the preschool search
the preschool search
Applying to preschools is an exciting time. It is also often the first time that parents enter the world of education for their children. Whether you are a first-time parent or you are simply looking for a new preschool experience, you will benefit from establishing a game plan to help make the most of your time and direct your school-searching energy.
Each preschool and nursery school (terms are used interchangeably) can have a unique-to-them application process, so an established game plan will help you save time and make the most of your resources.
First Things First
Begin your process by creating a list of schools that you may want your child to attend. Start with a broad list of schools you've passed by, heard parents talking about at the playground, or found on your local listserv. Run a quick Google search of preschools in your area to learn of others you may have missed. Then hone in on the right schools by asking yourself questions from a few key buckets:
Be sure to choose a school whose location and accessibility fit your lifestyle.
Where is the school located relative to my home? Is it on my way to work/another drop off?
How will my child get to preschool each day? Will we walk? Drive?
Consider your child's birthday and a school's cutoff date. Preschools are often prohibited by law from accepting children whose birthdays fall after their licensed cutoff date. No amount of pleading or bribery will get a school to bend the rules (plenty have tried before you!). If your child has a birthday near a cutoff date (often September 1, or December 30) you may want to consider a preschool with a Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) or Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program that focuses more on handwriting, math skills, and social skills for older preschoolers.
Preschool offerings can range from programs 2 half-days per week to 5 full-days per week; some offer extended day options, some offer additional activities, some offer no extras at all. A few preschools have progressive programs that your child moves through from year to year and some offer the specialized aforementioned PK/TK class.
Include schools on your list that meet your family's learning and schedule needs.
How many/which days per week do these schools offer?
What are the preschool hours?
What are the extended day or additional program options?
Does the school offer a Pre-K program?
After considering this first batch of factors - most likely crossing a few schools off your list - it's time for a visit. I recommend attending both the Open House and an in-person tour. One lets you speak with the director, teachers, and current parents; the other gives you a live-look at a full classroom. Keep current COVID restrictions in mind and check with the school regarding their in-person tour and Open House dates and policies. As you speak with members of a preschool's community, watch for cues or ask questions regarding the following:
I list the definitions of many popular preschool philosophies on the glossary page of my website: Reggio Emilia, Montessori, nature-based, Waldorf, play-based... the list goes on! Unless a preschool is specifically a Montessori or a Waldorf program, chances are the curriculum will combine a number of these philosophies. Remember, a stated philosophy only matters if you can envision your child learning at the school after you've visited.
What is the preschool's guiding philosophy?
What is the philosophy on technology?
Teachers and Staff
Teachers spend the most time with your children during their time at preschool and have an enormous impact in their developing brains. It is important to understand the school's approach to staffing and how they encourage teacher/student/family relationships.
What is the teacher to student ratio?
What are the teacher qualifications?
What is the teacher turnover rate?
What are the transition and discipline strategies used by teachers?
When you choose a preschool for your child, you are also choosing a community for you and your family. Friendships you form with families from preschool may stay with you for years to come - this is especially true of your first child's class of families. Consider parent obligations, whether financial or time commitments, and whether that works for your family.
Are there parents in the building during school hours (COVID dependent or otherwise)?
Are there volunteer opportunities/requirements?
Are there financial expectations outside of tuition?
If you have the opportunity to attend an event hosted by the preschool you are interested in, go! Preschools often put on, or participate in, community events like book fairs, auctions, yard sales, carnivals, and more. Once your list is narrowed down to one or two preschools, attending a social event gives you a new perspective. Not all preschool events are public, so don't take offense if you aren't asked to attend.
Throughout the process, check in and ask yourself: Do the people you interact with at a school seem happy? Quality programs have happy kids, happy teachers, and happy parents. Devote your time and resources to the few schools that feel right for your child and your family, and ultimately, the experience will be rewarding for you all.
About the Author:
Lindsey Valente is an educational consultant in the greater Boston area working with families and students applying to preschool through Grade 12.
Previously, Lindsey worked in independent school admissions in Chicago and New York City, and has independent school experience in Dallas, London, and Boston. She has served on the boards of two independent schools and is an associate member of the International Educational Consultant Association.
Lindsey lives outside of Boston with her husband and three children.