However, choosing a preschool that's right for your child and your family may not be as easy as you think. The right preschool can help children be better prepared for reading, math, and social interaction that comes with kindergarten. But "right" may mean different things to different children. What should you consider before making this important decision? And where can you get help?
Here are quick tips for helping to start the preschool process.
- Begin early. Good schools are in high demand, and those with a reputation for preschool excellence may have long waiting lists. For certain preschool programs, parents are urged to add their child's name to the waiting list as early as just after birth or up to 2 years of age.
- Call preschools on your preliminary list with screening questions. iParenting.com has a printable checklist you can use.
- Visit the preschools you feel comfortable with after the initial phone interview without your child. Consider your feelings about the center and first impressions.
- Bring your child to your top choice or choices and get his reaction. Talk with your child in advance of the visit to let him know why you are visiting and what types of activities and enrichment your child will experience while there. Then, really listen to your child's feedback about the program.
- Ask about staff turnover, teacher/student ratio, trainings and/or certifications, health/safety issues, enrichment opportunities, and meal arrangements. Make sure you are comfortable with the answers.
- Talk with parents who are enrolled at the preschool. What are their likes and dislikes about the program? Are their children happy and learning their? Do they look forward to attending? Any concerns that they could share?
- Ask the preschool if your child can "try out" the program before a long-term commitment is made. Some centers offer a free day or a money-back guarantee. Others offer discounted tuition for the first week or month.
- Be sure to give the experience enough time with your child, who may initially resist it only because of separation issues or because she is hesitant about meeting new friends. By now, you have thoroughly checked out the program and are confident about its quality and safety. Your child needs positive reinforcement and time to make new friends and familiarize herself with the program's routine. In no time, your child will be bouncing in the door and waving bye with hardly a backward glance to good ol' mom or dad.
Check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children for more information and helpful tips in choosing a preschool program.