The new school year is almost upon us – I’m sure many parents have been busily beavering away for months, trying to find a Preschool that will best suit their child’s needs and support their integration into a long, and hopefully successful, schooling journey.
By now, you may have made contact with a number of preschools in your local area and made initial inquiries; perhaps you’ve undertaken some visits and even enrolled your child in a particular center. Fear not, these questions will still help you get a better feel for what your child will expect at your chosen preschool.
Most preschools these days have a website where you can read policies and get general information about costs, hours and answers to important questions like ‘what happens if a child is sick’.
What is important to another person may be less important to you, so reading policies will help you formulate your own questions to ask.
Obviously, the most important thing a prospective student’s parent can do is drop into the center and take a ‘gut check’ of the place. Your instincts are going to guide you well and you should trust them; if something doesn’t feel right, there is probably a good reason for that and it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what it is.
Observe what is happening in the center. Especially if you’ve just dropped in out of the blue, you will see the staff in everyday activities , which will mean you’ll get a more realistic picture of an ordinary day.
Take note of the surroundings and ensure you ask yourself each of the following ten questions:
- Would you feel comfortable for this staff team to be caring for your child?
- How the staff handle upset children, hurt children or any conflicts between children is critically important. They should remain confident and nurturing at all times.
- Are the available toys of a sufficient quantity and quality to cater for all the children?
- Are the toys and the general environment kept clean?
- Much like at a restaurant, the general cleanliness of the center will help you infer their attention to detail in other areas as well.
- Consider the body language of the staff; are they comfortable and at-ease? Are they having fun? Or are they stressed and distracted?
- If hats are worn, are the staff wearing sun appropriate clothing (as is expected of the children)?
- If they are, this is a good sign that they believe in setting a positive example.
- How is the general atmosphere and mood of the environment? Are the children busy playing? Are the staff interacting with them? Do you see a large number of children crying?
- A positive environment is one in which the children are free to enjoy themselves, with sufficient supervision in which the educators are interacting and guiding the children’s learning.
- How do the staff talk to each other and to the children?
- Are they respectful? Your child will take a lot of their behavioral cues from how the staff act.
- How do the children talk to each other?
- Do they exercise mutual respect and inclusivity?
- Were you greeted warmly, or seen as an unwelcome distraction?
- Did you get an overall impression that the center was well-organized and effectively operated?
- A well-run preschool will be a calm, relaxed environment that nurtures learning.
If you feel like the above observations are not up to your expectations, this may indicate that this is not the center for you and your child. Make a convenient time to return for a one-on-one chat, so you can ask questions of the staff. Of course, it’s important to appreciate that during their work days educators are going to be very busy interacting with and supervising children so will be unable to spend a large amount of time with you.
Nonetheless, come prepared with a few additional questions that will provide an additional basis for comparison – and ultimately have an impact upon your child’s learning experience there.
At the very least, I would suggest asking them:
- How can parents be involved in the preschool classes and life?
- How long have the staff been working at the preschool?
- In general, the longer, the better – it’s a positive indicator that they like being there and are invested in the children and the school community.
- What are the center’s child to staff ratio and accreditation rating (if applicable)?
- These are merely instructive indicators. Far more important is the experience, relationships, interactions and commitment of the educators and other staff.
- In the same way, while an accreditation rating might tell you which centers are performing to expectations, there are many other, less quantifiable, factors that should be considered in conjunction with that rating.
- Any questions specific to you, your child and your family situation.
- For example, you might consider asking about how well the center is set up to handle specific dietary needs or Epipen administration if your child has an allergy. Perhaps you would need to know the preschool’s policy in relation to court orders and custodial arrangements.
That’s surely a lot to think about, but preschool is one of the most important years of a person’s life – so you do want to make sure you give your child the best chance possible for a positive start.