There are lots of wonderful preschools out there, but choosing the one that is right for your child and your family can be a tough decision. You want your child's first school experience to be as positive and enriching as possible. You hope that he'll love school, develop his skills, and make good friends. And you hope that the school will offer a wonderful community that your whole family can be a part of. A lot to ask, perhaps, but the best preschools do all this and more.
The question is, how to find such a place? School tours are very important, as is your child's experience at her "play date" if this is part of the admissions process. But by far the best way to learn about a preschool is to have an honest conversation with a parent whose child is at the school, or recently "graduated." (Better yet, talk to a few different parents, and take note of the range of opinions.) If you can manage to buttonhole such a person, or better yet take her out for coffee, be sure to ask these 10 questions:
1. Does your child seem happy and engaged at school on a daily basis? Does he or she speak positively about the activities, the teachers and the others kids? How has the school helped your child develop? The child's experience is, of course, the number one priority.
2. How do parents at the school connect with each other? At pick-up and drop-off, over email, at parent events, at in-school parties, or all of the above? Whatever the answer, ask yourself whether this fits with your schedule and lifestyle.
3. How diverse are the families and kids in terms of income, race, family structure, religion, etc.? Do kids and families from different backgrounds feel comfortable at the school? Ask yourself whether the answer matches with what you are hoping to find in a school. Also note how this compares to what you heard from the admissions director.
4. Are kids with special needs integrated into the classrooms, and if so how is that handled? You'll want to ask this same question of the school director or admissions person, but here you can get at the child and parent perspective.
5. How frequently do the kids tend to get together outside of the school for play dates, activities, birthday parties and the like? This question can give you a useful sense of the school culture.
6. How is the home-school communication handled at the classroom level and the school administration level? Do you find it easy to communicate with the teachers and staff? It's hard to understand how critical this is until you've been a parent at a school, but trust us, efficient and responsive communication is key to a good school experience.
7. How has the teacher/director handled any issues, worries or conflicts that your family or other families may have had? You never know when a crisis may come up with your child, and you'll want a steady and understanding person at the helm if/when it does.
8. What is expected of the parents in terms of volunteering and fundraising? What opportunities are there for parents to participate in the classroom and the school? This is a question that may be easier to put to another parent than to the school admissions person.
9. How is kindergarten counseling conducted? How knowledgeable, organized and helpful is the school director in this regard? This may not seem important now, but a couple of years down the line it will be crucial.
10. Are you glad you chose this school for your family, and would you recommend it to ours? The bottom line.
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