree, it’s important to pick a school you like. My boys are currently in a wonderful preschool, but it’s a little far from home. Next year, my oldest will go into Kindergarten, so I’ve switched preschools for my middle son to one that is very close to home!

  3. Jenny – that is frustrating! It’s too bad employers aren’t more understanding when it comes to these issues. We sometimes don’t have the fortune to live, work and play all in our own neighbourhood. I do hope you find something that works for you.

  4. Pingback: Month in review – February | Kids in Cowtown

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