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Having gone through the preschool admissions process ourselves not so long ago, we understand the angst that many parents feel this time of year. While we can’t do the applying for you, we’ve asked Jen Wana, author of the new book, How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, to share a few tips to help you make sense of the madness and find the right program for your child.
  • When should I start? - If you can, give yourself a year to find the right preschool. Most children begin preschool at 3 or 4, though some preschools enroll kids as early as age 2 or 2 ½. Applications may be due as early as the December or January prior to the September your child will start. [For some high demand programs in big cities, you’ll want to add your child to the school wait list as early as possible.] Check for tours or open houses. Ask about minimum age and cutoff dates, as well as potty training policies.
  • Figure out your priorities - Narrow down your search by understanding what you’re looking for in a program. Preschools vary in many aspects, including tuition, program lengths, location, educational philosophy, and student-teacher ratios.
  1. Cost - Preschool can be pricey. Focus on preschools in the range you can afford. Include all the costs, not just tuition, but registration fees, after-school care, meals, and so on.
  2. Schedule - Some offer half-days or a few days as week, others are full-time, five days a week. If you work full-time, you may need a full-time program that goes year-round or offers a summer camp. If you’re looking for part-time, decide if you prefer mornings or afternoons—and keep in mind that if you don’t get your ideal schedule, it may be possible to switch the following year.
  3. Location - If you’ll be driving, think about the length of the commute (especially during morning rush hour). Enrolling your child in a preschool close to your home can also make it easier for you to set up playdates.
  4. Educational Philosophy - Many preschools are play-based, where kids learn naturally through playing and get to choose their activities. Montessori schools foster independence and use special toys called manipulatives to teach specific concepts. Waldorf schools are known for their home-like environment and emphasis on creativity, while Reggio-Emilia encourages exploration and discovery. Other preschools have an academic focus, teaching letters and numbers to kids as young as three or four. Some preschools focus on religious traditions or language immersion, and co-op preschools are run by the parents themselves.
  5. Teachers - If possible, spend some time in the classroom. How does the teacher communicate with the kids? Is there an open line of communication with the parents, like chats during drop off and pick up, email or weekly newsletters? Ask the director how much turnover there is among teachers. If the teachers are happy, the parents and students most likely will be, too.
  6. Teacher-student ratio - Each state determines the maximum number of children per teacher for different age groups. The National Association for the Education of Young Children guidelines call for 1:9 or lower for 2 ½ or 3 year olds (maximum class size = 18), and 1:10 or lower for 4 year olds (maximum class size = 20).
  • Put together a list of candidates - A great way to find preschools in your area is to ask your friends, coworkers, and other parents you meet at the library or the playground. Ask where their children attend, what they like and don’t like about the program. Websites such as www.savvysource.com and www.greatschools.org also offer online directories of preschools and allow you to search preschools in your area.
  • See the school in action - It’s very important to visit every school you’re considering. Call to schedule a tour or a time to visit, ideally when class is in session. Is the classroom well-lit, clean and cheerful? Can you picture your child enjoying this environment? Are the teachers kind and respectful? Do they seem to enjoy teaching?
  • Make your decision - Once you’ve done your research and made your visits, you can narrow down your choices. Consider how closely the preschool meets your criteria, and how hard it might be to get a spot. If your favorite preschool is in high demand, be sure to apply to several others so you’ll have options.
Preschool is a great way for your child to build the social and cognitive skills needed in kindergarten. To be sure your child has the best experience possible, take the time to do your research and choose the preschool that’s truly right for your child. If your child is comfortable and happy in preschool, that will lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

For more information on Jenifer or her book How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, visit here website at www.preschoolprimer.com.