Friday, February 10, 2012

Tips for finding the perfect preschool for your child

The first parent tour, to come through my classroom, is forever imbedded in my memory.  With only a 5 minute notice, I took a deep breath and glanced around.  Paint was splattered on the easel.  Music was playing on the record player.  There were children gathered around a couple of soda bottles, conducting a science experiment.  My assistant was sitting on the floor with 3 kids and the moveable alphabet, watching them build a story.  Just as my director, Lyn, escorted the parent into my class, 3 year old, Nevada, called my attention.  Minutes later, as they turned to leave, I rushed to greet the prospective parent and apologized for my delay.  Lyn turned to the mother, asking, "And how do you feel about that?" She replied, with a satisfied smile, "Well...I feel good.  I guess it tells me that your teachers are more interested in their students, than they are in the parents." Lyn returned the smile and asked "Are you ready to enroll?” 

There are many ways to find the right school for your child.  You could flip a coin and say a prayer or you can follow these simple steps and trust your-self. 

The top 3 ways to start your search

1.   Referrals.  The best way to begin your search is to ask friends, family, church members   and      neighbors, where they send their children and why.
2.   Local Parent Magazines and Newspapers. Skip the advertisements and look for articles about the best schools in your area. In Michigan, Metro Parent lists a premier guide to preschools in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor in their annual education issue in February.
3.   Web Searches Engines:,, In these listings, the schools are categorized either by location, grade levels or genres, and often have ratings and parent reviews.

Narrow Down your search

1.   Categorize.  Figure out what philosophy each school operates under; Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, faith-based, play-based, co-op, etc.  Understand what each has to offer and figure out which ones would work best for you and your child. 
2.   Open House.  Once you’ve narrowed your selection down to 2 or 3 schools, visit during an open house (these usually occur February through spring). 
3.   Classroom visit.  Have your child spend an hour in the classroom. 
a.   Watch to see if he is comfortable, interested and willing to explore.
b.   Observe the entire class.  You will learn more watching the student and teacher interactions, than you will, watching your own child.
c.   Look at the actual classroom
A.     Is it clean?
B.     Do the children seem comfortable?
C.     Are there enough works/toys to engage the children?
D.     Is the environment safe and suited to children?
E.      Is the classroom peaceful or chaotic?
F.      Is there art and music?

4.      Interview.  Ask questions.  Remember, you are interviewing them, they aren’t   interviewing you.

Critical questions to ask a prospective school

a.   What is the teacher/child ratio?
b.   What is the staff turn-over rate and what are the lead teacher’s degrees?
c.   Is the facility licensed and privately accredited? (The National Association for the  Education of  Young Children NAEYC, Montessori AMS and AMI, Waldorf AWSNA to name a few.)
d.   What is the school’s philosophy towards academics?
e.   What is the school’s philosophy towards socialization?
f.   What are the school’s policies regarding discipline, tuition, nutrition, security?
g.   Does the school have an open door policy for parents?
h.   What are their hours of operation?
When I was a director, I did most of the talking during prospective parent visits and open houses.  I answered questions, wanting to make sure that the parents knew who we were and what we had to offer. 

When I was a Montessori Mom, looking for the perfect school, again, I did most of the talking.  Making certain that the director knew what we were looking for.  I was satisfied that she understood my needs, but what I didn’t find out, was their philosophy or what they actually had to offer me.  I forgot to ask them questions and to listen to their answers.  It was a crucial mistake.   I came to realize that the school wasn’t the great fit I wanted it to be.  I started my search again, this time following the simple rules I outlined above.  My girlfriend referred it. confirmed it.  They were licensed by the state and accredited by AMS while in the process of achieving their AMI accreditation, as well.  When I visited, I asked my questions and listened to their answers.   I observed the whole class, not only my daughter. Check. Check. Check.  I signed the check and submitted my application. And may I never have to go through this process, again! Or, at least, not until Middle School.

Joanne Shango is a certified Montessori Teacher and Mom with 20 years experience.

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