If you’re looking for a preschool, you know you have a lot of choices. From daycare to church schools to park programs, you’ll find no shortage of places to visit. Maybe there’s a great school you heard about in your community. They have a nice brochure and an up-to-date website. You had a great conversation on the telephone with the director. The next step in the process is usually a tour of the program.
If you are going to take time out of your day to tour a program, you should prepare in advance. What are the things that denote a high-quality program?
A Shortlist of the Most Important Things to Look For
1. What Does the Classroom Look Like?
Your child will learn just as much from the environment as she will from the adults. Look for classrooms that are clean, uncluttered and organized. Child sized materials and furniture to allow her to develop independence. Be wary of classrooms that have loud colors and too much clutter. If you feel overstimulated, imagine how your child will feel! And, if there is a television in the classroom RUN in the other direction. You are paying for high quality care from loving adults, not from a screen.
2. Are the Children Engaged?
When you walk through the rooms, does it look like chaos or a well tuned orchestra? You should look for children to be engaged in activities on their own, with a group or with an adult. Then look at the activities themselves. Can children work independently or is everyone involved in the same activity? Is the time structured with specific intervals for crafts, reading together and playing or do the children set the flow for themselves?
3. How Does the Staff Speak to the Children?
This should actually be broken into two parts. What are they saying and how do they say it?
What type of language used? Your child is in a period of intense language development and she will learn vocabulary, syntax and grammar to use from the adults in her life. I know you will model proper grammar for your child – but be sure the adults in the center do as well.
The how part is, perhaps, even more important. Look to see if the adults speak in a respectful tone to the children and that they take the time to get down at a child’s level when communicating. Red flags include yelling across the classroom and any tone that is exasperated, impatient or angry.
4. Does the Staff Look Happy?
The staff in the program will spend more time with your child than your sister, your mother or your favorite babysitter. They will have a tremendous impact on your child’s development and you should choose a program that employs happy well balanced adults. Be concerned if the staff seem stressed, distracted or unhappy.
5. Sweat the Small Stuff!
The tiny details of the program can actually tell you a lot about the overall quality. Is the lobby clean and attractive? Is the lawn mowed? Are there cobwebs in the ceiling? Don’t get me wrong… some wonderful programs operate in less-than-ideal facilities. But, if you notice a lot of “little” things that need attention, you should think about how detail oriented they will be with your child.