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How do I pick a good pre-school?

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What are some good questions to ask when screening pre-schools?


It's great to have a list of questions ready for your visit; we'll give you some below. But nothing substitutes for spending time in the environment, absorbing the feel of the place, and seeing how the adults respond to the children and how they handle difficulties and triumphs. So plan on staying a while beyond the scheduled interview.

Here are some helpful questions and guidelines:

• Logistics: Ask about hours, days, and policies for early opening or late closing. No place is good if it doesn't fit your family routine. This move should be good for your life as well as your child's.

• Staffing: Do the director and lead teacher(s) have a degree in early childhood? What training does the staff have? How much experience do they have? Is there enough staff? (For infant daycare there should be one caretaker for every four infants, for older children the ratio should be one to eight.) Are parents expected to participate?

• Philosophy: Some preschools are strictly academic and others have no structure at all. Avoid the extremes and then make a choice based on your child's needs. For example, an only child will need socialization as the most important component; a very active and distractible child needs a firm structure. For a quiet child, a time and a place to be alone for a part of each day is ideal. For a very focused child, a self-directed program may work out the best. No one place is right for everyone.

• Problem handling: Watch how the teachers help the kids with transitions such as leave-taking from parents and going from one task to another, and with aggressive outbreaks. Do their responses match your own approach and style?

• Licensing: Is the facility licensed? This means only that it meets basic health and safety standards, which is helpful but not sufficient. Dog kennels have stricter standards. Walk around and see whether the place is clean and has safe equipment. Check that diapering and toileting are handled with care and that any food preparation is done carefully.

If the school won't allow you to visit prior to enrollment or at any time you wish after enrollment, scratch it off the list right away.  

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