For many parents, searching for the perfect preschool can be a daunting task. For Natural Parents, it can be even more challenging. A naturally-parented child has typically been loved and cared for by a loving, attached caregiver who is in tune with their needs. It can be overwhelming and emotional for their parents to “turn them over” to a teacher to function in a group for the first time. However, there are many things you can to do make the task a bit easier:
First, look look at a school’s web site to get a general idea of fees, times, class ratios and so forth. When you know the basics, you can focus on the details.
Determine how much you’re willing/able to spend. Typically, preschools through the local school district are the least expensive. Schools with a certain style or curriculum (such as Waldorf or Montessori) tend to cost more. Often there are hidden fees, such as snacks, school supplies and fuel to and from school. If you have your heart set on a certain school that is out of your price range, ask about tuition assistance.
Decide what kind of curriculum you’re interested in. My husband and I didn’t have our hearts set on a certain style of school. We did, however, know that we wanted something that was a mix of play-based, child-directed learning and academics. The first school we looked at was very academic based and worked on a lot of kindergarten readiness skills. We felt that it was not what BigBrother needed; two years later, however, Princess craved the strict structure and expectations of an academic-based preschool.
Consider how many hours a day your child will be in school. My oldest was not ready to go to school from eight am to three pm. When he was four (his first year of preschool), he went to school three half days a week, which was plenty for him. Sit down and seriously evaluate how long your child would be able to handle being with another adult in a structured setting.
Does the school accommodate any special needs you have? From physical therapy to occupational therapy to peanut-free classrooms, most schools offer a variety of accommodations for children with special needs. You may be able to easily add or subtract schools from your list based on the accommodations your child needs.
After you’ve narrowed your school choices down based on these criteria, visit them. Many schools allow prospective parents to tour the building, classrooms and even sit in on a class. Go to them, with a list of questions in hand, and take notes.
Here is a list of suggested questions:
- What is the protocol for nap/rest times? For safety and legal reasons, most teachers are unable to cuddle students to sleep, although some may be able to sit next to students or hold their hands. Ask how the teachers or aides handle rest time and students who are unable or unwilling to rest. If their answer in unacceptable, discuss compromises or look for another school.
- What security measures do you have in place? (i.e., Must adults sign in at the front office to pick up children? Who can enter and exit the school?)
- Have all the staff members (teachers, support staff and custodians) been background checked?
- What training do your teachers have? How do they further their education and keep up with research and developments in their field?
- What is your routine for drop off and pick-up? If I need to pick my child up early? If I am running late? If someone else needs to take my child home?
- How are parents expected to communicate with the staff (notes, e-mail, phone calls, etc.)?
- How is discipline handled? What about children who have trouble transitioning as their caregiver is leaving?
- Is there a time set aside for parents and teachers to discuss the child?
- How are parents involved in the school?
- What tuition assistance is available?
- What criteria do you have for snacks? Is it possible for my child to always bring his or her own snack?
Although picking a preschool is important and should be done with love and care, it is not a permanent choice. It is possible to change schools in the middle of the year. Like many parenting options, you need to pick the best option for you and your child.
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