There can be nothing more daunting these days than finding the right pre-school. Times have changed and sadly education has become very competitive. You may think you are relaxed about the whole admission process but the deadline does eventually creep up on you. As a parent, we want the best for our child so what is the best for them? What could work for some parents, may not work for you. The pressure to get it right for your child is real, so please have a look at these tips to help you decide which is the best pre-school for your child.
1. Start your search early!
As I mentioned, the admission deadline creeps up on you so its best to have a look at some schools throughout the academic year before you want to enrol your child.
2. Arrange for a tour around the school
A lot of schools have an open house day where they show you around the school and go through the school philosophy and admission process. If you can’t make an open day, try contacting the school and see if they will give you a private tour. It is best to do a tour of the school when it is full of children and not during the holidays. You want to see classes in session and how the school functions in general. Take a notebook with you and a list of questions that you would like answered.
3. Add yourself to the waiting list
Many schools (yes, even pre-schools!) have waiting lists these days. If you like a school, put your child down on the waiting list. If you find something better, you can always remove your child from the previous schools waiting list. It is always a good idea to have a backup, just in case.
4. Get recommendations from fellow parents
There is nothing better than a personal recommendation. Ask around and see which schools your friends have chosen and why. Talk to parents that have children enrolled at the school your looking at and ask them for feedback on the school.
5. Know how often and for how long you would like your child to go to school
Children usually attend preschool for around two years between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years old. Often, preschools run half-day programs for about four hours each day of the week. Some preschools have full-day programs and some half-day programs offer after-school care or day care. It is important that you are clear on the exact hours you want your child to go to school.
6. Look at distance
There may be a fantastic school that you really like but it is the other side of the city. Do you want your child travelling long distances each day? This can exhaust them further after their already super active day. Try and look for something which is not too far from home. That way, it is easy to get your child to and from school and easy for you to get there quickly if need be.
7. Look to see if the pre-school is well run
• Look at the quality of children’s relationships with the staff. Do the staff treat the children with respect and warmth? Pay close attention to the language used both inside and outside the classroom and the friendliness of the staff. Observe a few different classrooms while school is in session to see how the teachers interact with the children.
• Good connections and communication between school and home is very important. Preschools that have high family involvement are often the schools with the strongest programs. When families are involved, children do better, teachers feel supported and everyone works together for the children’s learning and development.
• High-quality preschools have structure: They follow a specific philosophy or model and have specific guidelines for addressing challenging behaviour.
8. Look for signs that a preschool program is not well-run
• Be cautious of programs that do not utilise a consistent, research-based curriculum.
• Be cautious of programs that only emphasise reactive strategies (such as punishment) for challenging behaviour without describing what will be done to help the children learn new skills to replace inappropriate behaviour.
• Are the teachers passionate about what they do? Do teachers have the proper training, certification and support to implement the educational approach and/or curriculum being used by the school?
• Look at retention of staff. A high turnover is never a good sign. Teachers need to be happy in order to teach their pupils. If the staff are not content and keep leaving then this is a disadvantage for the school and can disrupt your child’s learning and development.
• Children need space to play and engage in gross motor activities. Notice if the classroom feels cramped, dirty, dark or unorganised. Preschool classrooms should be of an adequate size.
9. Know the recommended adult-to-child ratios
It is recommended that infant groups should be no larger than 12 children with an adult-to-child ratio of 1:4. Preschool classroom groups should not be larger than 20 and the adult-to-child ratio should not exceed 1:10.
10. Make sure the pre-school is upto date with health and safety
• What does the school do if a child has an accident?
• Are the staff qualified/or know how to perform first aid?
• Are there security cameras?
• Are there security staff?
• What is the handing over/pickup process like?
• What is the schools policy on illness?
These are all questions you should be asking the school as it is important your child is in a safe and secure environment. Accidents inevitably happen, but the school should be qualified in dealing with them in the appropriate manner.
11. Trust your instincts
General requirements will narrow down your search for a pre-school but at the end of the day, you will need to choose a school that fits well with your child and your family. A lot of parents say they “get the feeling” or “they just know” when they enter the right school. You need to choose a school that ties in with your family values and ultimately a place where your child be happy.
Don’t fall under the pressure of sending your child to the school that is the most popular – send your child to the school that you all LOVE.
You may not think that those few years of pre-school will make much of a difference to your child but you would be surprised. Pre-school years are extremely important years of your child’s life. If you pick the right school, you are giving your child a good foundation for learning and growing, mentally and physically. If your child is happy and developing well at this stage, they will happily transition to “big school”.