I blogged yesterday about how much I like the preschool I've found for my kids, but it was not an easy search. I live in a large metro-area and there are many choices, but all vastly different and many have crazy waiting lists.
From my experience as a real-life mom, here are some tips on how to choose/find a good preschool.
The first step in finding a good preschool is to poll all your fellow mommy friends and even moms you see pushing kids on the swings at the park! Word of mouth is the best way to find out about a great preschool.
The second step was tremendously helpful to me! It is the resource, The National Association for the Education of Young Children, abbreviated NAEYC. On their website (click the name for the link) you can search for preschools that they have accredited as being high quality. Schools can voluntarily submit themselves to go through the process to apply to be accredited. Accreditation depends on things like number of students per teacher, degrees of the teachers & administrators, curriculum, environment, communication with parents, etc.
The third step is to tour the school. Call and ask when they offer tours (you need to see the school when it is in session and children are actually there for a normal day). When you go to the tour, do not be bashful about staring into classroom windows or stepping inside to observe if they allow you to, because what you see will tell you a bunch. Are the kids working happily? Is the classroom orderly? What & how do they teach (young children need lots of learning through play rather than sitting and being lectured to)? Do the teachers seem interested in the kids or annoyed by them? What is the playground like (kids need outside play)?
If you tour a school and like it and it is accredited by the NAEYC then you can rest easy that it is very likely a great program. If the preschool is not accredited, but you like it or were recommended by a friend, it is worth asking why they are not accredited.
Your last steps are to make sure the days/times they offer for your age of child fit with what you want and the price is one your family can afford. If all that fits, then concern yourself with their admissions process. Is there a waitlist? If so, how long? Do they operate on a lottery system? Is it first come, first served on a certain sign-up date? If so, do families "camp out" the night before for spots in line (don't laugh my friends did this for a preschool across town from me!)? How likely is it that your child would be accepted?
Now if you are not utterly stressed out yet, I will add that most schools hold registration in Jan., Feb., or March for the following school year, so you gotta plan early! That's why I'm posting this now. Do your research in the fall and apply after Christmas.
The good news though if you have multiple kids, like I do, is that once you go through this for your first kid you just send the younger siblings -- no research, no waiting lists -- you're in!!
Find more Works for me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.