As a Mom of 3 who attended a total of 6 preschools, I really can’t stress the importance of finding one that is right for you, your child, and your pocketbook! Not all preschools are the same. Taking time to do your research will likely guarantee a smooth transition and a great year for all.

I looked at preschools like other people look at colleges. Hey, kids are only three-years-old once right? I wanted to make sure they were in an environment of nurturing, creative skill-building, support, arts and the right mix of academics.

Here’s some items to consider when looking at preschools.

1.  Start with proximity. If your child is only going to be in a pre-k for 2.5 or 3 hours, you simply don’t want to drive too far. Therefore, decide your radius and make a list of all the schools in that range to visit.

2. Ask around. The best schools have a reputation that precedes them. Get referrals from friends, co-workers and other moms you meet. The children’s room and children’s librarian at your local library may also have a listing of preschools or information on individual local schools.

3.  Don’t make an instant decision regarding a church school vs. a private school. They both have advantages and disadvantages and are largely based on their head teachers style of teaching. However, most church preschools do incorporate some religion in their lessons or prayer before snacks. If that is unacceptable to you, stick with a private school.

4. Call to schedule appointments when school is in session to see how it is run and what the children are doing.  Of course, that’s not possible in the summer but  you can look in the spring for the following fall. Some people put babies on wait lists for particular schools they want, so you can even look if your child is still crawling.

5.  Identify your priorities as far as teaching style. Some schools are more play-based and rely on a lot of drama, songs and group interaction. Others are more academic. And still others are a blend of both. Then there’s Montessori, Waldorf, Bank Street and other styles of teaching. Doing your research will help you learn about these styles and decide if it’s a good fit for your child.

6. Have your list of questions ready. Take a pen and take notes because if you are anything like me, you’ll mix up one school with another when trying to recall all the info three months later. Bring all applications, brochures and pertinent info home with you so when you make a decision, you can fill your forms and mail or drop them at the school.

Here are some questions you should consider asking:

What is the teacher-child ratio? ( Ideally you don’t want more than 1:7 for 3 or 4 year olds.)

Is the school accredited  and licensed with the state? Are the teachers certified? (Each state may have different rules regarding this, but personally I prefer at least 1 teacher to have gone to college for early childhood education.)

What are the drop off and pick up rules? Some schools let you walk children in, others don’t. If this is important to you, make sure you understand their policies.

Does my child need to be fully potty trained? Also inquire if they “help” a child in the bathroom or if the child must do it all alone.

How are the toys and the rooms cleaned and how often? Yes, some of us moms are a bit germ-o-phobic and would like to know that rooms are cleaned in a timely manner and with safe products.

What is your sick policy? Many schools do not allow a sick child there, or if they become sick in the day, require them to be picked up right away. However a strict sick policy can keep your child from getting sick.

What sort of arts and music program do you have? Young children learn through movement, song and hands-on activities.

Are parents encouraged to stop in unannounced? This is important to me since it shows there is nothing to hide and shows a willingness to let parents be part of the school community.

Are snacks served or do parents send them in? What sort of policy do you have regarding food allergies? Is healthy snacking encouraged?

Does the school use computers in daily schedules? Some parents may want this, others don’t. For me, my kids went on the computer at home so I wanted a pre-school that was group activity based, not sitting on a computer by themselves.

Is there an outdoor area for activities? Do they go outside everyday (weather permitting)? What do they do on rainy days? Some schools have indoor play rooms separate from the classroom where the kids have more freedom to move. Other schools do a mini exercise/dance session to release that energy.

8. Evaluate the cleanliness of the school, identify emergency exits, smoke alarms, wash stations/sinks and bathrooms. Choose a school where the kids and parents all seem happy, where you feel a warmth and genuine passion from the teaching staff and where you like the teaching style and day-to-day lessons planned.

There’s nothing like a happy child in a nurturing environment being given the chance to grow, explore and bloom as the individuals they are .