Big Apple Parent

Preschool Checklist: Five tips to choosing what’s right for your childĀ 

July 2003

You walk through the door, your child’s tiny hand tucked confidently into your own. Despite weeks of preparation you wonder: will she delightedly dump her brand new backpack into her cubby and plunge into building blocks? Or will he look like a deer caught in the headlights, wrap himself around your knees and beg you not to leave?

Even if you prepare your child for weeks in advance, there’s no way to tell how your 3 or 4 year old will react to the first day of school. But if you’ve done your research, you can feel confident that your child will have the best possible start.

Do Your Homework. Gather your information at least six months in advance. Many schools fill up by June, so by then you’ll want to have completed your classroom visits and teacher interviews. Get an early start and use the winter months to call around and gather literature. Then make an appointment with the director to visit the teacher.

Make a List. Decide what you want and prioritize what you will take, advises Lorraine Wallach, an Early Education consultant and co-founder of the Erikson Institute for Early Childhood Education in Chicago. “It’s unlikely you’ll find anything perfect, so decide what is most important to you.” Does your child thrive on structure or free play? How important is outdoor play? Perhaps you’re willing to accept indoor activities if the teacher provides the nurturing your child requires.

Observe the Classroom. Ask to visit the classroom while it is in session. Watch how the teacher interacts with the children. While you want to look for a school with optimal play space, they might not necessarily have everything you desire. “Some of the best preschools can be found in church basements,” says Wallach. “The surroundings may not be great, but the teachers might make all the difference.” Look for brightly colored posters, engaging surroundings and evidence of a warm and cozy atmosphere.

Talk to the Teacher. Find out about his or her qualifications, and ask who develops the curriculum. Some preschools have directors who set the standards, and others allow teachers more flexibility. Is the curriculum appropriate, interesting, and varied? What is the procedure for discipline? Know who to go to with questions and problems.

Safety First. Make sure the school has the necessary licensing. “Licensing standards are often skimpy,” notes Wallach. “Look carefully at the environment and observe if there is enough space, enough equipment and is it well organized.” If the equipment looks well used, look carefully for signs of loose parts. Certificates for health and safety inspections should be visibly posted. Find out the teacher to student ratio and be sure it is within State regulations.

Surrendering your child to other people – however qualified – is difficult, and nothing will completely eliminate that tug in your heart when you take your leave on that first day. But a little advance planning will ensure your child has the best possible environment, and give you the confidence you’ll both need next September.