Once you narrow down your choices for a preschool, this means it is time to take a tour. When I say a center based preschool, I am referring to preschool programs in child care centers, churches, and any other preschool that is not inside of a home. To find out tips on how to choose a preschool to tour, see my post on how to choose a preschool program.
After you have made a list of preschool programs you are interested in, it’s time to call and set up a time to see how the program appeals to you in person. There are typically Directors and Assistant Directors who handle administrative operations, and most likely you will be talking with one of them. In many centers they are the ones who will be showing you around as well. It’s good to get to know them during the visit since it is important to have approachable and friendly Directors just in case you may need to bring up any questions or concerns with them in the future.
A tour should be a glimpse of what it is like inside a day at preschool. Take a mental note of aspects such as the interactions between the teachers and children. Are they engaging with them and smiling, or are they exhibiting a face that asks “When will this day be over?”
Is it Child-Centered or Teacher-Centered?
When you look around the classroom, do you see pictures that are obviously child created which allow for art to be a true expression of the child. Is there enough space for the children to move about and play without bumping into one another? Are there learning activities that you could see your child engaged in? Does the class flow well, and do they seem to genuinely enjoy being there?
While your tour should be enlightening, it is not exactly how things run each day. Children have good days and not so good days. If you see a child misbehaving, focus mostly on how the teacher handles this. Is she or he enforcing the rules while showing respect at the same time? Perhaps you walked in on a tour where the class is perfectly listening and sitting on the edge of their seat for every word to come out of their teacher’s mouth. Great teachers have many moments like these, but there are times of the day that we wished that there were even more!
As a tour is also a chance for you to “interview” the program, I have come up with some aspects to help consider in the process. While I was an Assistant Director, I gave dozens upon dozens of tours, and these were what I found to be some of the most pertinent and important points to consider:
1. How long have the teachers been teaching? Some teachers are naturals from the get go, but it is always nice to know that the person teaching your child has a lot of experience in handling and teaching a large group.
2. Do the teachers have a child development related degree? Every state has different standards for preschool teachers, but many programs are trying to put teachers with degrees as the leads in their classrooms. I would recommend programs that require this.
3. What is the teacher to student ratio? Again, each state is different. My state has lower child to teacher ratios than the average, which means more one on one time and better interactions. Here’s what Colorado’s ratios look like:
2.5 year olds — 7 children to 1 teacher
3 year olds — 10 children to 1 teacher
4 year olds — 12 children to 1 teacher
It is also good to check about the classroom max capacity. The smaller the total class size, the better. While you can have 24 four year olds in a preschool classroom in Colorado, it does not mean that this is best practice. When you have lots of children in one classroom, this increases the chances of accidents/incidents, over stimulation, and behavioral problems.
4. What is their philosophy of how children learn? Early childhood experts agree that children learn best through play. A learning environment should not be stressful, forced, or frustrating. Instead, it should be engaging, fun, and at the level that the child is at. There should be a balance between teacher initiated activities and child led activities as well as a mix of large and small group activities. Children should feel welcome into this environment and guided with love and respect.
5. Is the program accredited? Accreditation is a great measure of quality for a preschool program. The process of accreditation is usually very costly and shows that the program is taking steps to provide a high quality environment. Some states have started implementing a rating system so that you can see how well they are in comparison to other programs, but this is a new development and it will take a while for more states to add this.
There are also many great programs that choose not to be accredited. I don’t believe that these programs should be overlooked.
6. Is there a commitment? Some programs require that your child attend for the entire school year, and others only need a two week notice to end services.
7. Do children need to be toilet trained? Potty training is a process, and each child has a different time table as to what this looks like. Many programs realize that not every child has mastered this by three years old, but there are some that require your child to be fully potty trained.
8. What types of fees and discounts are involved? Most programs charge fees in addition to the weekly tuition. Some of the fees I have seen and heard of are registration fee, activity fee, enrollment fee, supply fee, and lunch fee. Find out how often they occur, and what the amounts are. There are also discounts offered by most preschools. This may apply if you have more than one child enrolled or if you are military. Also, check and see if the program offers a discount for days that your child is out due to a vacation or illness. These are typically known as vacation days and sick days.
A good tour should leave you with a feeling of confidence and excitement. It is very important that you feel that it is an environment that you can leave your child and have peace of mind. Not every program is a perfect fit for every family, so even if your friend loves it, you may not. I recommend visiting at least two preschools. Every program is so different, so it is best to find out which aspects are more important to you than others. If you have any other questions, please feel free to list them in the comments section below. I wish you the best of luck in this exciting process!