There are so many things to consider when you begin to look for a preschool or daycare for your child. The search for a preschool can be an overwhelming process with many wonderful choices available! As you begin taking tours, think about what is most important for your family. Is it proximity to home or work? Is it the culture of the school? What is the academic philosophy? While proximity may be crucial for one family, another family may value time spent outdoors each day. (Maybe you can find a school with both!) Mi Casita recommends creating a list of what is most important for your family and then seeing how the different programs stack up. The question then becomes, what should I put on the list? Below we have compiled a list of questions that can be valuable as you consider where to send your child. We recommend starting the process early – good programs fill up extremely quickly. Embrace the process and enjoy the opportunity to learn about the many fabulous early education programs out there!
1. What is the educational philosophy of your preschool or daycare?
Montessori, play-based, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Project Based Learning, Language immersion? What are they and what do they all mean? Preschool educational philosophies can be very overwhelming when you first begin researching. Here is a great overview of the more common programs you will find as you begin the preschool tour circuit. Whatever you decide, we recommend that you find a program that suits your child’s needs well. You may find that multiple philosophies will work for your child. Now is a wonderful time for you to be curious and critical as you begin to navigate the many different options that exist in the world of early childhood education.
2. How involved are families/parents with school activities?
Will you be required to volunteer? Bring in snacks? Do you want to be involved or will you need to be at work and have a quick drop off? How will the culture of the school fit into your family’s lifestyle? It is important to find a school that matches what you are looking for from a social perspective. Co-op programs will most likely require more parent involvement than traditional daycare. Some parents may prefer to not be involved as it can be difficult for the child to see their parent pop in and out of the classroom. Does the preschool have celebrations or parties during the day? Are there parent field trips on weekdays which you are expected to attend? Look for a program that can work for your schedule and family’s lifestyle.
3. Do you have a plan for transitioning new students into the program?
Joining a new environment is a major milestone for your little one! How will the staff help to create a smooth transition for your child? Will you be able to shadow and observe with your child a few days before the first day of school? Can your child attend for half days for the first few days to get used to things? How will teachers welcome your little one into their new space? How do you handle separation anxiety? Find out what the program employees to create an easy, tear-free transition to preschool. Be forewarned that not all transitions will be smooth sailing. New beginnings can be very stressful for young children, and this process could take anywhere from 1 day to a few weeks, depending on the child. Look for programs that will partner with you to develop a plan for success. This will look different for each child but could include observation days, letters from the teacher, bringing in family photos for comfort, extra affection at drop off, play dates with classmates, and more.
4. Is potty training required?
Some schools require children to be potty trained before beginning. Others will be your partner in the process. Obviously, if you are starting your child as an infant, children are not expected to be potty trained. You will want to check and see how they potty train and if they recommend any books! (Mi Casita recommends Oh Crap! Potty Traning by Jamie Glowacki). While on the topic, check out the diapering scene. Are wipes provided or do parents provide? Are children required to wash their hands post diapering (They should be!). How are diapers organized? Do you need to provide specific cremes for your child? How is diapering reported back to you? How often will your child be changed?
5. How do you keep parents up to date on their kid’s daily activities or behavior? Do you offer a daily report?
Report types can range from a daily class journal where teachers write about the day to very child specific apps that log naps, potty time, activities, photos and more. Mi Casita uses Brightwheel to monitor daily apps. This works really well because parents can communicate with teachers and the director regularly for day to day changes. Find out when it is appropriate to have face to face conversations with teachers. Popping in at morning drop off may not work if the class is beginning with Circle Time. Is there a protocol to schedule meetings with the teacher or will you be able to ask questions at pick up? While teachers want to share everything with you about your child, their main priority during the day is to be with the children, so school hours are usually not the best time for quick catch ups.
6. What security measures do you take for your facility?
Different daycares and preschools incorporate unique security systems for their programs. At the bare minimum, doors to the facility should be remained locked so that outside visitors cannot enter into the facility easily. Some schools have special FOBS or key codes for entrance while others require parents to be buzzed in by ringing a bell or making eye contact with a staff member. Does the school provide video surveillance? Can you access the videos during the day? What is the schools emergency pick up policy? Licensed schools will require parents to provide an emergency contact, others require multiple emergency contacts. Knowing the specific security policies will help you to rest easy while your child is at school.
7. Do you have any parent references I could reach out to?
Parents are a wonderful resource for obtaining third-party information about a program. Preschools and daycares will likely be more than happy to share parent information with you so that you can ask questions about the family experience.
8. Are children allowed screen time?
Different preschools have different philosophies on screen time. While some schools see screen time as advantageous, others view it as detrimental to a child’s overall development. The World Health Organization recently recommended that children between the ages of 2 and 4 have no more than 1 hour of screen time per day, and children 0 to 1 have no screen time. Here is an article from the New York Times referencing this: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/24/health/screen-time-kids.html Alternatively, it can be argued that screen time can promote school readiness and provide positive social interactions if viewing with parents or friends. https://www.childtrends.org/child-trends-5/5-ways-screen-time-can-benefit-children-and-families
How do you feel about screen time at early ages? Where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you providing screen time outside of school? What kind of relationship do you want your child to have with screens early on?
9. What is the illness policy?
Illness is inevitable is early education programs. Your child will get sick at some point. Daycares and preschools often adhere to strict 24-hour fever free rules (among others) in order to prevent further sicknesses. While this can be a serious hassle for families, it also helps prevent the spread of germs. Check with the program director or school handbook to see how illnesses are handled at the prospective schools you visit. The CDC is a wonderful resource to check best practices for educational environments.
10. What is the staff turnover rate?
The national average for staff turnover in the early education industry is 30%. (Reference this here). While some factors like marital status and age, are out of the administration’s control, there are other factors like benefits, school environment, pay rate, administrative support, experience, and personal characteristics, that administrators can influence. According to research, teachers who have years of experience are more likely to stay on the job because they are satisfied and feel as though they have a personal calling to be a teacher. Pay rate and benefits are also factors that can keep teachers engaged and satisfied. Ask the director about what types of benefits teachers receive. Teachers who feel supported by their administrators are also more likely to continue on. How does the administration support teacher education? Look around to try and get a sense if teachers seem content in the environment.
11. If my child gets hurt, how will you handle?
State licensed programs should require the preschool administration to fill out an incident report within 24-48 hours of the incident. This will be kept in your child’s records. The administration will likely call you at the time of the incident. Many state codes require the administration to contact guardians at both the time of the incident/emergency as well as a follow up call. Different protocols will be enacted depending on the nature of the incident. Be sure to review the emergency plan in the parent handbook so that you are aware of what will happen should an emergency happen. Check to see how many emergency contacts are required. Did you just move to a new city? Think about who you can place on an emergency contact besides the guardians as many programs will require 3 or more emergency contacts.
12. Does the school celebrate birthdays?
Birthdays can be a joyous time for children, but not all children’s parents wish to celebrate the same way. Do parents want to come in and celebrate with their child? Do they prefer to drop off snacks for the class? Are there any allergies? While some parents want to bring in homemade cupcakes, others prefer for their children to not have sugar during the day. Maybe they would rather celebrate more intimately at home. If you plan on having a birthday party for your child, will you be required to invite the entire class? Programs have different philosophies on birthday celebrations, so you might want to check in advance so that you can align with the school’s protocol.
13. How many vacation days are there each year?
Check the school calendar and make sure you can plan around school closures. Some daycares close minimally while other programs take extended breaks around holidays.
14. What is the experience and education of educators?
Different programs require different levels of training for teacher positions. Some daycares and preschools accept an Associates degree in Child Development, while others require a Bachelor’s degree. How important is the degree of your child’s teacher to you? How does that compare to years of experience? What kinds of trainings are happening during the year?
15. How are children disciplined?
Check with the school’s policy to see how disciplinary issues are handled. Is there a positive reinforcement system in place? A reward system? How do children learn to mediate disputes? Do teachers redirect? Is there a biting and hitting policy? No one wants to think about their child misbehaving or being involved in a controversy, but the reality is, this will likely occur at some point and you will want to understand the preschool or daycare’s procedure in advance so nothing comes as a shock to you. Mi Casita recommends Love and Logic to parents and educators as a very effective tool for managing difficult situations.
16. What is the child to teacher ratio?
The student to teacher ratios vary from state to state, and from age to age. Many schools choose to improve upon those ratios to ensure a more intimate learning environment. Ratios may or may not be posted in each classroom, so it would be good to ask what the ratio of various age groups are. Keep in mind, the ratio for a four-year-old classroom will be different from that of a two-year-old classroom. Because ratios are determined by the child’s age, the school may choose to move the student up to a new classroom as soon as their birthday happens to make room for new students. Would you prefer that your child stay in a class for the entire year? Check with the director to see what the process is for moving students to new classes, and when this happens. What qualifies a student to move up? Is it age alone or is it a combination of factors?
17. Are you willing to share the parent handbook before we sign up?
You may want to consider reviewing the handbook prior to enrolling so that you feel comfortable with all of the school policies and procedures. This will help you to understand each and every detail of the program prior to committing. Keep in mind that most rules are put in place for a reason. The director should be able to explain the “why” behind all of the regulations to help you feel at ease. Note: you may not agree with all of the policies and procedures, but if you enroll you will likely be asked to sign and acknowledge that you have read and understood the handbook.
18. What is the late pick-up policy?
Whether it’s traffic or a long conference call, everyone runs late once in a while. How will this be handled at the facility? Is there a grace period or will you be charged right away? What is the best way to contact the school in this case?
19. How often is the facility cleaned?
Attention all “germophobes”! Preschools and daycares are home sweet home to lots of germs coming in and out of the school on a daily basis. What does the school do to keep a clean and healthy environment? How often are toys cleaned? Children love to get messy throughout the day, and that is a wonderful thing, but how often will the rooms be cleaned to ensure a fresh environment? Do you see hand sanitizers strategically placed throughout the school? (This is a good thing!) Check bathrooms to make sure handwashing signs are posted in a prominent place.
20. Are enrichment activities included in the tuition?
Many schools offer enrichment classes such as soccer, music, dance, yoga, etc. Is this included in the regular tuition or is it considered an extra class? If you are considering an extended day (usually between 3 PM to 6 PM), there will likely be extra classes for the afterschool program.
21. What is the drop off/pick up window?
Some schools have very specific drop off and pick up times while other programs allow you to choose a window (example: 7-hour window) that works for you. Both have their benefits. If you need more flexibility in your care schedule, you may look for a program that does not require an 8:30 drop off. If that is not an issue for you, or if you need extended care, it may not matter. Do you occasionally need extended care? Check to see if the school can accommodate this on a case by case basis. Every family has a unique situation.
22. How are dietary restrictions and allergies handled?
If your child has a dietary restriction or allergy, you will want to know how this is handled. You may be asked to provide an epi-pen to keep on site in case of an emergency. Check to see what types of snacks or meals are provided throughout the day. What are the snacks? Fruit? Goldfish? Are you comfortable with your child receiving this type of snack on a daily basis? Is this a nut free facility? What peanut butter alternatives does the administration suggest? What do other parents tend to bring? You can get many good lunch ideas from other preschool parents and teachers.
23. How often do children go outdoors?
We can all agree that getting fresh air increases our quality of life. How much time will your child be indoors vs. outdoors? Are there any weather constraints or will children go outside even in the rain, sleet, and snow? What types of activities happen outdoors, or is it free play? Urban schools with no access to outdoor play space may have a different approach from a school in the suburbs.
24. What sets your school apart from other programs?
Use this question to delve into the heart and soul of what makes each school special. There are many wonderfully inspiring programs available in our communities. We hope that you find the perfect fit for your family!