Tip Tuesday — Preschool Mania

Is your infant enrolled in preschool for the 2009-2010 school year?  Slacker!  Has she taken the Pre-MCATs yet?  The horror!

Ever since reading Jenny’s post about preschool registration, I have become completely obsessed with the process and it’s bringin’ me down, man.  It’s gettin’ me low.

In my area the cost for preschool ranges from $85 per month to $600 per month with the average price being around $200.  I am currently looking into programs held at churches (some who classify Mormons as evil pagans and some who don’t), public high schools, people’s basements, farms, dedicated educational facilities and retail space in a local strip mall.

The “best” ones have no openings for 4-year-olds because all of the 3-year-olds move up.  Registration doesn’t even start for a week or two but several are saying it’s all but futile to get on a waiting list.

For the last 2 years we’ve done a co-op preschool with a few other moms all taking turns teaching.  It’s been perfect.  I’m a little nervous however to move her straight from a class of 4 with Isabellov’s rockin’ mom as the teacher to a class of 25, where the teacher can barely remember her real name, let alone her internet alias.

I really feel that for Laylee, a more traditional preschool with a few more kids and a tighter schedule would be just the thing to prepare her for the mass chaos that is kindergarten.  (Check back in a year.  I may decide to keep her home for life, teaching her through experience with a loose curriculum based on the migratory patterns of birds and insects from the species lessticus disgusticus, writing the alphabet on our bodies with henna and planting an organical herb garden full of mini fairy castles and rosemary.)

I have several schools to visit in the next week or so.  Some want to evaluate Laylee to see if she’d be suitable.  Others think our visit is futile since the have no room at the inn and others are happy to have us come check them out.

What I’d like to know is what questions would you ask the teachers when you do your visits?  Here are a few I have so far:

-What is the child to adult ratio?
-Will a child ever be alone with an adult unsupervised?  What circumstances would call for this and would you let me know?
-Are the instructors current in their first aid and CPR certification?
-What are their teaching credentials?
-If you suspect that one of your students is being abused at home, what procedure would you follow for dealing with that? (this question comes from the book Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker.  He has a great list that I’d love to include here but I lent the book to someone.  If it’s you, please bring it back.)
-How rigorous is the program academically?  Will she need to complete her SATs and MCATs before enrolling?
-Do they get outdoors time?
-What is your teaching philosophy?
-How broad of an age range do you allow in a given class?
-Is daycare also provided at this location?  Is it simultaneous with “school”?
-What is your mother’s maiden name? 
-How often do you send home progress reports?
-Do you do regular parent-teacher conferences?
-What are your emergency or disaster plans?
-How do you handle snow days?
What else should I ask or am I too annoying already?

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25 Responses to Tip Tuesday — Preschool Mania

  1. Liz says:

    Do you, as the teacher, share? run with scissors?

  2. Heth says:

    Sorry, no advice. We have bucked the system and not sent our kids to preschool. *gasp*
    My kids will be the ones living in a van, down by the river.

    Good luck with the hunt.

  3. Abbey says:

    Oh. You are good. Maybe I should have asked my daughters teacher some of these. Or anything. I was just thrilled she got in where the neighbors kids were going so I could carpool.

  4. We’ve taken several routes: acclaimed preschool at the darling converted old church, preschool at the high school, no preschool at all. I personally loved “none at all” but I think there’s some value in it. We have two preschool kids left and I think if we did it again, it would be at the high school again.

    Ask them where the moms’ salad bar and pedicure room is. No, seriously, I think you have it pretty well handled.

  5. Those are all great AND
    You should definitlety find out how long the teacherS/assistants have been teaching at that school. 2 kids and 2 preschool later, I found it to be the best criteria: a happy teacher will teach better and the kids will be happier.
    (Sorry I never left a comment before)

  6. Tiffany says:

    I think the best advice is to get recommendations for schools from parents that have a similar philosophy. Or ask the teacher at the school for parent references of their current students. The second option is less preferable because they don’t know you and might not give you their honest opinion. However, you never know what you’ll find out.

    I might also ask about dropping out policies. Do you still have to pay for a certain amount of time if you decide to take her out of the school?

    Good luck.

  7. Susan says:

    We always asked open-ended questions about contact between parents and teachers, in order to see what the school’s policy was. What we were fishing for was this: small children are not always able to accurately recount what goes on at school, both the good and the bad; we wanted to feel like we could check in with the teacher, about everything from specific academic and socal concerns to general questions about what our sons did all day at school, and get an answer. A really good preschool should welcome your interest in Laylee’s day.

    I am also partial to schools that encourage parents to visit the classroom, either to volunteer or just to observe; this, to me, indicates that they are comfortable with what is going on day-to-day and that they are providing a safe, loving place for your child.

    Okay! Good luck with that.

  8. Della says:

    THose are good questions!
    Just so you know though, my daughter has been to three preschools, two of which I very much liked, and none of them sent home prgress reports….(the one she’s in now is run by the University, and has AWESOME teachers, but still no progress reports for preschool level.)
    I always ask what their discipline process is. Some preschools have a time out area, some just try to distract the kid, and some feel that “talking it out” is the only way to go. Personally, I like the one that have a tier system…they start out with talking, then go to other methods. I believe in Time Outs, so don’t really trust a classroom with no similar area…but whatever you believe, it’s good to know what the teachers do…
    Also, asking what they do in case of a potty accident is good. Most do the same things, it’s more to get an idea of their empathy levels by the way they talk about their procedure…

    Good Luck!

  9. grammyelin says:

    I think it’s always a good idea to visit the pre-school when the children are there. Then you can observe things firsthand and get a feeling for waht’s going on.

    How does the teacher talk to the students? Do the children seem happy? Are there plenty of activities to keep them happy and engaged? Do the classrooms and the playground seem safe and well-organized? Is there a music program? Outside play time? Is creative artwork displayed? Is there a good variety of books, toys and stations in evidence?

    What are the safety measures to ensure that intruders can’t just walk in off the street? (sign-in & sign out books, open office area where anyone entering the school can be easily observed, are you questioned when you enter, are you allowed to just roam the building, or is a “guide” provided on your tour, etc?)

  10. Michelle says:

    I’m not an authority on this one, none of my kids have ever done preschool but have lived to tell the tale. In the past it was always an issue of cost but after seeing how well the others did without it, now that I can afford it for the youngest I chose not to do it. I suppose it’s a matter of preference.

  11. bon says:

    Too hard for me! I just send ’em across the street and down two houses. It’s hard to get in, but sibs get first dibs. With three of mine lined up to go in, we even get a discount!

  12. Rebecca says:

    There aren’t any preschool programs around here, so I’m left to shift for myself as best I can. With a combination of playgroup, library story hour and LOTS of playdates, my kids all seem to be doing pretty well – all this time, I thought it was way more work than sending my kids to actual preschool, but now reading about your attempts to find one, I’m feeling well-rested!

  13. Heather O. says:

    Ah, the preschool labryinth. You feel like the worst and most neglectful parent, if you come out alive, of course.

    We did a religious affliated preschool with J for 2 years (he’s an only child, so I started him at age 2 and a half). We actually loved it. There was very specific religious training, which we liked. (They had a prophet or character from the OT or NT to go with every letter of the Alphabet. X, in case you were wondering, was Xerxes. Figure the rest out yourself some family night!) The ratio of adults to kids was 1:5. It was considered a co-op, howeer, so we had to volunteer in the classroom for a certain number of days a year, depending on how often our child was enrolled. I also liked lots of outdoor time, lunch with the other classes so they had to learn cafeteria skills, and quiet/rest time. They also changed venure a lot–chapel for the intro of Bible story, a music room, the cafeteria for lunch, the playground,e tc. All things little bodies need.

    Our current preschool is very similar. Lots of outdoor time, with changes of venue during the day and LOTS of free play. Ratio of adults to kids is again 1:5. Again, though, parents are required to be in the classroom a lot during the year. However, I love it, because it gives me a chance to get to know the kids, and, most importantly, a chance to see what’s going on. The moms who have kids at home take turns swapping babysitting for the days when they have to come in.

    Why I didn’t send my kids to thousand other preschools I looked at:
    The classes were big. Too big. I like that during circle time, there are few enough kids that they all can have time to express their innermost thoughts, even when their thoughts are things like, “Hey, I’ve sat on this color before!”

    No changes of venue. Any kid stuck in the same classroom for 3 hours is gonna get antsy.

    No room for wiggles with some harsh discipline. These kids are 4, for heaven’s sake. Cut them some slack.

    As far as curriculum goes, you’ll have to decide how academic you want it to be. Ours is currently very much NOT academic, but very into learning through play, tactile experience, etc. J comes home happy every day, except for when he gets sand from the playground in his eyes. My motivation for sending him to preschool is actually much more social than anything–seriously, the kid needs somebody besides Mom to talk to, so I’m ok with the fact that they are not teaching him algebra. But hey, if you want your kid to be a the next Steven Hawking, maybe sending him to a place where they fill tubs with beans and rice and hide little animals in it might not be for you.

    Good luck. It’s such a heart-wrenching experience, and it’s hard to know if your kid is in the right spot. But if she isn’t happy, and things aren’t going well, don’t hesitate to take her out. Preschool isn’t about endurance, it’s about play time masked as school, where honestly, the most serious thing that should happen is that she tripped over her untied shoelace in her mad dash to the monkey bars.

    Sorry so long. Just know I’ve been there, ma’am. Like I said, good luck.

  14. Mama G says:

    My recommendation is to ask to see the list of offences against the school/center/etc. I’m not sure what entity in your area visits the schools to make sure that all of the legal policies/procedures are being followed, but I do know they have to post any offences for everyone to see and they need to show you a list of offences should you request.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a school with a perfect “report card”, but you certainly want to make sure they the offences are niether excessive nor enormous!

  15. KYouell says:

    I have one tiny thing to add to Grammyelin. Can you do *surprise* visits? You know how people put their best foot forward, but if they don’t know you’re coming then what is it like?

    Please keep us updated on how this goes. I’m afraid that with his special needs diagnosis (ack, the terminology) that I’m going to be doing this in a year because either The Biscuit will just be shuffled into the local school at age 3 or I’ll find some place else for him. I so don’t want to do this whole thing, but since I have to it will be nice to learn from your, uh, experience. 🙂

  16. Sketchy says:

    My one big advice as a child of a mom who ran a school and shared lots of advice with me…so OK that doesn’t technically qualify me as much of an expert, but I promise my Mom was just such an expert that I am pretending to be…bypass all those rigorous, high stress, overly preparing them for Kindergarten preschools. There is absolutely NO evidence that that kind of environment benefits children whatsoever.

    What it does do is give parents something to compete and compare, something easy to mark on their scorecards.

    What really prepares a child for further learning is an environment where they are encouraged to explore a variety of objects and items. Gives them ample activities that help with motor coordination. And in short lets them PLAY in a fun and nurturing environment.

    It doesn’t really benefit a 3 year old to be able to write all the names of the different dinosaurs. Or to be writing cursive by 4. This is a very short time in which their minds are sponges and they need the tactile experience of digging in the dirt, fingerpainting and building with blocks much much more.

    This concludes my sermon on early childhood development.

  17. bek says:

    Lucky. The cheapest preschool that I can find around here is about 300$ but it is co-op. The average school is 900$- 1500 A MONTH. That is out of our range. And they give legacy’s priority. Thats right, if your PARENT went there, you get first dibs. Even the one in the ghetto that I really wanted my son to go to (he is African American and I want him to have AA teachers) is out of our price range. It was 850$ a month. Yikes.

    We are in the same boat as you…. preschoo is Blues Clues and Target for lunch…

  18. Dude, I’m feeling for you. My gal is 2.5 years old, and I’m already feeling the guilt that she’s not in a good pre-school. Sheesh! Good luck.

  19. Abby says:

    My four year old gal is currently in a parent co-op preschool that requires parents to work roughly 24 times a year. The preschool is very in to parent involvement. I am also on the board. The adult child ratio is 4.25-1 and classes max at 18 students.
    My advice is to decide what is essential, in your mind, that Laylee gets out of her preschool experience. Ask the preschools about their focus wether it be play based or academic. And throw out the ones that don’t fit. Also take into consideration how long she is there. Our school is 3 days a week for 2 1/2 hours. It is also very play based. There is no real dicipline tier. If you can’t behave they ask you not to come back. (2 student this year have been evicted out of four classes)
    I looked at several schools that were longer days and very academic, but it seemed more for the parents ego and bragging rights than the true benefit of the children.
    If you don’t find one that suits you, remember there is no place like home. 🙂

  20. a fan says:

    a group of us gals got together and are doing the program from valuesparenting.com. lesson plans are done for you and are pretty fun! they’re spot-on for age. my oldest will turn four in july and is so self-motivated in reading and writing. she used to beg to go to school, which wasn’t going to happen… that’s why i’m a sahm, kiddo! she’s VERY happy with the co-op we have going now and it’s very age-appropriate. we take turns teaching and it’s drop-off, which is what i liked about “real” preschool, haha! yay for free time!

    three of the other women in the group are teachers (well, four, if you count teaching seminary and institute!), which is reassuring and neat. they’ve all voiced the opinion stated above that there’s no point in sending pre-k kids to any sort of academic-ish “school.”

  21. Connie says:

    Well, as a 4 year old preschool teacher, I’d like to add a couple comments. yes, ask about discipline, our school follows the same for every class. Ask if there are other programs for the children. Our 4yo get to go to music and Spanish. They love it! Special programs such as plays etc. Our kids go to chapel once a month. Just remember, when you go on your tour it won’t be the same as having a kid there. Your best resource is going to be other parents. I say this because I’ve heard the tours being given and seen the info sent home to parents, but it isn’t necessarily the “law” for all teachers. In my class I do a lot more Bible and art experiences than other classes. I don’t focus on perfect handwriting like some of the other teachers do. We have six different 4 year old classes, we all have the same curriculum, but none of us teach the same.

    Good luck!

  22. jessica T. says:

    Huh? Did I miss something raising my kids? Did I scar MY 9 and 10 Yr old by not sending them to preschool? Will they, when pigs fly, be kept from Yale ect. as they so wish because, nope no preschool, sorry? I did send them to Kindercare two days a week because, well, I needed a break and they needed to socialize with someone other than me. By then I was mostly concerned about safety and germs. Who cares about curriculum! They are kids! They are only little once. Let them have fun, let them be creative, let them have free time to be able to dream and imagine. Don’t go for every moment scheduled. Agh! My brain hurts just thinking about a curriculum for 3 yr olds. Abby is right on track. Good luck. You’ll find the best choice.

  23. Abby says:

    Last comment—-I went to a kindergarten readiness class last night and the teacher speaking could not stress enough the importance of emotional readiness. She said that it is not important if your child is academically elite because of preschool experience, it is her job to teach them the academics, but she is not able to teach them to be mature. She suggested (strongly, like 9 times) that she would not send a child to kindergarten if they were not 5 by july 1st. She said that the younger ones may be smart but that is not necessarily readiness.
    She said that preschool was great but not essential for kindergarten success. Time is the biggest factor.
    So preschool is great but the academic field is pretty level by 2nd grade. iIf she stays home with you and learns to bake cookies, she will be just fine.

  24. Amber says:

    I would like to get some information on what requirements must be met to home school my son even just for preschool and how to go about the process and get the supplies. Please contact me at a_jarrells04@hotmail.com if you have any information.

  25. jan dowling says:

    I am a speech therapis in preschools for children with disabilities and a field consultant for the High/Scope preschool curriculum. Most people will quote to you research proving that quality preschools give children a decided advantage. But most preschools that I’ve consulted with (from the West Coast to the East and North and South) don’t know what defines a preschool as quality. Preschools that are teacher directed with 45 minute circle times, children rotating through small group activities, doing worksheets, drilling the alphabet and other academics are more harmful to children than no preschool at all. ( one third of the time should be spent in free time playing with a variety of toys and materials, books, paints, markers, sand, water, computers etc. that children have free access to in an environment of well defined areas. And that should be in a big block of time at least 50 minutes so the children can construct play scenarios) Academic preschools do indeed show increased progress as the children enter kindergarten, in 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade, but in every study I’ve read the breakdown comes in 4th grade when the other students catch up and those children in academic preschools lag behind the others in cooperation, social skills, problem solving and overall passion for education. If you would like to know more about what makes a quality program feel free to email me. If not please consider giving your child a spoon and some water and letting them dig in the back yard. I did not send any of my kidos to preschool. One is in Law School, another in construction flipping houses, a daughter beginning college in recreational therapy this fall and the youngest is student body vice president. Remember: the enemy to learning is the talking teacher1

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