Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Choosing A Preschool

To some parents January is too early to start thinking of a preschool for the fall, but to find the right preschool for your child you will need to do your research and make a decision in many cases as early as February. Most preschools and private schools will begin closed registration in January (registration for families currently enrolled) and sometime in February they begin open registration.

At the time of enrollment you will usually need the enrollment fee and any books/supplies fees and in some cases the full first month's tuition. This adds up quickly! The preschools and private schools I have dealt with (and this is in the hundreds) all have a non-refundable enrollment fee, so you'll want to make the right decision before filling out that check. I have gone from a parent looking for a preschool for my four-year-old and making many mistakes to becoming a secretary at a preschool to finally, for six years, a preschool photographer. With this experience I have been behind the scenes and seen both good and bad preschools and private schools. I have seen teachers and directors that treat the children as loving as they would treat their own children, but this is not as common as they would like us to believe.

Below I have listed some of the ways to help a parent or guardian make a wise decision—though this will not guarantee a perfect fit for a child these tips may help you make a more informed decision.

  1. Call first and find out some basics—there is no reason to tour a school if the tuition is twice as much as you can afford.

  2. Make an appointment to tour the school and bring a list of precise questions—instead of "do all your teachers have degrees?" you should word it "do all your teachers have teaching degrees?" I made this mistake when I was told yes and once my son started to attend and I became friends with some of the teachers I found that one had an accounting degree and another had a degree in poultry. I don't need my four-year-old to have a teacher who is an accountant for her to teach my son his 1-2-3's and I still don't know what a degree in poultry is. This was a Christian school and I know the administrator knew what I was asking, but chose to mislead me.

  3. Bring your child and another person (spouse or friend) who has a keen insight and who may pick up on something that might be a concern. Sometimes a second visit to the school with a friend can would be wise.

  4. Make sure that you don't get hypnotized with the decor and gadgets. I have often seen slogans like "we love our kids" on the walls, but that sentiment never reached the hearts of the workers. Many have lots of gadgets—computer classes or the ability to log in at work and watch on web cam. I have been to schools that have a room full of computers and have never seen a child on any of the computers after going into the center at least 20 times and all day long.

  5. Make sure you know what you are "buying" when you are told "we have computer classes and dance classes available" that probably means there is an additional fee for these classes. If you are told, "we are holding our classes to 10 students," and that is one of your concerns you may want to see if current classes are limited to that. Ask about "substitute" teachers, some smaller schools—and yes even Christian—do not have substitutes and will lump more children than is allowed by state-mandated limits.

  6. Don't be intimidated into making a quick decision "because we only have one spot left." This may be true, but you can be placed on a waiting list since not all students who are enrolled will attend. Don't let anyone make you feel stupid for asking any questions that are a concern for you.

  7. Have someone watch your child once day and check out the school from the outside during recess or free play time and when the parents are picking up their children. It is best for the staff to be spread out and watching the children during these times. Often though you will see the teachers all gathered together with little or no attention paid to the children. During these unstructured times, accidents are more likely to happen.

  8. Talk to the teachers, find out how long they've taught and also how long they've been at this school. After talking to many teachers, if nine out of ten are new teachers to the school you may want to find out why there is such a high turnover rate. In six years I have been to some schools that have virtually no turnover and on the flip side been to other schools that each year when I return I know only one or two teachers out of twelve. This can happen when a new administrator is hired or this may be an ongoing problem so you may have to ask some hard questions.

  9. Check out the school with the local government. Find out if they have lots of violations for health codes or complaints from parents. It may not be a concern if they have a complaint and it was unfounded. But if the school is getting five or six complaints each school year, I would be concerned.

  10. Once you have made a decision, go ahead and enroll. Don't wait until summer just in case something comes up. This may put you in the position of not getting the school of your choice.

  11. When your child does start at the school be careful to allow the teacher to teach. I have seen parents who felt there was something wrong so they refused to leave their children in class without them until they were asked to leave by the teacher a half hour into class every day. Your child and the other children shouldn't be cheated out of instruction time, if you are that sure something is wrong, it is better to remove your child from that class or teacher.

If I knew then what I know now my son would have had a better start in his academic career. But, I learned quickly and within the first two months took my son out of the private Christian school and had him homeschooled by a friend. This was a wonderful decision that came after I realized his teacher did not recognize that he was quicker than the other students in her class. After the first eight weeks of school this teacher came to me informing me that David was not ready for kindergarten and should be placed in the preschool program. When I questioned her about this she stated that he knew none of his "letters." When I pointed at different letters and asked him what they were, he identified each one perfectly. I then asked him to show me different letters and he once again was correct each time. She answered that "yes, the first two times he would answer right, but the third time he couldn't answer." I then turned to my five-year-old and asked him to explain to her why that was. He then, as serious as could be, said "if I've told her twice and she still can't get it, why should I tell her again?" We then told her we understood that many in the class needed that repetition, but that David caught on very quickly. And we explained to David that he would have to understand that not everyone was as quick and he would have to deal with this and answer the same questions over and over again. There would be other areas in life that he would be slower and others would have to "wait for him."

Remember: The right school for your best friend's child may not be the right school for your child. This is a very personal decision that must be made with both your head and your heart. This is an exciting time for both you and your child. Rejoice!

1 comment:

Julie said...

Wow!! Your last statement was so true. Thanks for taking the time to give your thoughts on picking out a preschool.