Musings on the Preschool Search

I recently responded to a HARO request on preschools. My response was lengthy. Here it is…

How did you conduct your preschool search?

For my first search, I looked in the phone book (yes, we still had those back when my oldest was 2 in 1997-1998!) under Preschools. My daughter was two, so I had to weed out any preschools that required children to be toilet-trained. I then eliminated home day cares since I wasn’t satisfied that my daughter’s academic needs could be met. She was an early reader and knew her alphabet/numbers by 2-3 years. She stayed at the same school until she was toilet-trained at 3.5 years –she has a January birthday and children to be 3 by December 31 to start the 3s class.

I should note that I live in a semi-rural area, until recently many preschools did not have websites or e-mail addresses. All contact needed to be made by phone or by visiting the school. Interestingly though the area is rural the majority of residents are at a solid socioeconomic rate — many SAHM with professional working dads.

For my second search in 2000-2001, I called back all the schools I had considered in my earlier search. I placed my daughter at 2 years old in the toddler room at her sister’s preschool since I knew all about the school. When my daughter was nearing 3, I started my search for preschools that were closer to home since my oldest was about to begin half-day kindergarten at our local elementary school.

For my third search in 2005-2006, I searched online to see if any preschools had opened or closed since my first search in 1997-88. I contacted my mom’s group listserv. I attended a preschool open house sponsored by my mom’s group.

For all three searches I also visited the school for scheduled appointments or I would drop in unannounced. At times I could gauge how flexible the school was by their reaction to seeing me and my toddler in the school office unannounced. I discovered that one school did not have a director on site, just two teachers and 25 kids in two classrooms in the basement of a house. The teachers were not prepared to let me in to the classroom or give me any handouts.

What resources did you use to find a preschool (online and offline)?

First search in 1997 — phone book, called schools.

Second search in 2000-2001 — phone book, called schools. Got recommendations from the moms in my scrapbook group.

Third search in 2005-2006 — sent an e-mail to my mom’s group listserv for preschool recommendations, attended a preschool fair sponsored by my mom’s group, searched online, called schools without websites.

What were your most important criteria when evaluating preschools?

School needed a director on site at all times — safety as it always helps to have another adult on hand if something happens in the classroom.

Safety — of prime importance…are the toys clean, do staff wash their hands after changing diapers/taking kids to toilet

Outside play — a must even if it is only 10 minutes outside

Academics in classroom — alphabet, numbers, shapes Note: Preschools will not teach kids to read, but should teach reading readiness.

Behavior — what happens with unruly kids

Response from school to issue — After my daughter was enrolled, I called the school about a behavior incident. The director said she would call back. After I had not heard from her in over a week, I called her to see what was being done. I was unimpressed with her response and found another preschool within 3 weeks. Children are precious. If a school is not going to keep my child in a safe environment, I need find a new preschool.

What questions did you ask the staff of the preschools you visited?

How will school contact me if there is an issue?

Will school send home monthly newsletter or e-mails with important school information?

Staff to student ratio

Will the same teachers be in the classrooms each day? What is the schedule? I live in a semi-rural area. Preschool teachers and assistants are not well paid. It is not unusual to find a teacher/assistant leaving mid year to find a better paying job. I started giving gifts to the teachers at Xmas and end-of-year to thank them for their service to my kids.

What is the behavior management policy of the school/classroom? How will teachers implement timeout? Again I live in a semirural area where often the staff were not that educated and occasionally did not have the verbal skills to give kids guidance in a constructive manner. In one case I found out that one of the assistants had not graduated from high school, but instead had been given a diploma for attendance due to severe learning issues. She could not make eye contact with the kids or engage with a large group of 2 years olds.

When are parent-teacher conferences? When are reports cards distributed/children’s skills evaluated?

What is the bathroom policy of the classroom? Do all children go at the same time? Will a teacher be available to take a child that needs to go at another time? Is there a bathroom in the classroom?

What is the policy on hitting, scratching, biting?

My last child “graduated” from preschool in May 2008.

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