By Kelly Youngblood
Sending your child to preschool can be a big transition for both you and your little one. That’s why finding the right fit is so important to make that transition as smooth as possible.
Here are some important areas all parents may want to consider throughout their search process, including first visits, class environments, schedules, communication and parent involvement. Thank you to Jenelle Thompson-Keene, Director of Cooperative Nursery School in Urbana, for offering her advice and tips!
Thanks to Coop Nursery School in Urbana for presenting our How to Pick a Preschool post. Cooperative Nursery School is a nonprofit, nonsectarian preschool that has been a part of C-U for 75 years. “Coop” is very unique because parents have the option to assist in the classroom, tuition rates are more affordable than most programs, and potty training is not required for enrollment. Parent to child ratios are low, which allows for more math, science, music, and language enrichment as well as better engagement of students. There is currently a 2/3 year old class that meets M, W, F, and a 4/5 year old class that meets M-Th. Good Beginnings is a parent-child playgroup that meets once a week and is a wonderful way to introduce a child to preschool and offer families additional opportunities to learn and play together.
Q: What should parents consider first when visiting a preschool?
When picking a preschool, it’s very important that you and your child feel comfortable. When you visit the program, note things like- who greets you and how are you greeted? How long have staff worked at the preschool, and how established is the preschool in the community? High staff turnover means more transitions for your child.
Q: What should parents look out for in regards to the classroom environment?
Note what students are working on. Do students seem happy and engaged with art, manipulatives, blocks, and more in defined and comfortable spaces? How do staff handle any conflicts, problems, injuries, etc.? Do staff look at these as opportunities for students to learn and grow?
Q: What advice would you give parents when it comes to preschool schedules?
Think about your needs and goals as a family when looking for a preschool. Strong partial day programs have opportunities for free play as well as some structured, teacher led learning, and daily gross motor play (preferably outside as often as possible).
Full day programs are likely to have nap and quiet times in addition to activities of the partial day programs, typically cost more, and may be needed or preferred for parents who are working more hours.
Q: Do you have advice on selecting different types of preschool programs?
It’s important to consider what type of program is best for your family, whether that’s religious or secular preschool, Montessori style or parent cooperative. Most preschools require potty training for enrollment, and cooperative programs tend to have different fees based on how much your family chooses to participate.
Q: What questions should parents ask about school communication and parent involvement?
When picking a preschool, it’s helpful to know how staff communicate with families and how frequent communication is. Some schools do weekly newsletters from classroom teachers, while others may only provide monthly director updates.
Is there an open door policy, and how are kids who are hesitant or experiencing separation anxiety helped to acclimate? Does the preschool provide opportunities for families to get to know one another and socialize? Do teachers have clearly defined goals for each student based on their strengths as well as potential growth areas? Are there parent-teacher conferences to make sure that teachers and families are working toward goals they have developed together?
A strong preschool program provides the foundation for kids to become inquisitive, engaged, lifelong learners and is an opportunity to become a part of a diverse, supportive community that is well established and promotes socializing and friendship well beyond the preschool years.