Getting prepared to send your little one off to preschool can be difficult for any parent. Not only are you mentally preparing yourself to send your baby off to school for the first time, but trying to find the best preschool that works for your family can be challenging. Once you’ve honed in on the ideal school, what questions should you ask while you’re there?
First, don’t be shy. Ask as many questions as necessary to ensure that you’re 100% comfortable with leaving your child in their care and that the school is a good fit for your family. Don’t be afraid of being viewed as overly concerned or a helicopter parent. Preschool directors want you to be certain that this is the place for you and don’t want you enrolling if they are not the right match. Keep reading for 9 important questions to ask on your upcoming preschool tour.
You probably did some research on the school’s philosophy before scheduling your tour (you can read about preschool philosophies here), but there are more questions to ask. Every school will implement the philosophy they follow differently. How does the philosophy shape the curriculum and class size? If they emphasize individual learning, how is cooperation taught? If it emphasizes cooperation does the school do anything to foster leadership and autonomy?
2. Discipline and Conflict Resolution
Preschoolers will inevitably encounter difficulties dealing with others as their brains are still developing and they’re still learning social norms and appropriate behavior. When conflict occurs, how does the school handle it? If a child hits, how is the behavior corrected? At what point is a parent notified of issues and in what way? What is the schools policy on biting? Unfortunately, it happens, and may schools send children home for the day for biting.
What is considered disruptive behavior? How are children taught and encouraged to resolve conflicts independently? Consider how much information you want from the school. Are you the type of parent who wants to be notified of every squabble or do you only feel it’s important when there’s a physical altercation or pattern of disruptive behavior?
3. Teacher Qualifications, Turnover, Staff Development, and Ratio
Consistency is so important in a child’s life. How long have the teachers been there? Do any have plans to leave soon? If the school has separate classrooms for different age children, do the teachers move with the students at the end of the year or will your child have a new teacher next year? What are the teachers’ qualifications? How long have they been teaching? What does the school do to continually develop their staff? Every state has minimums regarding adult to child ratio – does the school meet the minimums?
4. Parental Involvement in the School
If you’re interested in a co-op, you’re committing to a high level of involvement. For other schools, parental involvement will vary. Some want parents to limit their time in the classroom because it can make transitions harder for children. Some welcome parental involvement and ask for it at times. Many schools have fundraisers – what are the fundraising expectations? Are there weekend activities you’re asked to attend? Consider how much time you have to give to a school when listening to these answers.
5. Outdoor Activity
Preschoolers need to spend time outside developing gross motor skills, but studies show that kids aren’t getting physical activity. Pediatricians recommend a minimum of an hour of outdoor time each day. How much time do the children spend outside? What is the school’s policy on inclement weather or high temperatures? What is their sunscreen policy?
6. Screen Time
Technology is ubiquitous in our lives and children should interact with it, but that doesn’t mean that screen time should be used liberally at school. How is it incorporated into lessons? Are children left to watch TV during drop off/pick ups? Is it being used a substitute for something more experiential? There’s evidence that some childcare centers do not follow recommended guidelines on screen time so make sure you’re aware of how the school uses it and comfortable with their approach.
7. Social & Academic Growth, Tailored Learning & Kindergarten Readiness
If you’re evaluating play-based schools, it may be difficult for you envision how academics are taught and what exactly the children are learning. Rest assured, a quality program will teach academics and critical social, motor, and language skills, and experts agree that children learn best through play. Ask how your child’s progress will be measured and reported. Do they set specific social and academic goals based on the level at which each child enters school or are there milestones for the class as a whole? Do they have periodic parent/teacher conferences? What happens if the child isn’t progressing? How is that addressed? Are you notified in advance of a conference if there are issues? Kindergarten, especially academic-based public kindergarten, can be a difficult transition for many children coming from a play-based preschool. What does the school do to prepare your child for it?
8. Open Door Policy & Safety
First and foremost, we all want our children to be safe. What measures does the school have in place to ensure safety? Are there keypad locks? A sign in and out procedure? List of approved people who can pick up? Who manages that and how is it communicated to substitute teachers? What fire/natural disaster plans are in place? In a catastrophic event, how do they communicate with parents? What is their drop-in policy for parents? Can you come at any time or do you need to prearrange early pick up, if needed?
Ask if you can speak to the some families who are currently enrolled. They’re your best source of information – the good and the bad.
10. Other Questions
Depending on your needs, you might be curious about these topics as well:
- Vaccination policy
- Illness policy/will they administer antibiotics
- What, if any, meals are served and a sample menu
- How allergies/dietary restrictions are handled
- Birthday policy – can you bring treats for the class?
- Are there any extended closures (Spring Break, holidays, etc.)?
- Late pickup policy
- Cleaning procedures, especially after an illness hits the school
- Are enrichment activities offered and are they included in tuition?
- If transportation is provided, are car seats provided for each child? Are all drivers licensed and insured?
- Where do most of the children attend kindergarten?
- Is the school adept at teaching children with special needs?
- Does the school specifically teach about cultural diversity?
- Does the school do anything to address gender stereotypes?
- What are some of the books they love to read to children?
You may find that many of these questions are covered during your tour and you may think of others while you’re there. Never be afraid speak up and ask anything that comes to mind!
Search Paper Pinecone to find preschools, daycares, and before/after school care programs that meet your needs. If you have specific questions about finding the right program, send us an email at [email protected]
About the Author
Stacey Grumet is Founder and CEO of Paper Pinecone, the most useful resource for connecting with daycare, preschool, and before/after school programs that meet your needs. She lives in Los Angeles with her perfectly adequate husband and precocious 3-year-old daughter (as of this writing). Every day she strives to be the world’s most ok mom.