A close friend just asked me for advice on how she could possibly choose the best preschool for her child. Here is my letter of advice to her. I hope it helps you too.
Wow, how time has flown! You must be so excited, and slightly nervous, that Ella is about to start preschool.
I know you feel like it’s a big decision – and it is – and one that you need to get right. I can promise you one thing: your decision will be the right one for both you and Ella. After all, you know your child better than anyone.
You will have spent so much time already researching which preschool to send Ella to. I wouldn’t be surprised if you are already researching elementary and high schools too! This is natural for a first-time preschool parent.
There are just so many choices these days – public, private, religious or home schooling.
You’re already on the right track by researching the available options. Read up on the preschool’s policies and philosophy, as well as their educational programs.
Ask your other friends and relatives in the area. Be alert for comments that you’ll hear, which might sound like: “Jack did really well at that preschool” or “Mary was really happy with sending Jack to this preschool”.
This may help guide you to a preschool where Ella will receive a well-rounded education. Anecdotal experiences are often the most honest way to find out about how people really experience being a part of a preschool.
Conduct online research into the schools you are considering. Look at the school’s focuses and reviews; not only in the quality of the teaching but the quality of the pastoral care and its level of involvement in the community.
A good idea is to attend information evenings – get a feel for the place, absorb the atmosphere for yourself.
Try to gauge if the staff get along with each other; if you sense friction, that’s a lot of energy that could be going into helping your child develop. Ask if the staff have been at the preschool for a number of years. If they have, that’s a really good sign of a harmonious environment for the children.
My formula is pretty simple but effective:
Happy teachers = Happy school = Happy kids = Lots of learning
Follow your gut: the first thing to consider; is this a place that Ella will have fun and be happy at?
Don’t forget to involve Ella in the decision making process; while obviously it’s your decision where she ends up, if she feels like she’s part of that decision then she will more actively look forward to her first day, confident that she isn’t being forced to go to a preschool that gives her a negative vibe.
We know her happiness is very important to enable her to learn and will have a lasting impact on her education.
Now for my advice that no one else will tell you: don’t stop there.
Ella’s education is of the utmost importance and will form the foundation for the rest of her life.
If there is only one thing you take away from this letter, it’s this:
Be involved with the preschool (and all her schooling)! This way, you will continually have an eye on what’s happening in Ella’s education and be in a position to make changes if they become necessary.
As a teacher I know that schools are always looking for helpers.
Consider the PTA, helping out in the cafeteria, in reading groups or as an excursion helper.
This way you will not only become a valued member of your school’s community, but you will be overseeing how the school is handling behavior and conflicts from the inside.
Choosing the ‘right’ preschool is not where this process ends. This is only the beginning.
You need to continue to invest time in Ella’s education throughout her life.
But don’t worry – you’re doing a great job.
It is a blessing on Ella’s life that you care about this decision so much.
P.S. Let me know when you have your shortlist of preschools together and I’ll give you my ideas on how to make the most of your preschool visits and what, specifically, to keep an eye out for.