The question of when and where to send your child to preschool is a super tough question for most parents. From what I have observed and heard, the majority are not eagerly awaiting their child’s first day of preschool. And, you can just forget about when it is time for you to send your child off to kindergarten — all of a sudden it feels like that decision is just as important as their college/university choice. Crazy, right? But…true.
So many parents also struggle with the decision of whether to send their child to a franchised daycare, a private daycare or an in-home daycare. Parents with future kindergarteners torment themselves over the decision of whether to go the public route or the private school route.
I think the fact is that, nowadays, so much pressure is put on our children to be stellar, “gifted” and the top of their class. We have this unrealistic thought that if we don’t set our children up for success now — at age two, three, four or five — then they are doomed — you might as well call them a lost cause…
What the heck is this perspective about? This is so off-base.
Patricia Henderson Shimm, parent educator and author of “How do I choose the best preschool for my child,” an article published on BabyCenter, states that most parents think “about choosing a preschool the same way [they] would think about finding a new job or a new pediatrician for [their] child”. She further contends that most parents “invest lots of time and energy in making the right decision”.
It is my belief that, more than anything, you should not choose the school for your child solely based on the school’s ratings, tests scores, and prestige. Instead, you should be sure to consider the following when deciding on school placement for your child:
- Your gut feeling. This is so important. From the name of the school, to your first communication with them, to the feeling you get as you pull into the parking lot, to how you feel during the tour — your mind and body will have an actual reaction to each of these things — pay attention to that. Try to be aware of what your intuition is trying to relay to you. If you genuinely feel a strong sense of discomfort about a particular school, don’t force a change of energy upon yourself. Go with your initial instinct. Nine times out of ten, your instinct is correct and on the occasion that it is not, the alternative path usually proves itself to be the correct one in the long one anyway.
- Your impression during unscheduled visits. It is very easy for a whole school to be “on”, and the teachers and students to be “on” when there is school-wide knowledge of your scheduled tour. The children will have been instructed to behave when visitors arrive, the teachers will be on point, and all will seemingly look and be unrealistically at peace. But, when you pop up to the school, without calling, and request an impromptu visit/tour, that is your best chance to view the school, its staff, administration and students in their normal state of being/action. If the school only does scheduled tours, then you have no choice but to go that route. But, in my opinion, any school should have at least one office personnel available at anytime to talk to you and show you around. My only suggestion is to ensure that you do not arrive during the children’s nap time, typically around the 12-2pm timeframe, as most schools will not let you tour during this time.
- How nice the front office administration is to you, as well as how “on-top-of-things” they are. They are your first impression of the school as a whole and of the supposed wonderful and safe place where you will be leaving your child. I hold the office administration, at any school, to a super high standard and have high expectations for how respectful and kind I believe they should be to every single prospect, person, and student that walks through those doors into their school. Additionally, watch for how in-tune they are to what is happening around them. Are they checking each and every ID of the people entering. Are they keeping strict safety standards while exuding respectfulness and kindness to all appropriate and allowed visitors? They should be.
- How responsive the school is to your communication. Did you place numerous calls before someone answered the phone? What was the tone of the person that you spoke with? Are the teachers and administration exasperated by your desire for communication regarding your child, or do they meet you and your needs with regard to such. This is important.
- How visible the Principal/Assistant Principal are. At both of my children’s schools, the Principal, Assistant Principal and Director are constantly in sight — from welcoming students inside the gate/front door upon arrival, to walking around and through the classrooms each day, and then once again present at dismissal time. Although it is okay for them to want you to schedule actual meetings for more serious student-related conversations, top school officials should be visible and genuinely interacting with you and your children as opposed to hiding out and being seemingly unreachable.
- Referrals/Recommendations from current or former attendees. More important than website reviews and accolades listed in a school’s informational pamphlet, is the verbatim words from present attendees and their parents. A lot of schools are willing to provide you with the phone number for parents, who have agreed to be a reference, for any and all questions you may have for current enrollees. Additionally if you make a spontaneous visit, see if you can make small talk with another present parent and pick their brain about the positives and negatives of the school. Try to seek out numerous parents so that you can get a few different perspectives.
- The quality of the teachers. I cannot stress this enough. It does not matter how old or young the teachers are or if they are strict or more lenient. What is most important about the teachers at your child’s school is that they are teaching with passion and from the heart. If you have a passionate teacher, then you have a teacher who will not settle for anything less than her own quality being exuded, as well as motivating and encouraging the same from your children.
- The assortment of teacher personalities. I am pleased with the fact that there is diversity amongst the teachers at my children’s schools. There are young teachers and older teachers. There are experienced teachers and those that are just starting out. There are those that are more “by the book” and those that march to a different beat. There are those that give hugs and those that give fist bumps. One thing that they all give — love, support and heart. And, I could not hope for more.
- Your access to the school. You want the school that you choose for your child to be one that enjoys and encourages your presence as a visitor, a volunteer and aide, etc.
- The quantity and type of specials/extras offered by the school. My daughter’s school offers violin and my son’s school offers, “manners” class, music class, and a language course. Having a variety of extracurriculars and unique offerings for your child is a great way for them to get further enrichment right on school property. Schools that offer specials and extras understand and agree that well-rounded children are better off than those that solely focus on knowledge through books and testing.
I can say, undoubtedly, that my children’s preschool has been one of the best decisions we have ever made for them. I have been equally thrilled and enamored by my daughter’s elementary school.
My best advice to you when considering where to send your child to school is to consider the TEN things above, but also to make sure that the school you choose for your child matches their personality. Or at a minimum, will help encourage, as opposed to stifle it.