This a decision every parent agonises over. We want to find the school that will give our child the best. We want a place where they will be extended and encouraged to grow; a place where they will be met where they are and, most importantly, a place where they will be accepted and loved – essentially a home away from home.

 

We have decided to keep our little girl at home for the remainder of the year and here’s why. But, we are currently discussing where to send our daughter next year and our decision involves much of the following.

 

If you live in a small town, the possibilities may not be endless. However, if you live in a place (like me) where schools abound, you might feel overwhelmed and peek through your fingers as you circle your index finger above the exhaustive list and pick the one it lands on.

 

My first piece of advice is go and see the school! (It may be hard during the pandemic but at least look at their website and set up a meeting, if you can, with the school principal.)

 

Here are some things to look for.

 

1. A friendly enviroment

I think that this is pretty straightforward. Just walking into the school, you will get a feel for the place. Don’t write it off if you don’t feel a good vibe instantly. But I think it will be pretty obvious to you. Do you get the warm fuzzies walking in because of the art everywhere and the bright colours splashed on the wall? Do the kids seem happy and as if they are having the best time ever? (I would even venture to say that if preschoolers run past you or carry on playing, not noticing you are there, that’s a good indication fun is being had!) Does it look inviting and could you just picture your child having a blast? Are the staff warm and welcoming? Do you see smiles and hear laughter?

 

2. The interaction of staff and kids

If you have made an appointment to see the school or have an interview scheduled (a must to both if you can!) then try and arrive early or stay a little after if you are “allowed”. Watch how the staff interact with the kids. Are they abrupt (which happens from time to time because we all have those days) or are they motherly in their approach? Are their interactions playful and compassionate or cold and distant? I’ll never forget the principal of a school I worked at greet a child with a hug and ask her if she had a nice sleep. Those interactions speak volumes.

 

3. Security and safety

Look at how the children are kept contained where they need to be. What is the system for dropping off and collecting your child from school? Does their equipment look well-maintained?

 

4. Feeder schools

This is just a good-to-know. Does the school you are looking at for primary school usually take kids from this preschool? Do they feed other similar schools that you would consider sending your child to?

 

5. Lots of space outdoors

Those little bodies need to burn off all that energy. I recall standing under the corrugated iron shelter outside on a rainy day, staff shouting at each other above the deafening noise of children and the rain and we were ready to tear our hair out. The minute it had stopped raining, we sent those kids onto the grass to run as they shrieked in sheer delight. If they don’t have space, everyone goes mad and everyone starts to act out. Do they have lots of grassed area to run? Is there equipment for them to climb on, swing on and crawl through?

 

6. A well-rounded daily programme – balance of structure and play

This is probably one of things that would make or break a school for me. Children need more structure than home but much less structure than primary school. Unfortunately many schools either have too much or too little. I find some schools hide behind the excuse that children should play (which is absolutely right!) but they need to do a little more than play. I find that preschools attached to a primary school are too structured. Kids should not be shipped off to music lessons, computer lessons, P.E. and so on in Gr R or beneath! Preschool training equips the teacher to do everything so they should be no need to ship them off. This means they also need to fit into the routine of the primary school. They should not be doing work books or doing a watered down version of Grade 1! Sadly, because so many preschools are now attached to primary schools, there is huge pressure on stand-alone preschools to match the standard so that their kids are not behind and thus, they have had to introduce workbooks. It should not be this way but it’s starting to become unavoidable! Below is an example of a Daily Routine preschools might follow

 

7:00 – 7:30 Drop off time

7:30 – 7:45 Indoor play

7:45 – 8:00 Tidy Up

8:00 – 8:15 Greeting Ring – weather, songs, counting, news

8:15 – 8:45 Morning Ring – language or maths activities (For older grades, this is when workbook activity would happen. Hopefully they don’t do much more paperwork than this.)

8:45 – 9:30 Free Area Play – Garden, Fantasy room, Cognitive Room, Art Room (new activities should be set out each day in these areas and the children are allowed to go from place to place or play in one area as they choose)

9:30 -10:15 Toilet time and Snack Time

10:30- 11:15 Ring Time – music, movement, class art, drama

11:15 – 11:30 Free Outdoor Play

11:30 – 12:00 Special Skills – a time the teacher uses to make observations and develop individual skills

12:00 – 12:20 Story Time

12:20 Home Time

 

I hope these things help you to choose the best place for your child. And don’t just apply at the school of your choice. I’ve seen it happen one too many times that a child is not accepted and the parents don’t have Plan B. Apply at a few. It also gives you an clearer idea of what is out there and will make you more confident in your decision.

What things are your “musts” when choosing a preschool?

 

Photo Credit: CDC from Pexels

 

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