Your child is the most important part of your life; there is no question about that. Many parents are, understandably, extremely nervous about sending their children off to preschool, so it is essential to consider several important factors when choosing a preschool.
Perhaps most importantly, the staff must be knowledgeable, caring, and experienced. Look for staff members that are engaged with the children, while still aware of what is going on with all the children under their supervision. The daily schedule should be planned in a way that allows for a balance of active play and quiet play, outside play and indoor play, free choice play and planned curriculum activities. Both the curriculum and the teachers’ interactions with children should be developmentally appropriate. Talk to both the director and the teachers who would be supervising your child. You can ask around and read Internet reviews, of course, but nothing beats going to the site yourself and seeing what feeling you get from the staff. A center that has opportunities for parent involvement and parent education will also be a good center for your entire family.
A safe environment is also essential when choosing a preschool. Make sure that the preschool has established routines for who can pick up children, clear emergency plans, procedures for what to do when children are sick, and thorough background checks on their staff. You should be comfortable with the teacher/child ratio and with all the procedures and routines that are in place at the school. In addition, the other children you see there should be comfortable and obviously feel safe and cared for by the staff. Make sure the playground looks safe but inviting, and that the toys and supplies look clean and age-appropriate. Look for outlet covers and cabinet locks, as well.
Finally, your child needs to be able to be a preschooler. A child who is ready for the preschool experience will be more successful. While your child will probably be a little nervous on his or her first visit, he or she should also be intrigued by the activities offered. Teachers should be available to support each child and help them get engaged. Children who are ready for preschool are able to separate from their parents for period of time and make new friends. It is not necessary for children to be potty trained, but it is good for young children to be able to express their needs to teachers. Preschool children have a lot of energy and interests and need the chance to explore their environments, physically and mentally. A good preschool is an ideal place for children to do this.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has some wonderful resources to help families identify good child care centers for children. We have resources for families here which we would be happy to provide. You can also find the information at NAEYC’s new family website: http://families.naeyc.org/