Almost one year ago my husband and I started our preschool search for our now three year old son. This was going to be easy, I thought. After all, I have a graduate degree in psychology from Harvard University, I have worked in the field of education for 10 years and I am an educational consultant with my own firm.
It turns out I was very very wrong. Attorneys have a saying that if you represent yourself, you have a fool for a client. I believe this to be true for every profession. So there I was an educational consultant with myself for a client – “fool for a client” seemed pretty accurate.
We did our research and narrowed it down to 10 schools in the Boston area that we thought may fit our needs. There were many to choose from– the three top Montessori schools in the area, the European schools, the farm schools and the prep schools. We worried about the interview process and had nightmares of our son never getting accepted to the school of our choosing. We were concerned about how that would negatively impact the rest of his life, and of course we wondered how we were going to pay for this very expensive educational investment. But we survived – our son got accepted into our first choice and we are anxiously awaiting the start of the school year in a few short weeks.
Experiencing the ‘preschool panic’ first hand has provided me with tremendous insight into what my clients go through. As an educational consultant, I work with parents to find the best fit preschool for their child. As a mom, I understand how very hard this process can be. In the Boston area, parents start thinking about preschool fairly early – some start while pregnant, some begin thinking about it as their baby starts walking but all realize that when their baby turns two it is time to get to business.
The preschool search typically starts in the Fall, one year before your child will actually attend school. Here are some things to keep in mind as you start the search process:
- Wish lists for schools are great, but the most important thing is to figure out what will make your child happy. Are they ready to be away from home for five days a week? Or would they do better in a part-time program?
- Does distance matter? Logistics make a difference – you want to figure out if it makes sense for you to travel to another town only to turn around and pick up your child 3 hours later.
- Safety is another major factor. Some schools that share space with other organizations. While this is great because it cuts down on tuition costs (their rent is not as high), you will want to know about their lock door policies.
- Research is key. It is important to figure which school’s open houses you will attend and find the dates when these occur – typically open houses begin in October.
You can find the school’s mission statement, faculty bios, pictures of the school, parent testimonials on their websites. But that will not tell you everything you need to know. The two most important considerations in finding the right preschool for your child are the teachers and the students. When visiting schools make sure you ask to observe the classrooms and really pay attention.
- Watch the teacher – does she/he look happy to be there?
- Does the teacher truly love her/his job?
- How does she/he solve conflict between the students?
- Does she/he get down to the kid’s eye level when talking to them?
And finally, the best possible indicator of a great preschool are the kids themselves. Watch them closely.
- Do they look happy?
- Are they engaged in what is going on?
- Are there any kids sitting by themselves in the sidelines?
- Do they want to be there?
And remember where your child goes to preschool will probably not determine whether or not they attend an ivy league college. But it will likely set a precedent for how they feel about school in the future.
Karina Money, MA
President, Right Path New England
Please join Karina Money, MA at Isis as she talks about Preschool Panic – How to choose the right preschool for your child on September 15, 7:00 pm at Isis Parenting Boston and on September 25, 2:00pm, at Isis Parenting Arlington. Call 781-429-1500 to register.