Choosing a new preschool for your child is incredibly exciting, as well as daunting. Naturally, you want a space where your child can thrive academically and socially, as well as feel safe, nurtured and loved. Asking the right questions during the school selection process is an absolute must, in order to feel confident that you are making the most informed decision. While there is, of course, no one size fits all, here are a few questions to ask and attributes to look for when choosing a new preschool for your child.
Questions to ask
1. What educational philosophy does your school follow?
Every preschool has a different education style and philosophy. The Montessori approach is known for fostering independence and moving at a child’s unique pace, Waldorf schools are known for their creativity, and then there are the more traditional preschools and creches, each of which follow their own approach. It’s a good idea to do your research ahead of time to find the best fit for your child’s needs and personality.
2. What philosophy do you teach in your classroom?
Make sure the school’s philosophies and beliefs align with ones you want to teach your family, whatever they may be.
3. What is your approach to discipline?
Consistency is very helpful in your child’s expectations, so try to choose a school that has a similar approach to what you have at home. Does the school encourage positive behaviour? What measures do the teachers take when conflicts occur?
4. Are there opportunities to develop gross and fine motor skills?
Physical activity is critical for the development of a child’s gross motor skills, and preschools should offer plenty of activities for active play. There should also be daily exposure to fine motor activities like stringing beads, cutting paper, drawing and doing artwork.
5. What safety measures do you have in place?
Keeping our children safe should always be the number one priority. Are the teachers trained in CPR and basic first aid? Be sure to ask about security related matters like who is allowed into the school building, how the drop-off and pick-pick procedures are monitored, are there security cameras on-site, etc.
6. What does a typical day look like?
This will help give you an idea of the preschool’s programme and daily routine, and understand the balance of play and learning. Ideally you want a school that offers your child a chance to make choices and explore learning opportunities, rather than one that is heavily focused on practising skills.
7. What training do the teachers have?
Ask about whether the teachers and staff are fully trained, and what qualifications they have. If you want a true Montessori experience, this question is very important, considering that Montessori is not a trademarked name. This means that any school can carry the label, whether or not they follow the Montessori method. Is the school itself a member of the South African Montessori Association (SAMA)?
8. Are meals and snacks provided?
If so, are the meals and snacks healthy, nutritious and well-balanced? Are children allowed to interact and socialise while eating? Are they required to eat everything on their plate?
9. What is the staff turnover rate?
If many of the teachers have been there for years, that’s a great sign. If the turnover is high, it may be a red flag. Children do best at schools that teachers enjoy teaching at, and turnover rate is a pretty good indication of that.
What to look for during a school tour
By arranging a school tour, you will get a good feel for the overall vibe of the school, how the day will work and if it might be a good fit for your child. Here are some things to look out for during your time at the school…
- Look at the classrooms – Ideally they should be clean and organised, with sufficient space for kiddos to move around. The furniture should also be the appropriate size for little bodies to feel comfortable.
- How do the teachers interact with and talk to the children? Do they get down to the child’s level and speak to them with respect? Do they pause and listen to what the child has to say?
- Do the children seem happy? You should see happy smiles and hear laughter in the classrooms.
- What does your gut tell you? Your intuition can tell you what to do long before your head can figure it out.
Making the decision
Priority number one in choosing a preschool is choosing a place where your child will be most happy and comfortable. After all, children learn best through loving relationships, a safe environment, routines, play and positive social interactions.