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My baby is about to start preschool. I have to admit that typing those words makes me feel a small bit of shock. Wasn't he a baby yesterday? Didn't he JUST figure out how to walk? Then I realize that we're far beyond that point. He's already begun loudly sounding out complicated words like “truck” (his tr sounds come out like f sounds, so that's pretty amusing in the grocery store). One thing that makes these milestones easier is that we already went about finding the right preschool with our first son, four years ago.
One of the teachers we first met when my oldest was enrolled is now running that preschool! Having practiced this with three kids already – and knowing that my toddler has his 3-year-old brother's preschool joy to emulate – I feel no angst when I walk through those doors to drop off my fourth kid. I peacefully sit down in the office to fill out enrollment paperwork, and I smile knowing that we are in exactly the right place at this moment.
I do know well the struggles involved in watching your kids take this first step and walk out into the world. As a teacher and a vocal advocate for early childhood education, I've had a number of parents email me wanting to know how I've come to trust someone else with that huge responsibility. The honest answer is that I'm a rather meticulous person, with things that matter. I research things thoroughly. Here are the steps that I took – and have continued to take through the years – when it came to finding the right preschool for my children.
Our Family's Considerations for Finding the Right Preschool
Deciding what matters for our family
We were concerned with location convenience, hours, kindergarten preparation, and how teachers managed various behaviors. Every family is different, and there are a lot of considerations to weigh. For my peace of mind, I needed to know that the space was extremely secure and I also needed a school with early hours since that jives with my schedule. Don't worry that any concern is too small. The small things are the big things, as they say, and the details can have a big impact on your experience.
I have many options for educating my kids, so I started with an internet visit and a quick phone call to narrow it down to places that really seemed to match what I was looking for. In particular, I wanted to learn about each school's educational programs and activities. At this tender age, social and emotional skills are a top priority as well as executive function. Play-based activities should help children learn to follow directions, adapt to various situations, and control impulses. Those are the learnings I wanted to support back at home, talking through their day and reinforcing what they've learned.
Visiting on my own
First, there's a basic checklist I needed to ensure was taken care of before I brought my kid in to visit: cleanliness, safety and nutrition. There was no point in confusing them with trips to multiple centers while I narrowed down my choices. There was also a certain vibe I wanted to feel at the place my child would be spending so much time. At our school, we have a specific point person to discuss personal concerns with, and that made a huge difference in feeling assured that our family's needs would be addressed in the classroom. KinderCare has a Inclusion Team dedicated entirely to supporting teachers in creating a nurturing environment where all children feel a real sense of belonging, helping to address challenging behaviors with positivity and compassion.
Finally, bringing our son in for a visit
I needed to see how he responded to the environment and – more importantly – how the teachers responded to him. The teacher's relationship with the child and the child's relationship with the teacher is key! Kids are bound to be a little apprehensive in any new situation, but it's a good idea for them to see the place to develop some familiarity and for the parents to quickly see how they engage with the environment. We started preschool with a half day, picking up before lunch, and extended it over a week or so until our son was inevitably bounding away at drop-off and asking me not to come back so soon. My stomach dropped a little in that moment, and then I smiled as I realized that I'd succeeded in finding the right preschool. When you find the right place, it just feels right.
For us, after doing the initial research and having the experiences of our previous children in the preschool we picked, the final “official” kiddo visit was a breeze. My son took to his new space, indoor and out, with joy and ease. He was totally confident, knowing that we would only send him to a place that we knew was the perfect fit for him. For all of us.
Want more tips on finding the right preschool for you? Check out KinderCare's Super Simple Guide.