Fall is that season when work conversations abound with talks about someone’s child starting a new preschool. While parents share their first impressions, this can also be an intimidating period for new parents yet to make the decision. How do you decipher fact from fiction? As a PEPS leader and a preschool owner, I have come up with some general guidelines to help new parents navigate this decision:

1) Safety and quality

We all know that the #1 thing to look for when we buy a new house is a safe neighborhood. Preschools must go several steps beyond that. The extent to which each school goes to implement precautions, speaks to the concern it has for the safety of your child. Scan the walls for Smoke and Carbon-monoxide detectors. Look at the main door inside and outside – does it have alarms set up for unexpected visitors?

Quality has as many experts as there are ways to provide quality. For example, you can’t inspect every apple your child is going to eat, so how can you judge whether the claims made about organic food are truly genuine? One way to approach this research is by looking at other ways the preschool is approaching quality.

Ask yourself:

  • Are the toys the school uses quality ones or ones made from cheap/toxic plastic?

  • How is the food prepared?

  • What kind of playground equipment does the school use?​

​​Pay attention to the quality and watch for signs when something does not fit well with the rest of the promise.

2) Philosophy and teaching st‌yles

The important question parents sometimes forget to research is: “how those different philosophies are taught?” Teacher’s background ultimately might have a bigger impact than the type of philosophy or training the school’s managers have undergone. Some schools might even hire teachers without training in the school’s prescribed philosophy.

Paying attention to the effective teacher / student ratio is even more important. Larger schools might have an attractive adult / student ratio, but only teacher aids attend to individual students. If you are considering a larger preschool, make sure to observe the class.

Finally, make sure to leave your child for a brief encounter with the prospect teacher. Ask the teacher what they think about your child, and pay a close attention to the words they use. This is the kind of communication you will be getting down the road, so watch out for Red Flags now.

3) Think about logistics

We all start looking for a preschool near our home or work. And if you work full-time, little details matter. Is the school a couple miles from your work, but is out of the way? Will every unexpected red light or school bus stop create added stress as you rush to get to work on time. Make a few test drives at different times of the day.

Schedules of professional parents tend to be unpredictable. You might be held up for a few minutes in a meeting. While both you and the school would probably like to avoid this, such events do happen. The question is then how are you going to be treated. Ask school administrators about all the likely scenarios that you might encounter at your current job.

4) Tuition

Raising children in today’s ultra competitive world is expensive. One mistake parents often make is focusing on money early on in exploring a new program. When I receive an email with the very first question asking me about tuition, I am forced to reject the enquiry. Unfortunately new parents often underestimate how closely we–preschool teachers–bond with our enrolled families. To start the conversation with the price feels disrespectful. Every preschool is going to provide some quoted cost. That should give you a rough idea. For specifics related to your specific schedule, meet the teachers first

Featured Photo Courtesy: Photo by Travis Seera from Pexels