Sending my 2-year-old to preschool was not an easy decision to make and choosing the right one was even more difficult. After all, from the moment she came into my life I had taken care of her 24X7, how was I supposed to trust some strangers to handle this responsibility even if it was only for three hours a day.
Nonetheless, I knew that she was ready to start preschool and I had to choose the best one I could. It was a process that took me approximately 2 weeks and visits to umpteen number of preschools. Using my experience, I have put together ten pointers that you could use as a guide to find the best preschool for your toddler.
HOW TO CHOOSE A PRESCHOOL FOR YOUR TODDLER
Make a list : First off make a complete list of all the preschools in your neighbourhood (within 5 km of the area) and have it either printed out or make a handwritten one of the great resource where you can find the contact details of all the preschools in your area.
Ask for recommendations: Word of mouth is an extremely important aspect of choosing the right playschool. Ask friends, neighbours, relatives who have sent their kids to the schools in your list to get their opinions. A great resource is to talk to your paediatrician who can suggest some good playschools to you. Even if they don’t take any names (mine didn’t), they will give you some useful advice to help you make the decision.
Location is primary: You have to choose a play school which is not very far off from your residence. Not only is it inconvenient to drop off or pick up your child from a distance it is also unfair to a two-year-old to have to spend around an hour or so in commuting every day. Limit your search to schools that would not take more than 30 minutes of to and fro commuting each day.
Infrastructure: Our doctor gave a very important element to look out for when choosing a school. Are the rooms well-ventilated and spacious enough? How many kids are there per class/per room? When I visited a major playschool chain I was shocked to see that they had crammed almost 25-30 students in a small classroom with absolutely no ventilation and the kids were supposed to sit on chairs during their time in school. When I expressed my concern they quipped “it is centrally air-conditioned- what is the need for ventilation?” and “By insisting that they sit on chairs we are preparing them for the nursery school”. I was aghast to hear their replies and needless to say rejected that school immediately.
My daughter’s current playschool has big rooms with huge windows and although they have benches for kids to sit they are not required to sit on them all the time. They can sit on rugs or even lie down if they want to. They have also earmarked an activity area filled with toys and a separate space for alone time in each room. If a child wants to sit by himself for some time the teachers don’ t mind and I think it is a great idea because toddlers going to the school for the first time need some time to adjust.
Teachers: After the Mother, a teacher is a next person who has the power to mould the personality of a child. Talk to the teachers of the shortlisted schools. Ask them about their teaching methods, discipline approaches, background, training etc. What is the preschool childcare policy? See how responsive and open the teachers are to your questions. If they are not communicating well before the admission chances are that they won’t be once your child is in the school.
Another factor to take into account is the Teacher: Student Ratio. Ideally, it should be around 1:10 so that each child has the maximum attention of the teacher during these formative years.
Curriculum: There are a lot of buzzwords going around in schools right now like scientific, holistic, multidimensional, spiritual growth etc. As parents, it is easy to be swayed by these promotions and the hope that it will give the best start to your child. But exercise caution, a two-year-old should not be burdened with unnecessary expectations. Playschool should literally be a school where the children learn by way of play. It should be interactive, imaginative, participatory and most importantly joyful. The goal of sending a child to the playschool should not be to turn him/her into a child prodigy but to help them understand the world around them and foster creativity and self-confidence in a child.
Facilities & Hygiene: You must check out whether there is a spacious area for playing. What kind of toys is being provided? Are they age appropriate and sanitized regularly? I once visited a well-established school where the play area consisted of a dusty ball pool and a myriad selection of stuff toys which had not been washed forever. Shocking but true.
Do the classrooms have attached washrooms and are the toilets child-friendly? How do they deal with a child who is not toilet trained?
If food is being provided, how are the health standards being maintained? Does the food have any nutritive value or is it majorly junk food? Where are the children eating and what practices are being followed to ensure that children eat in a hygienic and safe environment?
Also look out for Security of the premises. Whether there are trained guards and who is monitoring them? If the conveyance is being provided will a responsible person from the school accompany the children? If there are nannies, have they been verified and their thorough background check has been done?
Interaction: This is very important. Take a day or two off from work and spend it in the shortlisted preschool with your child. Most schools do not mind if you want to leave your child for a day or two to see their reactions. Talk to the other children, look at their body language and the way the caregivers interact with them. Even if it is not the most accurate assessment you can still make out whether the children love being in that school or not.
Budget: All of us want the best for our children and are willing to move mountains for them. In the name of preschool education, most parents are ready to shell out as much as they can to ensure a shining future for their little ones. However, I would recommend that you do an introspection of your finances before you do so. A school choc a bloc with rich kids from business families might not be for you if you are a middle-class salaried person. Even if you can afford the fees, what about the lavish birthday parties, expensive gifts for various occasions and a tendency to compete with other parents that have sadly become the norm these days at various schools.
Also, inquire with the school about the upfront costs and any hidden costs that might be built into the fee structure. Many schools have a fee structure which is affordable but over the year they keep asking for funds for various meets, trips, fests and festivals that will put a burden on your pocket.
Trust your Instinct: As parents we have all have a god given gift of intuition where our children are concerned. Parents especially mothers instinctively know whether something is good or bad for their kids. Use this instinct and make the right decision. Although you should definitely consider the established and branded schools but the sole concern should not be that admission to such a school will open doors of the prominent schools for nursery school admission.
I hope you will find this guide helpful in deciding a preschool/playschool for your child. Do you have your own checklist for preschool comparison? What other factors influence your decision about a preschool. Please share with me and the other readers through your comments.