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What to Look for in a Preschool

how do you know if it's the right one?

So you’re about to put your little in preschool and it’s time to pick where to enroll—but how do you know which school is the right one for your family? What questions should you ask? Should you take a tour? How much time should you allow to make a decision? We connected with Katie Zeller of The Day School at Highland Park Presbyterian Church to answer these questions and more.

When parents start the task of deciding what preschool their child should attend, there’s a lot to and consider. What the main things parents should think about? The early childhood years are some of the most impressionable years of a child’s life, and you want your child to be in a place where the teachers are able to teach young children at their level and a place where your child can truly enjoy being there.

In preschool, a lot of the learning will take place while children are playing. We talk a lot about how play is the job of a child, and that is really true. Through playing, children learn important skills in all areas of development.

So, in a way, their education during this time is supposed to be focused on fun? These are the earliest years of your child’s education, and learning can be so much fun. This is not the time in a child’s life when they need to be sitting at a desk for more than 15–20 minutes. Look for a school with a fun and joyful environment, because that is the kind of environment that will foster a lifelong love of learning.

What else should parents look for? When touring a school, observe how adults are talking to the children. In early childhood education, learning is built on a trusting relationship between a child and teacher. This trust is built when adults talk to children in nurturing ways. They may do this by getting down on their eye level, using their names and listening carefully to what the child is saying.

How far in advance should parents start looking at preschools? At a minimum, I would suggest that parents start looking at schools a year in advance. There are some schools that you can get on a waitlist for earlier, but typically preschools in the DFW area will start the application process a year in advance.

Earlier you mentioned touring the facility. How valuable is that? I would definitely recommend that families tour several schools before making a final decision. It helps to see different types of schools to help narrow down what they are looking for.

Touring a school gives you a snapshot into the daily life of the school and that will help knowing if it’s a place that would be a good fit for you and your child.

I recommend going into all tours with an open mind. There is no “perfect” preschool, and there will inevitably be aspects of all schools that don’t meet your “dream school” requirements. Know ahead of time what the deal breakers are for your family and ask questions that will help you determine if the school is aligned with what you’re looking for.

You’ll be able to find out most logistical questions on their website, so use the opportunity to get to know the heart and the philosophy of the school.

Should parents try to find a preschool that fits their needs or fits their kid’s personality? Or both? I would say that they should focus on their children’s personality first and foremost. Every preschool is so different, and every child is so different. Parents know their children best and they will know the type of atmosphere where their children will thrive. Chances are, if it is a good fit for their children, the parents are going to be happy too!

Are there any red flags or total deal-breakers to keep an eye out for? You want your child to be at a place where you can drop them off and walk away confident that your child is going to be loved and cared for that day. Parents should listen to their gut—if they don’t feel a connection with the school, then ultimately it won’t be a good fit in the long run.

Mostly, it’s important to have aligned priorities. Think about what is the most important to you, and make sure that is what is most important to that school.

What do you consider to be the “gold standard” for preschools? Is there one? I think the “gold standard” is so different for every family! Everyone has a different idea of what is the perfect fit for their family. What is most important is that your child is in a place where they are loved and nurtured. But to me, the “gold standard” of preschools is when a school is intentional at using individualized and play-based learning to educate and nurture the whole child.

Image courtesy of iStock.