Researching the Best Preschool for Your Child
Many parents are tempted to dive right into the preschool applications process and begin submitting applications to every school that they’ve ever heard of or walked by. At Admit NY, we recommend taking a step back and considering the most important factors of a nursery school (nursery, preschool – they’re the same thing!) before submitting anything. Good research is key to ensuring an efficient and streamlined application process, but even more crucially, good research will help you find the preschool that’s the best fit for your family. After all, the real point of the preschool admissions process is matching with the school that aligns with your family’s educational values and will provide your child with a strong foundation for the rest of their school years.
Getting Started with the Basics
The easiest factors to research are the ones that are the most factual – and those are the ones you should start with when you sit down to build your school list. Your first step should be visiting the websites of many nursery schools and determining these factors:
- Location: Where is the school? How would your child get there? Does the school offer transportation options? You can immediately eliminate any schools that simply would be a burden to get to based on their proximity to your home.
- Timing: What are the hours of the school day? Does the school offer AM and PM spots? Does school occur every weekday, or only certain days? Do they offer extended day programming? Take into account your child’s maturity and willingness to be away from home, and also any logistical concerns on your end – do you need childcare for certain times/days?
- Birthday cutoffs: Research how each school manages age cutoffs for their youngest students. You’ll want to consider when your child should enter preschool – some kids are ready after 18 months or so, while others would do better entering a formal classroom at around three years old. Plus, consider whether you want your child to be old or young for their grade according to each school’s birthday cutoffs – remember that this decision might ultimately affect your child’s age/grade years down the line.
Intangibles: The Hard Stuff
After you’ve done some research on the basic factors like location, timing, and birthday cutoffs, you’ve hopefully narrowed down your list of options to the schools that work logistically for your family. Now it’s time for the much more difficult research – investigating the less tangible elements of a school’s culture to decide whether it would be a good fit for your family and child’s personality. Here are a few elements to examine:
- Philosophy: Evaluating a school’s philosophy is probably the most important research that you’ll conduct in selecting a nursery school. It’s very important that the school teaches and organizes programming in a way that coheres with the values and practices that you’ve set up for your child at home. For instance, some nursery schools are focused on exposing kids to academics as soon as possible, stressing literacy skills, language development, and early math skills. Other schools are more focused on play, discovery, and exploration. You may want to investigate schools’ disciplinary policies, whether or not they require uniforms, or how much they integrate parents into the day-to-day. Some schools will cater to certain kids’ learning style and personality better than others, and you should spend significant time considering how your child would fit into each type of environment.
- Teachers: Your child’s first teacher will likely play a major role in their educational journey, and you should consider which factors about a teaching style are most important to you. Some schools are strict about nursery teachers’ credentials, requiring master’s degrees; at some schools, students call teachers by their first names. Think about how your child relates best to adults in their life, and attempt to judge how they would connect with their first classroom teacher in an optimal classroom.
- Parent community: Choosing a nursery school isn’t all about your child – you also want to ensure that you’re comfortable with the community of parents. Obviously, every parent will decide how involved they want to be in their child’s preschool education, and you should take the time to research whether the average level of involvement at a school of interest will match well with your intentions. Some schools might welcome parents regularly into the classroom and cultivate a more involved parent community, while others expect to see you only at pick up, drop-off and school-wide events; consider your ideal setup, and find schools that match accordingly.
As you can tell, these factors are pretty intangible – there aren’t any concrete, objective answers on whether a school’s philosophy meshes with your parenting values, or whether you’ll make friends with other parents at your kid’s preschool. While you won’t be able to track these things down on the school’s website, you have a few additional options for qualitative research into your school options:
- Take a school tour: A school tour is an essential component of the school research process, and you’ll want to use your tour opportunity to collect more information about how a school operates. As you peek into classrooms, take note of things like:
- The furniture arrangements and the materials that the kids are using to learn or play
- How technology is integrated into the classroom
- Whether kids call teachers by their first names
- The art on the walls
- The amount of joy in the classroom – do kids seem happy to be there?
- Stop by during morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up: Observing a typical drop-off or pick-up will help you understand how other parents fit into the school community, and whether kids seem excited to rush into the building for the day. You might also take a moment to introduce yourself to a current parent and ask them what they think about the school – they might give you a more honest reflection of the school’s strengths and weaknesses than you received on a tour.
- Attend an activity, even one for older kids: If you have the time, consider attending an activity that the school hosts, even if it’s for older kids and you are looking at an on-going school. For example, attending a sporting event for middle or high schoolers can still be a valuable signal about the culture of a lower school – how involved are parents? Do younger children attend the game as fans? How do the school administrators coordinate and run the event?
All in all, researching schools is a multifaceted process. As you collect the tangible details like location and evaluate the fuzzier elements like philosophy and parent involvement, you’ll often find that certain schools seem to just feel right for your child and your family. Once you’ve made that list, it’s time to move on to the actual application process.
With any questions about school research, options for nursery schools that fit certain qualifications, building a school list, or anything about the preschool applications process, reach out to Admit NY for personalized guidance. Best of luck finding the perfect school for your child!