You’ve done your research on Paper Pinecone so you know the schools you’re touring are a good fit on a basic level. Their schedule works with yours, you know their potty training requirements, and you’ve done some homework on their philosophy. Now it’s time to see the school. Here are questions to help you determine if this is the right place for your family.
- Conflict Resolution and Discipline
The school must have an approach that you’re comfortable with, as conflict will absolutely occur amongst preschoolers whose brains are still developing. They’re still learning social norms and they’re still learning how to communicate. So, when conflict arises, what does the school do? Are they more apt to step in immediately, or do they let children attempt to problem solve on their own? When and how are parents notified when an incident occurs? How is behavior corrected if a child hits or bites? (Note, you should ask about biting policy, especially if you have a biter – many schools send children home for the day.) What does the school consider inappropriate behavior? Take into account the type of parent you are. Do you feel it’s necessary to hear about every minor conflict or would you prefer to only be told when there’s a physical altercation or another major event?
- Staffing and Ratios
A school is only as good as its staff. First, every state sets minimum student:teacher ratios, so check yours and first ensure the school you’re touring meets them, but preferably does better. Next, learn about the teachers’ qualifications. Asking about college degrees is one thing, but more importantly, what practical experience do they bring? Do they have teachers who specialize in certain areas? What about turnover? How long does staff tend to stay? Are any teachers expected to leave the school soon? If so, what’s the plan for replacing them? If the school has mixed age classrooms, likely your child will be with the same teacher for years. But if they don’t, do teachers move with the students at the end of the year or will your child have a new teacher every year? If having a school open as many days as possible is important to you, be sure to ask if the school closes for staff development days, and how many there are each year.
- Technology in the Classroom
We all know that too much screen time is bad for our children, but some childcare centers are using it a little too liberally. If there is a TV, be sure to ask how often it’s on and what kind of programming is shown. Is the content related to a lesson, or are cartoons put on in place of supervision? Ask if infants are permitted to watch TV and if they have specific policies regarding technology. If the school uses an app that allows teachers to post pictures throughout the day, you know that they’ll have their phones on them at all times. Are they also texting or checking social media? It can be hard for all of us to resist the urge, but staff should be focused on the children.
- Childcare Philosophy and the Curriculum
There are many different philosophies and curricula and their application will be different for every preschool. Some philosophies encourage more independent learning, like Montessori, while others, like Reggio Emilia, take a more cooperative approach. If you’re touring a Montessori school, how is collaboration taught? If you’re touring a school with a cooperative philosophy, what does the school do to foster leadership and independence? Some preschools group children by age, but there’s research to suggest that mixed-age classrooms have benefits to children of all ages. How is the classroom structured and how does this impact the curriculum? Ask about art in class – is it process over product or vice versa?
- Kindergarten Prep, Growth & Milestones
Kindergarten, especially public kindergarten, can be a hard transition from a play-based preschool for many children. Ask what the school does to prepare children academically, socially, and behaviorally. What fundamentals are children expected to know to enter kindergarten? In what ways does the school measure success and what is done when a child is deficient in a specific area? Will the school notify you in advance of a parent/teacher conference if your child is struggling? Do they create an individualized plan to ensure your child improves? How often are parent/teacher conferences held throughout the year?
- Parental Involvement in the School
Does the school have fundraising expectations or evening and weekend activities you’re expected to attend? Do they ask you to assist in the classroom, and if so, how often? If you’re looking into co-op schools, your involvement will be quite high, but it will still vary from place-to-place so make sure you’re comfortable with the level of commitment they require.
- Time Spent Outdoors