Research shows that preschools benefit children and families and that more and more families are using accredited preschool programs. Cognitive skills, literacy, and language skills improved among preschool-enrolled children by a dozen percentage points or more. As recently as 2012, almost 70% of children with a single and working parent were enrolled in a preschool program, a figure that dips only slightly among families with a single parent out of the workforce. And the majority of those families were using full-day preschool or academic preschool programs. Your family will likely need or choose to enroll your child in preschool. While it’s not hard to find a preschool, making an informed decision when choosing a preschool requires some preparation. It’s important to visit the preschools you’re considering for your child, and to closely observe the following elements of each preschool you visit. Here is a preschool checklist of five things to look for when visiting a local preschool program.
The Child-to-Teacher Ratio
This should be primary on your preschool checklist, as it has the greatest impact on the education and care your child will receive. Safety is a significant concern, as overworked teachers with too many children in their care can’t provide proper supervision. Academics is also a reason for limited child-to-teach ratio: younger children usually require direct attention and instruction in order to absorb and generalize new skills and structures. The laws governing staff ratio limits in preschools vary from state to state, so be sure you know the requirements in your state and the ratio in the preschools you visit.
One of the biggest benefits of preschool programs is the opportunity they provide for your child to socialize. But not all programs maximize this opportunity for children to learn socially, academically, and culturally from one another by playing, working, and building skills together. Observe how, when, and how well the children engage each other in each preschool classroom you visit.
Do the children in the programs you observe feel comfortable with and seem nurtured by their teachers and assistants when the children initiate engagement? Do the children frequently initiate engagement? Is the engagement social? You can learn a lot about a program’s dynamic by observing how the children appear to act in the direct and indirect presence of their teachers and assistants. This is an important element of a preschool program and shouldn’t be overlooked on your preschool checklist.
Conversely, and just as importantly, look closely at how the teachers and assistants engage with the children in their care. Are the teachers comfortable and confident? Are they nurturing? Do they try to make the children feel guided, heard, and respected? How do the teachers redirect children when necessary? How well do they prepare the children for what to expect before and during activities? Among the items on your preschool checklist, this will tell you the most about the quality of attention and care your child will receive in the programs you visit.
The Health and Safety Practices
Besides the crucial observance of state-mandated staffing ratios, other health and safety practices are important for the preschools you’re visiting to observe. Be sure to find out the preschool’s protocols for responding to illness and injury, as well as allergies and contagions. Other safety issues should be inquired about, such as appropriate division between pre-k and infant-toddler classes, emergency safety and preparedness such as fire drills, and whether the classroom environment appears safe and secure.
Choosing a Preschool for Your Child
You will likely recognize more easily that a program is not a good fit for your family than that it is. It can be a process of elimination. Once you’ve visited a number of preschools, you should understand better what your family’s needs are and whether any of the programs you’ve observed will be the best fit and will be ready to either make a decision or resume your search reinforced by a preschool checklist that will help you find the very best option for your child.