Thursday, January 24, 2013

Picking a Preschool: A Veteran Mom's Perspective

Son's 1st day of preschool...ever!
Picking a preschool can be an exciting yet scaring and stressful process.  Liz wrote about her experience entering the world of preschool with her daughters for the first time last week.  With my youngest child finishing her last few months of preschool, I want to share with you my experience of picking a preschool.

Daughter's 1st day of preschool...ever!
I have two kids that, between both of them as of this June, will have completed 5 years of preschool at 4 different preschools.  Both children have attended 2 different preschools in their young academic careers.

I can remember back 5 years ago when I was signing my son up for his first preschool and feeling absolutely clueless, not to mention panicked that I wouldn't get him into the "right" school.

When it comes to preschool, there are so many choices and things to consider.  Teaching styles, curriculum, cost, location, flexibility, and time are just a few that come to mind.  And only you, the parent(s), will know what school is "right" for you and your child.  Yes, I said you and your child.

Daughter's 1st day of second year of preschool
Picking a preschool is similar to picking a pediatrician.  If you are a worry-wart like me, then it is best to have a pediatrician that has a calming and reassuring demeanor, not one that feeds those worries (yes, those types of pediatricians do exist).  Your child is none the wiser as long as the pediatrician is gentle and kind and makes you feel at ease.  (Oh, and doesn't give the shots. That is the lucky job for the nurse.)

A preschool really has to fit your needs because a 2-5 year old child doesn't really know what they need.  If you are freaking out or stressed about preschool, then your child will feel the same way.

When it came to our needs in a preschool, accreditation was a must. (You can click here to find NAEYC-accredited programs in your area.)  Being accredited can give you the piece of mind that the preschool you choose is following a set of professional standards for early childhood education.  This isn't to say that a program that isn't accredited might not have the exact same curriculum and children might end up just as prepared for kindergarten.  But if a pharmacist put a medication in front of you that was approved by the FDA and another medication that wasn't approved by the FDA, you would feel more confident in the one approved by the FDA, right?

Son's 1st day of second year of preschool

After crossing the accreditation hurdle, there were just a few other things that were essential to me: cost, location, days/times, and parents and children we knew/know at the school.

Cost is always an important consideration because, obviously, you have to be able to afford to pay for preschool for 1-3 years per child.  There are some seriously expensive programs out there, and I am here to tell you that my kids have gone to average-cost preschools and my son is performing very well in elementary school now.  I think it is key to remember that preschool is designed to prepare kids for kindergarten...not for middle school, or high school or Harvard.

The location of a preschool can determine not only how far your home is from your preschool but the direction in which you have to drive to preschool.  The first preschool my daughter attended was wonderful and only a few miles away from our house. (It was even across the street from Target.  What a dream!) But it was in the opposite direction of my son's elementary school.  At times, that became very challenging because I would have to drive in one direction to drop off at one school, throw up a peace sign as I passed by my house and drove to the other school.  While it didn't seem like a big deal at first, it became very frustrating over time.  (Luckily, my daughter's next preschool was also located very close to Target, too! Coincidence??? Perhaps!)

Daughter's 1st day of Junior Kindergarten
 Preschools vary on the days and times children can attend.  Some have morning and afternoon schedules, while some just have one or the other.  When choosing the time of day, I always went with what I thought would best ease them into an elementary school schedule.  My kids had stopped napping by the time they started preschool, but planning around a napping schedule is important to consider as well.  As far as days of the week go, many schools have Monday-Friday, Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday schedules.  While I love the M/W/F schedule for the 3 days a week schedule, it seems like school holidays always fall on Mondays or Fridays. (If you haven't noticed by other posts, I like it when my kids are in school!) Not to mention, if you ever want to to take a long weekend vacation, your child will miss out on the days you pay for.  If your preschool gives you the opportunity to choose your days, I highly recommend a Tuesday-Thursday schedule.  It is a great way to get 3 days of preschool in each week but won't interfere with weekend plans and holidays.

Lastly, it has been so beneficial the past couple of years to know parents and children at my daughter's preschool.  It has helped my daughter make more friends and the hubby and I have made friends as well.  And when you have friends at preschool, you have someone that you can call in a pinch when you need help picking your child up or need a friendly reminder of things that are due.  (And believe me, even though your child is the one attending preschool, things that are due, fall on you!)

If there is one last thing I can say about preschool it is to let your child enjoy learning and allow yourself to enjoy watching them learn.  It is such a great opportunity for children to learn to interact with their peers and it is wonderful time for you to watch your child grow and develop.  While I wish I could say I never panicked when making preschool decisions, I would certainly tell my younger (less wrinkled) self that there is no need to stress.  And I hope this information will help alleviate that stress from you, too!

Posted by Leslie

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