Choosing the Right Preschool For Your Family

March 20, 2015

Recently, my son and his wife went about the task of choosing a preschool for my youngest grandson in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Being from this tech savvy generation, Mom and Dad got online and did research based on websites and information they found on various internet sites.  They narrowed it down to a couple places that looked good on the web—programs that used all the correct buzz words and phrases for educating young children.

Next, Mom did the polite thing and made appointments to tour the schools.  She armed herself with a list of obvious questions about things like nap schedules, feeding schedules, potty training, etc. Then she invited me to go along—what an adventure!

How to Evaluate a Preschool

We both realized during this process that parents do not always know how to go about evaluating a facility. Childcare programs come in many different sizes, shapes and locations.  Teaching philosophies differ greatly from one program to the next.

It can be overwhelming if you do not have a clear sense of what you expect in terms of teaching style, group size, teacher qualifications, building and classroom safety, required parental involvement, etc.

So, I felt compelled to share some nuggets of wisdom that come from the Mom in me as well as the Preschool Director side of me.

Check with the Governing Agency

First and foremost, after you do the search for programs in your chosen area, find the website for the governing agency that oversees childcare programs in your state/county.

In Jacksonville, it is the Florida Department of Children and Families. Their site provides a useful search database to connect you to recent inspection reports for the programs you are considering.

This information is available to the public and is a good place to see if programs are doing everything required to provide a safe and healthy environment for the children in their care.

Click here for a look at HPGP’s most recent inspection report.

Next, remember that websites can be deceiving.

We have this fancy new website, and we are so excited about it.  However, all the posed pictures and creative writing in the world cannot replace the experience of walking into classrooms and seeing first-hand how happy or unhappy children and staff are.

Your Super-Parent skills will kick in as you smell, see, and hear what is happening in the classrooms.

Why We Never Schedule Appointments for Tours

On that note—as I recently taught my daughter-in-law, NEVER make an appointment to tour a childcare program!

I know that it seems polite in this day and age, but consider what setting an appointment really means. How do you know that the facility and staff have not been dressed up just to make a good impression?

As a mother myself, I would drop in and hope to catch them at their worst! If a facility refuses to give a tour without an appointment, it gives me the impression that they have something to hide from public view.

Obviously, you’ll want to use some good sense and do not drop in during the most hectic times. At HPGP, we recommend avoiding our heaviest drop-off and pick-up times of 9:00-9:30am and 1:30-2:00pm, when our staff must fully focus on safely transitioning students into and out of school for they day. But mid-morning and mid-afternoon are usually prime tour times around here.

What to Look For on a Preschool Tour

Okay, now that you are in the door, be sure to use all those Super-Parent skills I just mentioned.  Here are a few things to look out for as you tour the facility.

  • Were you welcomed warmly at the door, and did they acknowledge your child?
  • Is there happy conversation going on between children and staff?
  • What kinds of activities are the children doing—are they things that you could see your child enjoying?
  • Check out the walls—is children’s art work displayed?  Are learning center labels at the children’s eye level and age-appropriate?  (This means pictures for 2’s and 3’s and pictures with words for 4’s and 5’s.)
  • How does it smell?  I know that sounds strange, but smell is an important sign of cleanliness.
  • Check out the bathroom while you are there — is the toilet bowl clean?  Silly, I know, but another sign of cleanliness.
  • Do the staff members have clear lines of sight for all spots in the classroom and on the playground?  Is every child under the watchful eye of a staff member at all times, no matter where they choose to wander?
  • Are all electrical outlets covered with child-safety plugs? Are electrical cords all stowed safely out of reach?
  • What is their policy regarding sick children?  Is there an area to quarantine a child who becomes sick while in their care?
  • What kind of drop-off and pick-up routine do they use? Does it ensure that no child is overlooked or sent home with an unapproved individual?
  • Is there a parent information board in the classroom or hallway to provide regular communication about important topics?
  • Ask for a copy of a monthly calendar and perhaps a snack/lunch calendar so you can see the types of activities they use to reinforce the educational theme for the week/month.
  • Ask if they allow parent involvement in the classrooms for special activities like parties, field trips, etc.  If so, be sure to ask how they screen adult volunteers for the safety of the children.  (We insist on seeing and documenting the Driver’s License of any adult who comes in contact with the children.  Florida licenses have coded designations for Sexual Predator/Offender restrictions.)

Finally, Trust Your Gut

Every family has different needs and priorities. That is why there are so many choices in the marketplace.

After considering location, price, schedule, size, shape, and teaching philosophy, you will have an intellectual decision.  Then it is time to acknowledge your “gut feel.”

The bond of love you have with your child will bring out the animal protective instinct in you.

The most important advice I can give is to trust your own parenting instincts. Ultimately, only you can know whether a program is right for your family!

Many thanks to those of you who trust us with the nurturing and care of your Precious Gifts each day! We truly consider it an honor. 

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