Looking for the perfect place for your little one to start his or her school journey is an emotional task. Every parent wants the best for her child, and preschool and pre-Kindergarten classrooms and teachers are not one-size-fits-all. (If you are looking for a preschool, be sure to check out the Guide to Preschools and Parents’ Day Out, if you haven’t already.)
We all know that perfection is more of an ideal than a reality, but you want to send your child to a school that you trust. Much like looking for a new home, seeking out the right school means finding one that fits your budget and location, and has the right feel for you.
As a pre-K teacher, I had many prospective parents come into my classroom. Some just did a quick peek inside, others grilled me for half an hour with questions. I loved when parents had at least a couple of questions because it meant they were invested in finding the right fit for their students.
So, if you’re hitting the admission tours, I’ve compiled a list of some questions — for the school, for the admissions director, and for the teacher — to help you get started.
Questions for the Teacher
- How much of your class time is structured versus unstructured? Many preschools work with mainly a play-based, unstructured learning model. This allows the teacher to set the environment and have the kids explore within it. Other schools have much more structured teaching time with set activities at specific times. It’s good to know what kind of model you are looking at, so you know if it will work well with your future student.
- How many minutes of recess do the students get per day? This is HUGE for pre-K. There are requirements for the state and private schools to follow for recess time at different ages. Early childhood (that includes Kindergarten) needs the most recess time. In this conversation, it’s also worth checking on the policies for inclement weather and “extreme” temperatures. It will give you a better idea of how many days a year they actually get to go to recess because Texas weather loves extremes.
- What is your method for settling student disputes? Put a bunch of preschoolers in a room, and tiny fights and issues are going to happen very quickly, especially when they are all coming from different environments. It’s good to get a feel for how much teachers intervene and when they encourage or allow the students the chance to work it out on their own.
- How do you communicate with parents? Teacher-parent communication is vital for success at any age, even in preschool. Most teachers have a daily folder or paper that goes home, but not always. In addition, it’s good to know if a teacher will only be able to speak with parents from the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., if he doesn’t check his email often, or if she doesn’t text. Teachers should not have to be available 24/7, but you do want to find someone who is willing to work with you in the interest of your child.
- How do you handle naptime? There is little that is more contentious for parents than naptime. Some parents demand it; some parents hate it. It can be stressful for all parties involved: teachers, parents, and students. Go in knowing what the naptime expectations are and what your child will need, supply-wise. If your kid isn’t a napper, then find out the plan for students who don’t sleep.
Questions for the Admissions Director
- What is your ratio in the preschool classroom? These standards vary by state and type of institution. Daycares have different requirements than schools, and public versus private schools have different ratios. Know what you’re getting into. I can tell you right now anything more than 12 three year olds in one classroom is a lot for one adult, but the ratio at my school was 15:1. We never took that many, but it’s still good info to have.
- How does tuition work? There are sliding scales of tuition, different methods and schedules for payment, and often ways to discount your fees. Always ask this question; don’t just assume that what you see online is the only answer. There is often room for payment plans and negotiation. If there isn’t, that is also good to know, as it tells you something about the school.
- Do you have rolling admissions? This means that students can join the classroom at any time during the year. This is true in most schools, but not all. New students always shake up a classroom, for better or worse. Maybe you would be joining later in the year and want to know how that looks. No matter when you’re looking to start your kiddo, this is a good question to ask.
Questions for the School/Principal
- How do you communicate with parents? Yes, you have already asked this question of the teacher, but you need to ask the same question of the school. Do all school events get sent out via email, phone call, text, or a paper in the folder? This answer needs to be something you can live with or adjust to, or you’re going to constantly miss important info!
- What are your visitor policies? This question is two-fold. One, you want to know if you can come and have lunch with your student or volunteer in a classroom. The other side is that you should know who has access to your child, how they are screened, and who is keeping track. All schools have some sort of policy for this, so find out what it is.
- Do you have support staff on site? Preschool is often the first place to catch developmental delays, speech issues, or learning disabilities. Early intervention is often KEY to helping your student get a good start on his or her school journey. If there isn’t a diagnostician or a speech, occupational, or physical therapist on site, how does the school handle those issues?
- What training do your teachers have? I suggest asking this question to the school/principal over the individual teacher because you are likely to get a less defensive response. In many places, you do not have to be a certified teacher to teach preschool (or other grades). I do not believe that you must be certified to be a good teacher, but knowing what percentage of a staff is certified is a good reference point.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are questions about lunch, snacks, allergies, birthdays, party invitations, parent responsibilities, and on and on. But hopefully, these questions will get you started on your school-finding mission. Even if you’re not shopping around and only considering one school, I suggest you try to schedule a tour or at least call and ask some questions. Schools sit up and take notice of involved parents from the start. And anything that helps you feel more comfortable with where your baby will soon spend most of the waking hours is totally worth asking.