A Champaign-Urbana expert offers her advice to parents seeking the best fit for their preschoolers
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 Cooperative Nursery School in Urbana for offering its expertise in presenting our How to Pick a Preschool article.
Cooperative Nursery School is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, partial-day preschool program that has been in Champaign-Urbana for over 75 years. “Coop” is unique because parents have the opportunity to assist in the classroom, tuition rates are more affordable than most programs, and potty training is not a requirement for enrollment.
- Adult to student ratios are low, which allows for more math, science, and language enrichment as well as better engagement of the students.
- For the 2023-24 school year, there will be a Tuesday/Thursday morning 2-year-old classroom, a Monday/Wednesday/Friday morning 3-year-old classroom, and a Monday-Thursday morning 4-year-old classroom.
- Good Beginnings is a parent-child playgroup that occurs once a week and is a wonderful way to introduce a child to preschool and offer families opportunities to learn and play together.
- There are also free summer play dates once a week, that rotate around the C-U community, to offer families a way to get to know the parent board, staff, and one another.
Q: What should parents consider first when evaluating preschool options?
When picking a preschool, it’s very important that you and your child feel comfortable. Tour during a time where the teachers and class are present. Get feedback from friends and neighbors with older children and speak to families with students currently enrolled in the program.
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?
Does the classroom seem structured and organized by teachers while also giving students opportunities to explore and learn? Do the classrooms seem clean and inviting? What are the health and safety policies of the program? These may vary a great deal post-COVID.
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.
Preschools should have a structured and predictable schedule. Routines and predictability help students feel more comfortable and confident.
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, Parent Cooperative, nature-based, etc.
- What curriculum does the program utilize, and does it fit with your family philosophy? Play to learn programs are quite different from those that utilize worksheets.
- How are the social and emotional needs of the students addressed? Some programs have SEL (social-emotional learning) tools and lessons built in as an integral part of the program. If you ask staff or look at a school handbook, this is typically referred to as the “discipline policy.”
- Most preschools require potty training for enrollment, so this is important to note, too
- (Editor’s note: there are several preschools in the Champaign-Urbana area that are based in church facilities, but the schools remain independent of the host institution and are secular in nature. When in doubt, ask!)
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.
Thank you once again to Jenelle Thompson-Keene, director of Cooperative Nursery School in Urbana, for offering her advice and tips. Check out the website at coopnursery.org and email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a tour today.
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