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Everything You Need to Know to Pick the Right Preschool

I recently realized it’s that time of year again… preschool picking season!  I can’t believe it’s already been thirteen months since we went through the frustrating/exciting/overwhelming process that is enrolling your child for their first school experience. 


Just in case you’re in that boat this year, I wanted to re-post all the good info. I gathered up back then and also to remind you that I’ve written about our experiences with an all outdoor preschool. Hope it helps!


P.S. Since that time I’ve developed a sort of fascination with Reggio Emelia preschools.  I love the idea of teachers as co-learners who follow the children’s interests to investigate and learn together.  For a further glimpse into this philosophy, see one parent’s experience here.


It’s mid-January and if you have a toddler like me then you too may be in the midst of preschool selection mania.  So far this month I’ve been to a preschool panel at C’s toddler group, a local preschool fair, two preschool tours, and have an appointment to tour one more.  The terms “Waldorf”, “Montessori”, and “Reggio Emelia” have become a regular part of my vernacular and I find myself debating the merits of co-op vs. drop-off as I fall asleep at night.  As I’m doing all of this, I’m wondering – is the hoopla really necessary?


The answer I keep coming back to is simply yes.  As much as I hate the idea of becoming a parent who camps out all night to get my child into the most coveted preschool in the neighborhood, I still want to make sure I’m providing C with the most enriching experiences and environments possible.  So I’ve bottled up my frustration with the process, dug in my heels, and gotten to work.  In the process I’ve come across some great resources that I’m ready to share.


First things first, you’ve gotta know your options.  The best thing to do is to start pounding the pavement and seeing what’s out there.  To get started in the right direction, see this article from Parent Dish on the most common types of preschool programs.  Also, don’t miss posts from Not Just Cute (my go-to site for great child development resources) detailing how play and academics don’t have to be mutually exclusive.


Once you have an idea of what type of program you’re looking for, you need to know how to spot one that’s done well.   If you’re going the play-based route then once again Not Just Cute has you covered.  Upon reading How to Spot a Quality Play-Based Preschool, I immediately printed it out for my reference and emailed it to all my mom friends.


I so appreciated that Amanda went beyond the oft-repeated advice to “go with your gut” to actually provide tangible items to look for in a play-based program.  She goes into fabulous detail about what she’d ideally like to see in the preschool’s setup, schedule, activities, and teachers.  Seriously, if you’re wondering how to differentiate a quality school from a glorified daycare – YOU MUST READ THIS POST Even if you’re not going play-based – there’s still some great info. on what to look for re: teacher student ratios, parent involvement, teacher experience and etc.


Remember too that picking an approach to early education is not all or nothing.  For various reasons, we have ultimately decided on a play-based approach for C.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the merit in other preschool philosophies.  My plan is to also incorporate some Montessori-style activities at home and I’ve found lots of great blogs to help me do so: Chasing Cheerios, Counting Coconuts, and Simply Montessori are a few to get you started.


If you’ve decided to hold off on a formal program for another year but want to start with some educational play activities at home, be sure to see the educational activities section of The Make & Play Vault. Also, Teach PreschoolPink and Green Mama, and Tinker Lab all have lots of process based arts and crafts for toddlers.  Lastly, you should check out Playful Learning, who has a wonderful blog as well as some great online e-courses for families.


I hope this helps with your preschool search and if I missed anything please share it with the class by leaving a comment.


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