How do you choose a Preschool for your child?
How do you know what preschool best suits you and your family? This is an excellent question, and we as teachers would suggest to families to visit a few preschools so they can get a good feel for what would suit them and their family's needs. Each family has different needs and expectations for the greatest learning experience for their child going to a preschool. Every preschool is different in what they offer. Some preschools offer hot meals, some are structured on routines, some free play, some have a special character like us here at the Ashburton Baptist preschool – we are the only preschool in Ashburton which builds their approach to offering high-quality education on a solid Christian base.
You may not know what feels right to you until you physically go in and visit a Centre. So how do you go about visiting a Preschool, you ask? It is actually very easy! You'll find most preschools are on google if you search "Ashburton Preschools," and from there, they will have contact phone numbers and possibly a web page you can check out. Have a look to see what is close to you or your workplace – location is definitely something you need to consider. Write down the contact details of your top three choices, or feel free to visit more preschools; there is no limit to how many you can see before making your decision! When you ring the preschools, you want to tell them that you are interested in finding a preschool for your child, give the details on how old your child is, and if you know the days/time you want, that's great; let them know that too. If you are unsure, that's also alright! You can figure that out later.
Whew! Okay, now you're all set to start visiting a few preschools you think may suit your needs. The next part is preparing for the visit. Preparing, you're probably thinking, what do you mean prepare? I thought you said this was easy! I promise you it is just a simple step in making sure you are prepared and know what you want to ask the preschool. Of course, you will have things you want to know about, such as the cost they charge or open times. You'll also want to discuss what they feel would be essential to know about the preschool with your partner or family members. Don't worry; you don't have to remember all your questions off by heart. You can write them down or type them on your phone – this is perfectly normal, and we (the teachers) again understand that finding the right preschool for you is important.
If you're stuck on questions to ask, here is a wee list we have prepared that we find most parents ask when they come to visit for the first time. Feel free to use some of these or all of them if you want. They are there to help you find the right place for you and your child.
Questions to consider asking:
What are your open hours?
When do you close down for the year?
Are you open in the school holidays?
How much do you charge per hour?
What is the ratio? (This means the number of children to teachers, for example, Ministry of Education ratios are 1:5 for infants and toddlers, 1:10 in 2-5-year-old setting these are the maximum set ratios. You'll find each preschool may have a different ratio, like here at the Ashburton Baptist Preschool we run to the Ministry ratios but have the flexibility to resource staffing to meet the needs of the environment and work at a lower ratio. As the needs of the children are important to us and this is considered when running ratios).
How many children are there in this room? (Each room will have a maximum number of children they can have in the area).
What is your current availability? Is there a waitlist?
Do you provide meals?
What do I need to bring to preschool for my child?
What happens if my child is sick at preschool?
Who will be the teachers in the room?
What if my child has an allergy? (For example, if your child is allergic to a food item, how does the preschool plan to ensure their safety around group meal times)
What is your teaching philosophy at the preschool (this is the preschools' self-reflective statement of their beliefs about teaching and learning. For example, here at the Ashburton Baptist Preschool in our infant and toddler room, we have a primary caregiving system stemming from the Pikler philosophy. We also embrace a freedom of movement philosophy, reflecting the natural progression of learning and development for infants and toddlers. While providing the highest quality education we can, our centre builds this on a solid base of Christian values and principles).
For a visit, you may be thinking, gosh, that's a lot to ask about, why is it important to know all this? It is very helpful to you in finding out what the preschool provides, their values on care and education and if this is the right preschool for you and your child/ren. Here at our preschool, we understand that it is a lot of information to take in when you come to visit, so we made an information booklet with all the important stuff you need to know as we (the teachers) know what it is like to be given a whole lot of verbal information to try and remember. You may find some Preschools do this, and others may not. This way, you can take your time to read over it when you get home, and you might have other questions after reading the information. After a visit, if you get home and go, "gosh, I should have asked this," you can always email the preschool or call them the next day to ask. We understand how overwhelming it can be when visiting preschools, so it is okay to ring back the next day with more questions.
Now that you have checked out the Preschools and after you have made your decision, you can enrol your precious child. Each preschool will be different in how many visits they would like you to have before your child starts. These visits are what are called transition visits. They provide an opportunity for you and your child to get familiar with the teaching team, environment and routine. Here at the Ashburton Baptist Preschool, we say a minimum of three visits. Still, we are totally adaptable to extend or make a transition plan to suit your and your child's needs. For example, you might have a child who has never been in anyone's care before. You feel that you would like to have a few visits over an extended period of, say, 4 weeks. Or you might have a child who is highly adaptable to new environments, and three visits are enough for them. YOU know your child best as you are their primary caregiver. Once you have been for a minimum of three transition visits, you will begin to see how your child is doing and can change the length of the visits to suit. Some visits might be as short as 20 minutes. Some you might want to stay longer, and that's okay too!
It is always good to use the first day where you are close by your child in the unfamiliar environment during the three visits. This will provide your child with a sense of security as they observe the environment and engage with the other children and teachers. On the second visit, it is good to give a little bit of space but still stay within eyesight, so the child knows you are still there if they need. These visits are also good to add in a lunch visit where your child can join in on this routine with the other children. It is good to really step back on the third visit and allow your child to freely explore and engage with the other children and teachers. Sometimes, a preschool might offer you to go to their parent's room to have a coffee while your child has a solo visit without you in the environment. They will let you know how long to be away for or ring you if your child is not coping. If these visits go well, it's a good indication of how well your child will cope without you when they officially start at the preschool. A good thing to remember is that during the first couple of weeks when your child has started, things might change for them as they realise that you are actually not there with them. They might become upset, yet at their visit, they were fine. This is perfectly normal, and the teaching team will have strategies to support your child with their emotional well-being. We usually find that after the child is dropped off, they usually settle down and are happy to explore or build relationships with others; just in those first moments of you leaving them, they might be upset. However, every child is different and will show how they feel in their own way.
What we do here at our preschool is give you a call after the first hour on their first day without you to let you know how your child is doing. When you have a learning account set up (Story Park), we will take some photos of your child on their first day so you can see how they are doing. At any time during the day, while you are at work or home and thinking of your precious little gem, it is totally okay to call the preschool to see how they are doing; there is nothing wrong with this! You'll find the teaching team is sympathetic to your emotional well-being, too – you matter just as much as your child does.
Starting a new preschool can be difficult for some children. They feel overwhelmed with emotions that they may not be able to express well, resulting in tantrums. You might be feeling anxious about leaving your precious child for the first time or feeling relieved to be getting a much-needed break to yourself – these are normal feelings, and there is nothing wrong with feeling like this – we totally understand! In fact, we also have another Blog on emotions called "overwhelmed with emotions" (https://www.ashburtonbaptistpreschool.info/post/overwhelmed-with-emotion). Feel free to check this out, as it has helpful tips and strategies for supporting children's emotional well-being.
When you pick up your child after their day at preschool, a teacher should communicate with you on how your child's day was and pass on any information you might need to know. It is also good in the mornings when you drop your child off to let a teacher know if anything has changed from their regular routine or anything the teaching team should know. For example, you might have someone different come to pick them up that day. Communication is essential and will help with the smooth process of starting a new preschool and also build on your relationship with the teaching team.
The most important piece of advice I can offer you for when starting a new preschool is that if you are ever unsure, have something on your mind or are ever curious, just ask. No question is too silly! We, as teachers, are always open to any question you might have, and if we don't know the answer, we will check with someone who does. It is also important to remember that just like every child is different and unique, so are Preschools. They all have different ways of doing things, so what might happen at one preschool might not happen next. This is why I recommend you visit a few preschools in your area to get a feel of what you want.
I hope that this blog was helpful to you or someone you might have shared it with. Good luck with finding the right preschool for you and your family!
*Photos are of a Mohi Kete child (infant and toddlers) who recently transitioned into our Centre.