Entering preschool is an important developmental milestone for children and their parents. When you think about it, preschool is a child’s first introduction to a school setting. Naturally, parents want to find the right school for their 3- and 4-year-old children. If you’re looking for a preschool that meets the needs of your child and family, some preparation on your part can help you in your search.
Determine your child’s readiness for preschool
How old is your child? What’s his or her stage of development? Ask schools about their entrance age for children; some may accept children only when they’re at least 3 years old. Some preschools request that all children be toilet-trained and ready to be apart from a parent. Others are more adaptable and willing to work with parents and children in these areas.
Some preschools will offer varying program options and schedules, such as two- or five-day weeks or half- or full-day classes.
Create a list outlining the factors that are important to you
Decide what factors are priorities in your search for a preschool. Price is often one of these important factors for parents. According to one source, Private School Review, the average private preschool tuition in Maryland is about $10,898 per year as of 2021 figures. Check with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to determine whether your family is eligible for financial assistance to help pay for preschool.
Also consider distance from your home to the preschool. Driving across town to drop off your child and pick him up four hours later may not be convenient for your needs. Working parents will want a preschool that offers extended-day care, year-round education or meal programs.
Understand the school’s educational philosophy
Preschools generally operate under specific educational philosophies (see more details below). When evaluating the educational options for preschools, think about your child’s interests and what you want from the preschool experience for your child. How do you want your child to be introduced to the concept of going to school? How does your child learn best?
Don’t let wait lists discourage you
When you’re applying to a preschool for your child for the first time, you may be tempted to turn away from schools with waiting lists. Parents often misunderstand the purpose of these waiting lists and think they have to do with when families apply.
Preschools factor many criteria into their waiting lists. Some want a balance in gender and ages. Others want to promote diversity and multiculturalism.
Don’t get discouraged if your desired preschool has a waiting list. Stay in touch with the schools you’ve identified as a new school year approaches. You never know when an opening may appear
Request a tour, if possible, and ask for a parent reference
COVID-19 concerns may not permit in-person school tours, but virtual options may be available. Regardless of how you’re experiencing the school, consider the classroom environment. Does it look like a fun, stimulating place to be? Is the school’s facilities clean and well-kept?
Ask for references from current parents of preschoolers. Ask them to describe their impressions of the school experience.
Study the teacher-to-student ratios at the school
Early childhood experts recommend that one trained adult should not care for more than six to 10 preschoolers, per information from the Administration for Children & Families and the Office of Child Care. Despite what the recommended teacher-to-student ratios may be, know that not every child may benefit from this arrangement. Think about your child and how he or she may function best. Can she communicate her wants and needs? Will he benefit from having access to more teachers?
Think about volunteering
All preschool budgets are not created equal. Some schools may not have large budgets and rely on parent volunteers for support. When you’re evaluating preschool choices for your child, think about what abilities and skills you’d be able to contribute. Do you have flexibility in your schedule to help with special projects or activities at the school?
Consider preschool co-ops
You may have heard the term “preschool co-op” before, but how much do you know about them? According to the Parent Cooperative Preschools International, “A parent cooperative preschool is organized by a group of families with similar philosophies who hire a talented teacher to provide their children with a quality preschool experience.” The parents themselves administer and maintain the preschool. Each family participates in the business operation of the preschool, and parents contribute their skills and talents to enrich the preschool’s curriculum.
Preschools can be private, religious or secular, and they can be located in private facilities or public buildings. Some operate under specific educational philosophies.
Cooperative preschools require parents to be involved in the classroom. Parents serve as either teacher assistants for a few days per month, or they can help with administrative tasks.
Full-day programs (also known as day care) are housed in either an individual provider’s home or a dedicated child care center.
Full-year preschools offer year-round, full-day programs. Some feature ongoing enrollment throughout the year.
Lab schools are those that maintain affiliations with either high schools or colleges. Student teachers provide the instruction. Some lab schools may also incorporate research studies focusing on early education into their programs.
Montessori schools take the approach that children learn best when they use direct sensory experiences, such as playing with blocks. Teachers manage the environment, but children move from activity to activity.
Waldorf schools provide plenty of opportunities for children to participate in creative, dramatic play. Waldorf schools also introduce children to hands-on activities. The focus is helping children develop full use of their senses.