Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finding A Preschool

It's the time of year that parents just might be on the search for a preschool. For those who were readers a year ago, you know that we went through quite a process with searching and visiting and interviewing. We wanted to find the best place for our daughter- that would also end up being the best place for our son.

 Here are a bunch of the posts I wrote during that time:
  The Last Wednesday
  The Montessori School Visit
  The Great Preschool Search
  Montessori vs Goddard vs A Beka etc
  Eureka!

 And a follow up to what we've learned in the past year...

 We love, love, love our preschool! Little Explorers has been everything we'd hoped for and has also exceeded our expectations. It isn't just about what she is learning or about the curriculum. What we were looking for was a place where she would learn and where we felt she was safe. What we got was a place where she is loved for her unique spirit and individuality. She isn't just learning the same things as everyone else- she's also being encouraged to discover her own interests and drive.

I've learned so much about my daughter. I've learned about her competitive side, about her desire to lead. At first, I wasn't so comfortable with it. The director/owner (Lori) of the school has truly been a partner - not just in educating my child but in helping me understand her better, helping me to embrace parts of her personality that I was initially uncomfortable with.

One thing I was concerned about balancing when we were looking for a school was my involvement. I wanted a place that would welcome me at any time. I needed a place that wasn't going to require a lot of time on my part. I work full time, Mon-Fri, and finding time to commit once a month can be a struggle when time is taken away from work for illness, sick daycare provider, daycare provider closed, etc. I wanted to be involved as an enhancement and I wanted the ability to decide how much I could enhance. I needed that flexibility and that openness. And I found it and then some. I even signed on to be a Room Mom and have been very successful in the 2 parties that Room Parents have been called on to throw this school year so far. I feel completely welcome to be very much a part of Teagan's school goings on- and Lori helps me stay connected with Teagan even though I can't be there. Phone calls, e-mails... Lori and I talk as often as needed or wanted.

It's a small school and I know every teacher and helper. And they all know my daughter and love her and the other kids.

In terms of learning, through fun activities, learning centers, and guidance, Teagan is counting and adding and even reading. And she is so excited about learning and growing in these ways!

Teagan will continue at Little Explorers for Kindergarten. The decision was easy because we love the school and are very eager for Teagan to have Miss Sally as her Kindergarten teacher. The decision was hard because Teagan will have to change schools for 1st grade and will be in a different public school than the kids she will have then known for 2 years. We live on the other side of our town from Little Explorers and many of those kids will be in an elementary school on that side of town. I'm not worrying about that transition until we get there.

The other reason we chose for Teagan to do Kindergarten at Little Explorers is because Zach will start there this fall (or summer). My kids were in a home daycare situation together until this past fall. I look forward to them being together again. Each day, they will spend time together in the morning, go to separate rooms for their school time, and then come back together for the last few hours of the day. I think it's a unique opportunity for their sibling relationship. Plus, the way Little Explorers is set up, they will spend childcare-only days together and will enjoy summer programming together.

My tips for seeking out a preschool:

Once you have a list of places you are considering- and the best way to form that list is to look around your neighborhood, talk to other parents at church and work and playgroups- here are some tips to help you evaluate the school.

1. Call and talk to the head of the school. You will learn a lot from that conversation- are they in a hurry? Are they answering your questions or trying to brush you off? Ask about the learning philosophy of the school. Ask about open door policies. Ask about parental involvement. Leave questions open ended instead of directed - the more they talk, the more you learn.

2. Schedule a visit to the school without your child. Your state should have records available showing the school's inspections. Look at it before you go. Is the environment bright, colorful, well lit? Any safety concerns? How are the rooms organized? In the classroom, get on your knees and look at the room from your child's perspective to see what they will see. How does it feel? Overwhelming? Welcoming? Exciting? Scary?

3. Schedule a visit with your child. Let your child visit the classroom without you by their side so you can observe how they adjust. Watch and see how the teacher includes your child in the classroom. Walk away from the classroom and let your child find their own way and then slip back, hopefully without being seen, and peek in to see how your child is doing, how the kids are acting, how the teacher is managing the class.

4. Feel free to drop in unannounced. The school should welcome a visit at any time. See if things are the same as on the other days you visited. If you feel like you need an excuse, say you need to pick up registration paperwork or you had a few more questions. And be sure to ask to go back and peek in the classrooms again.

5. Talk to your child about their experience visiting the school. Our journey was such that the 3 schools that passed the phone call didn't pass our adults only visit. Little Explorers was the only school we took Teagan to see. Had she been unhappy about something, we would have listened to her. Thankfully, she loved it as much as we did!

6. Don't be afraid to ask hard or uncomfortable questions of the staff, director. While the answer is important, how they answer will tell you a lot more. If you ask about how they handled suspected abuse and the response is defensive or the person is taken aback or you hear a lot of excuses... it's how they answer and respond- both with words and with body language- that will tell you what you are really looking for. For more on this sort of thing, I recommend reading Gavin De Becker's book "Protecting The Gift." In fact, any parent who leaves their child in the care of another person should read that book.

You are choosing a place that will be a foundation for your child. You should trust the school you select. We chose Little Explorers because we felt that we would be respected and heard but that we also would learn from their leadership and expertise. We can speak up about what's going on with our daughter or if we have concerns but we also know that we will be brought in to any issues or concerns that they are seeing with our daughter. We are laying the groundwork for Teagan to be excited about learning. With the partnership that we found with our preschool, I feel confident that we are starting out on the right foot!

I'd love to hear your ideas and tips. And if there are questions you are facing in your search, let's try to find some answers!

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7 comments:

Shell said...

We worked and worked and worked on finding the right preschool for my boys- particuarly for my middle son, whom I can't just throw in anywhere.

When we moved in the middle of the school year, I made sure to try my boys at a preschool for a few days before making a commitment.

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I love hearing a parents perspective on finding a preschool! This is so helpful to read and consider what has been and is important to you. Thanks for sharing!

Eternal Lizdom said...

@Shell Another good tip. Because your kids will tell you the most about their experience and it's once you have hem there and it is part of the routine that you learn the most!

@Deborah I'm glad this could be helpful from a different perspective!

Lori said...

Liz,

This really brightened my day! Thanks for your faith in trust in LEP! We strive to be the very best we can be...and will strive to grow better with each year! Can't wait to get to spend some time with Zach-a-roo, too!!!

Lori

Kori said...

I would even take that one step further and say that EVERY parent, regardless of whether you are planning on ever leaving your kids in the care of another person or not, should read that book. It was wonderful; I can't reiterate that enough.

Katherine said...

My children have attending a lot of different daycares and preschools, some not so wonderful (out of pure desperation on our part.) But we are now in the process of looking for a preschool for our 3 year old. Great advice.

J. L. W. said...

We just signed my oldest up for preschool. I am excited for her to go.