Finding the perfect preschool
Choosing a preschool that fits the needs of your family may seem daunting. There are many programs out there, each offering their own unique style and perspective, all claiming to be “the best.” Do not be swayed by schools that entice parents with unprecedented academic achievement, state-of-the-art equipment, or the latest educational trend. Above all, preschoolers need a safe and comfortable place in which to learn, while also building socialization skills with peers. Knowing your child, and yourself, is the key to successfully navigating your way through the process. Beginning the journey with an open mind and a clear plan will also help eliminate unnecessary stress and make the search more enjoyable. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Start by making a list of local licensed preschool programs. Most New York City preschools begin their application process several months to a year before your child will start school. Call programs that you might be interested in to find out their application deadlines and minimum age requirements. This will shorten your list right off the bat.
Know the basics
Location, cost, and operating hours are three very important considerations when deciding where to send your child. Some programs offer early drop-off and late pick-up options for parents who work long days. Others are not flexible with their hours. You may find a preschool with a stellar reputation, but if the tuition costs more than you make each month and you and your little one need to travel two hours by bus, train, and ferry to get there, forget it!
After narrowing down programs that are affordable, conveniently located, and accepting applications in your child’s age group, start asking questions. Call the director and request some information about the program: Is it accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children? What is the educational philosophy? How many children are in each class? Are the teachers trained and certified? Is there frequent teacher turnover? Talk to other parents about their experiences. Hang around outside the school at dismissal and introduce yourself to others. Observe the children: Do they look like they enjoyed their time at school? Listen with an open mind. If you like what you see and hear, schedule a tour of the school.
Prepare for the tour
Think about your child. Would she benefit from a child-centered program, or one that is more teacher-directed? Does a large, active classroom seem more conducive to learning than a smaller, more nurturing environment? Do you have specific needs regarding toileting, diet, or napping for your child? Make a list and write down questions to ask while on the tour. Remember, it will be your school community, too. If parental involvement and a strong family-school relationship are important to you (and they should be), inquire about opportunities for parents as well. All preschools should have an open door policy.
Visiting a school is one of the best indicators of whether the program is a good fit for your family. From the moment you walk in the door, keep your eyes and ears open. Do you feel welcome? Safety is critical in a preschool setting. Look to see if the children are well supervised. Are they happy and engaged? How are the relationships between teachers and students? Are the children playing together, practicing taking turns, or are they fighting? How does the teacher deal with conflict resolution? Is there an outdoor play space?
Take notes during your observation period to help you remember the details when you’re comparing programs later on. During the question-and-answer session, gather as much information as possible — and do not leave with unanswered questions. If the tour is for parents only, be sure to schedule a time for your child to visit so you can observe her in the environment.
Each school will most likely highlight its philosophy. Do not let names like Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf confuse or overwhelm you. There are many methods of teaching, and all you need to figure out is which one would best suit your child’s personality and learning style. As your child’s first teacher, you are an expert at this.
Depending on where you apply, submitting an application does not mean your child will automatically be accepted. There are often waiting lists based on space availability or uneven gender or age ratios in the class. In this case, apply to a few of your top choice programs and wait patiently. If you strongly prefer one school, you may include a thank you letter, which also expresses your interest in the program.
As hard as it might be to wait for a decision, admissions directors do not like to be harassed by anxious parents. So take it easy and congratulate yourself on a job well done. If your child was accepted into a program and you have second thoughts, ask yourself why. Are you feeling guilty about sending your baby to preschool (totally normal) or does something not sit right with you? If the latter is true, trust your intuition. In the end, there are many wonderful preschool programs that will provide your child with a safe, fun and engaging learning environment.
Laura Varoscak-DeInnocentiis is a teacher and freelance writer. Her articles appear regularly in these Family Magazines and have won editorial awards from The Parenting Media Association. She lives in Bay Ridge and has two sons, Henry and Charlie.
Popular early childhood educational approaches
Here are some methods of teaching you may want to look for:
Less structured than some other programs, the Bank Street Development Interaction approach lets children make their own choices in the classroom, while interacting with a wide variety of materials, ideas, and people. This helps a child discover things in her own way, at her own pace.
The curriculum is based on the idea that children make sense of the world by studying it. Teachers encourage questioning and exploration as children start to make connections between their ideas and the surrounding environment.
The Creative Curriculum balances both teacher-directed and child-initiated learning, with an emphasis on responding to children’s learning styles and building on their strengths and interests. Play is considered children’s “work,” which prepares them for future academic learning. Teachers support thinking and experimenting as children explore the world.
Designed for children who need more individualized attention, the High Scope program uses a cognitive approach to learning and values the relationship between teachers and children. It stresses the idea that children need hands-on experiences with people, materials, ideas and events in order to thrive. The curriculum is built around five content areas: language, literacy and communication, social and emotional growth, physical development, health and well-being, and arts and sciences.
The Montessori method encourages child independence and self-direction.
The teacher acts as an observer, preparing the classroom to best suit the individual student’s needs. Children value diversity and practice respect for self, others, and the world around them.
Self-esteem is nurtured as children master skills and move on to the next developmental level in their work. In addition to language arts, mathematics, science, and cultural studies, the Montessori Method emphasizes sensorial and practical life work.
The Reggio Emilia approach is a collaborative effort, involving teachers, students, parents, and community members. It emphasizes children’s symbolic relationships.
Teachers develop a project-based curricula based on students’ interests, and support learning through observation, dialogue, and documentation of children’s work. Learning is an ongoing process as children build relationships with others while making connections between ideas and their environment.
The Waldorf approach embraces the whole child — body, mind, and soul. Early childhood educators model appropriate behavior, and children are encouraged to imitate what they see. Teachers also support physical, emotional, intellectual, and artistic growth by designing curriculum based on children’s stages of development and offering many opportunities for creative and imaginative play.
Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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