What to ask:
- How many years has this site been open? What makes this school a better choice than others?
- What educational background does the director and staff have?
- How long have the staff members been here? (poor sites have high turnover and very young staff who lack experience)
- Is there a requirement for staff to continue education beyond the required 12 units ECE?
- What will the ratio be for my child’s class?
- What kind of curriculum should I expect for a normal day?
- What are some ways the teachers promote language, & interests in science & art?
- Do teachers play with the children or is it always free play?
- Do teachers scaffold/introduce “shy” children to social opportunities?
- How many staff members are trained in CPR and on site?
- What is the school’s policy on biting and aggression? How do teachers address this with parents?
- Do you potty train?
- What is the school’s philosophy on positive reinforcement and developmentally appropriate consequences? What are some examples? Do you implement time out? Why or why not?
- How often do teachers communicate with parents, and what are some concerns teachers immediately address with parents?
What to look for:
What kinds of foods are offered during snack and meal time? Are there whole-grain and low sugar foods (canned fruit with or without syrup, fresh fruits and veggies offered)? Or bleached grain and high starch foods (ritz crackers and goldfish = no nutritional value) Is meal time family style? How do teachers encourage children to try new foods? Do teachers eat with the children?
What is the school’s philosophy on neutral colors in the classroom (browns, whites, woods, and plants, as natural as possible)? Look for calming colors. Too many bright colors leads to over stimulation. Imagine if you had to be there all say staring at bright red, yellow, or blue furniture & toys.
How are adults interacting with the children? Are they kneeling, at eye level to talk to the children? Or are they chatting together and on the phone. Are there adults helping the children develop language skills by talking to them and helping them solve problems with words? Is there any singing or music?
Diversity & language acquisition: Are adults facilitating language with the children? Are adults modeling polite communication, and respectful exchanges related to temper tantrums and crying? Are second-language-learners allowed to speak in their original language, or is it a full immersion program? (I was a second-language-learner forced to speak English in preschool, so language acquisition and respect for diversity matter to me.)
Look for how the kids are playing: Are there many options available, or are there “closed areas” that kids can’t play in. Are there any “loner” kids not getting any attention?
If there's an outdoor sandbox: See how clean it is. Neighborhood cats sometimes use them as litter boxes and it can be very unsanitary. Ask staff how often they rake and clean the sandbox.
Look at the library: Are there books covering many topics and cultures? Does it look like the books are being treated with respect? How clean and organized is this area? If you can see teachers during reading time, are they actually reading, or are they playing a recording. Is the teacher asking kids to participate with the book? Are kids engaged?
Look at the walls: Is there plenty of artwork on the walls, photos, and maps or sight words at the children’s eye level? Is there cultural diversity on the walls: flags and photos, or ethnic toys. Is there writing in multiple languages?
OVERALL: Does it feel like a home? Is it clean? Does it smell inviting or like cleaner? Are kids playing safely and appropriately? Do teachers look happy? If the classroom feels comfortable, it can work.
What other questions would you ask during a preschool tour? What would you look for in an ideal preschool for your child? Please share :)
- Working Papers on Child Development | Harvard
- Does Preschool Matter? | Wired
- Literacy & Preschool | GreatSchools.org
- Waldorf Preschool | Organized Messes
- Attachment & Preschool | Education.com
- Child Development Permits | CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing
- NAEYC Standards For Early Childhood Professionals | NAEYC