Searching for a preschool can be more complicated that you might expect. Admissions policies may mean that you have to seek a school well in advance, in some cases, hunting for a school for a child who is only a year old. Second, preschool tuition can be tens of thousands of dollars in some areas, New York City, for example. This article will help clarify the realm of the preschool search.

A Match for Your Schedule and Location

For parents for whom their child's activities do not set all the priorities in their schedule, finding a preschool that can match your scheduling needs - at least more or less - may be one of the critical factors. Location comes into play here because the schedule needed if the child attends preschool near home, near a parent's workplace, or near a baby sitter's or relative's home or daycare establishment may be different. Other factors to consider include the possibility of carpooling.

A Match for Your Philosophy

Parents with strong beliefs of any kind are likely to want a preschool experience that mirrors their sensibilities. For example, parents who show sensitivity to the environment, practice a religion, or take a very considered approach to what they eat, are likely to want their choices respected, if not precisely matched, in the environment that their young child is in. In addition, it is best if there is a good match between the school's balance of academically-oriented tasks and play and the parents sense of the appropriate balance.

Another area in which a good match is important is discipline. How do you expect and want your child treated if she or he does something wrong? How about if another child acts out against your child in some way? Look for a school that has a similar approach to your home approach by checking the disciplinary policy.

A Match for Your Child

For any preschool age child, it is important to make sure there's a match between your child and the school in two major areas: age and potty training. Beyond that, it is essential that you consider anything and everything that could be influential in making the situation work for your child. This includes allergies (for example, to peanuts), sensitivities (for example, to loud noises), fears (for example, of insects), attachments (for example, to a stuffed animal or blanket), as well as timing of naps, a need for structure, and any other issues that could potentially be important factors in your child's becoming comfortable in a different setting. If your child has a learning disability or other disability, this, too, should be a consideration. Both particular preschool programs and particular preschool personnel may be more qualified to or better at dealing with any of these items. On the other hand, if your child shows a particular interest - in art, say, or music - you can find a preschool that will foster this.

Basic Qualifications

Any preschool your child might attend should have these basic prerequisites:

  • a professionally qualified head of school and instructors with early childhood education degrees and ongoing training
  • qualified staff who have undergone background checks
  • low staff turnover
  • a low child-to-teacher ratio
  • a clean and safe environment, with careful handling of used diapers.
  • if food is prepared on site, the work area or kitchen should be immaculate
  • excellent recommendations from parents who have an established relationship; ask what they “don't like” and see what they say…
  • an outdoor space for children to play in that is fun and safe and accessible on most days
  • reading to the children should be an integral part of the program
  • solid curriculum: check it to see what the school emphasizes and insure good coverage
  • an inviting and engaging learning environment with arts and crafts materials, learning manipulatives, puzzles, games, books, and other interesting project starters
  • if computers or a television are present, their use should be strategic and valuable

A visit and interview are important to get a feel for the place. While a DVD with a tour or a website may look fabulous, seeing the place in person is absolutely essential. Notice how the children are behaving, whether they seem well-occupied and happy, and how any issues that come up during your visit are handled.

Beyond Your Expectations

Schools have evolved a lot in the last several decades, and more choices are available with very specialized focuses. For example, depending on your location, your child could attend a total immersion preschool in a wide variety of languages. A study from the University of Hertfordshire has studied bilingual preschools in Belgium, Germany, and Sweden, and found that immersion methods are valuable for preschoolers. There are also specialized preschools for children with autism, for example, as well as laboratory schools run by colleges and universities, and Montessori, Piaget, Reggio, and Waldorf schools.