Consider the Following:

  • Is this school a good fit for your child — and you? Can you picture your child thriving here? Will this school engage his interests? How will he do socially in this environment?

“Nobody knows your child the way you do,” says Judi Gilles, Program Director of Fruit & Flower, a preschool in Portland, Oregon. “So you have to be able to picture your child in this setting and make sure your child will be comfortable and you will be too.”

  • Spend time observing. Schools will often conduct thorough tours. Watch silently in the classroom and observe the interactions. Ask yourself, “Is this the kind of environment I can see my young child thriving in?”
  • What is the educational philosophy? How does this school approach learning? Some philosophies are play-based, some introduce reading and math earlier than others, and many schools incorporate multiple philosophies. Some preschools follow specific educational models such as the Montessori Method, the Waldorf approach, the Reggio Emilia system and more. Learn more about Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and other preschool philosophies.
  • How large are the classes and what is the teacher-child ratio? Class size ratios in childcare settings vary by state. Ask your school what the mandate is. Most childcare centers range from 1:3 or 1:4 adults to children or infants, and then vary by age as the child gets older. The important thing to consider is how your child’s needs and your own will be met by this equation.
  • What is the look and feel of the school? Does it feel warm and inviting? Or is it cold and institutional? Is it clean and organized, or messy and chaotic? What kind of work is up on the walls? Do you see original art, or posters and worksheets? Is the work placed at eye level so young children can see it? Are the facilities old or new? Do they have a gym or play yard? How often do they use it?
  • Is the atmosphere exciting? Do students seem happy? Do they look busy or bored? Are they having positive interactions with each other, the staff, and the teachers? Do the teachers seem like they enjoy teaching here? Would your child be happy here? Would you?
  • What kinds of activities are children doing? What is happening in the art corner and the block area? Are children working cooperatively, individually, or both? Are the projects controlled or open-ended, enabling children to do many different things with the same materials? Are there opportunities for dramatic and fantasy play? Do children have lots of free time to run around?
  • What is the focus on reading? If this is a preschool, ask if it focuses on teaching early literacy skills and at what age. Does this approach seem right for you and your child?

“The range of readiness for reading activities among young children is enormous,” says Jane Katch, M.S.T., kindergarten teacher at the Touchstone Community School in Grafton, Massachusetts. “Some want to learn to read and are looking at print, trying to figure it out. Others are not ready, and if pushed too soon may think they are bad at reading. A good preschool program should make all of these children feel successful. Remember that if children are pushed too soon, they can get turned off to reading — and this attitude could stay with them for years.”