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What I Didn't Know Going Into the Preschool Search

The preschool search is a daunting experience. For some of us, it's the first time our baby will be away from home. In my case, it's the first time our toddler will be cared for by someone who is not a relative. Nonetheless, his father and I are confident that our son is going to thrive with the socialization that a preschool environment brings.

That said, it hasn't been easy figuring out what we wanted that environment to be like. We've learned a lot over the past few months. If you're planning to start the search soon—or stuck trying to make up your mind—here are some things we learned along that you might also consider.

1. Before touring schools and meeting the directors, it will be helpful if:

  • You start your search a year in advance. I know it sounds crazy. But we started a few months after our son's second birthday, and some schools already had very long waitlists for this coming fall. Be ready to pay a deposit to be added to a waitlist.
  • You know what days and times you need your child to be in preschool. Some schools have slots for one to two days per week, while others may only accept full-time students.
  • You have read reviews or have recommendations from others who have attended the school. Word of mouth is valuable when it comes to your children.

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2. When we started our search for the perfect place, there were so many factors to consider, such as:

  • Safety and whether the school site safe? Does it meet all regulations? Is the establishment licensed? Has everyone on staff received and passed a background check? What is the ratio of teacher to child
  • Affordability and whether it will stretch the budget too much. What adjustments will you make to accommodate for this in your plans?
  • Location and how long the commute is from your house/work to the preschool.
  • Philosophy and the values that govern the school. What is the leadership's belief on how to handle conflict? Does it follow a Montessori system or Reggio-Emilio? What are the values of the school? Some preschools we visited appeared quite traditional, while others seemed to follow millennial parenting trends. You need to decide what works for you and find an environment that is in alignment with you're raising your child at home.
  • Languages spoken. Spanish is my first language, and so it is important that our child's preschool has a bilingual staff who foster acquisition Spanish.
  • Schedule and how kids spend the day. Ask to see the schedule. When is nap time? When and how are snacks and lunch served? Our son loves being outdoors, so we wanted to make sure there was lots of outdoor time at the location we chose for him.
I know this might sound controversial, but one thing we were not obsessing about was the academic rigor of the preschools.

3. Gut check

One of the biggest questions we asked ourselves was whether we could we imagine our child happy in that location. This was our biggest question and the answer came down to our gut and intuition. Making the decision is challenging, but you will know when you have found the right place. If you're not feeling it, maybe you need to keep looking.

I know this might sound controversial, but one thing we were not obsessing about was the academic rigor of the preschools. Of course, we want learning to be a part of the process, but we are more focused on social and emotional skills. We hope he will learn through play and develop character skills by socializing with other children in a nurturing and encouraging environment. He's 2. We have many years of academic worry ahead of us. We are going to hold off on that pressure at least until he's fully potty-trained.

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I'd encourage the rest of you not to stress too much about this either. Remember, too, that if you don't like the preschool you chose, it's also OK to change your mind.

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