As I talked about in the introduction article of my blog, choosing a childcare center or preschool can be a very difficult and confusing decision. There are so many things to consider. This article is going to give you a few of what I believe are to be the most important things to look for when touring a center or home-based school.
1. Hours of Operation.
What hours do you need your child to be at school? Is there a charge for early drop-off or late pick-up? Some schools advertise to be open during certain hours but charge a fee for what may be called "early drop-off" or "flex time." Make sure to ask about this if the early/late hours of a program is what appeals to you. Also, some schools require your child to be there before a certain cut-off time. Be sure to inquire as to whether or not this is the case and consider if that works for you and your needs. If the hours of a school aren't going to work with your family's schedule, then you probably need to look elsewhere.
2. Cleanliness and Safety.
When you walk into a school, what is your first impression? Does the school seem to be clean and safe? You can usually tell while walking through a program if the staff is taking proper care of the classrooms. But don't get me wrong, it is perfectly normal to walk into a preschool classroom and see toys strewn about and paint on the tables and walls. A classroom in the midst of active learning is often a bit untidy. What I am referring to is general cleanliness. Take a peak in the refrigerators, on the counters, in the sinks. Look at the equipment and make sure it looks safe and sturdy. Look at the children, especially infants and toddlers, and make sure their faces are cleaned from meals and their hands aren't dirty from the playground (if inside.) You can even call DCF and inquire as to whether or not a program has a history of reports. In general, you will quickly get an idea if the children are safe and well cared for based on some of these factors.
3. Teacher Qualifications.
An early childhood teacher is not a babysitter, and their qualifications should reflect that. Ask about what educational requirements teachers need to work as a head teacher and teacher assistant. Ask about first aid and CPR training. Also, ask about the turn-over rate. All childcare centers will have a certain amount of turn-over do to the nature of the job and the low wages, but a quality center with good management will be discovered where there are several teachers who have been there for years. Find a school where the majority of staff has a long history there and you will find a quality place to bring your child.
4. How does the school feel?
Sometimes you can walk into a place and just immediately know whether you like it or not. Trust your gut. When taking a tour, ask your questions and make sure the answers are being given in a straight and sincere manner. If it seems like something is being hidden, it probably is. Make sure you are allowed to see all the classrooms and spend more then just a few seconds in each one. This will allow you to really see the interactions between the staff and children. If the staff is friendly and welcoming and the children seem happy and playful, then you probably have all your answers right there.
When picking a school, there are obviously a lot more factors then the ones I mentioned above, but I wanted to share what I believe to be the most telling characteristics. I have been working at Little Explorers of Newtown for over 7 years (since the day we opened!) but I have also worked at and visited many other places. Every school has its own unique personality as well as its strengths and weaknesses. My advise is to visit all the schools in your area to make sure you have chosen the school that's right for you.