Often times I find myself on the phone and hear these panicked words, “I feel a little silly calling, but I am expecting our first child, and I don’t know when I am supposed to start looking at preschools or daycares. Is it too early for me to start looking around, when should I start looking?” The answer is simple, “Now!” Whether you are the expectant parent above or the parent of a four year old looking for a quality preschool for the first time, it is important to begin the search for a quality program! But, what establishes a quality program from the other preschools around the corner, what do you ask when touring the facilities, and what do you look for?
To me the key elements for a quality program are safety, care, curriculum, and standards.
Safety is a huge component of choosing a childcare center. There should be a secured entrance to the center you choose. For example, upon enrolling and entering a Little Sunshine’s Playhouse and Preschool each parent is assigned a secure door code. I always emphasize to parents not to give the codes to anyone, not even grandma! Don’t get me wrong we LOVE grandmas and grandpas but we also want to meet them before they come in the center. We ask for a photo ID and compare it to our authorized pickup list; SAFETY comes first! In addition to “stranger danger safety” we also want to be incident and accident free! Classroom and playground safety checks should be conducted routinely and teacher should check the playgrounds before allowing his or her students to play! These are simple preventative measures that every quality preschool should pledge to do! Another standard that sets a quality preschool apart from other centers is First Aid/ CPR certification. How many people on site are CPR/ First Aid Certified? One? That’s not good enough. What if that ONE person is on vacation or that ONE person is on his/her lunch hour. At Little Sunshine’s we require all of our staff to be certified! This should be a standard expected in a center you are choosing! Don’t be afraid to ask questions about safety… this is your precious cargo after all.
Care; it is as important as safety. When you enter a preschool and you are touring, take a look around. Are you allowed to see all of the classrooms because you should! Look for babies sleeping in their cribs… let me rephrase this. Look for babies who are awake in their cribs. Cribs are for sleeping, not for playing or containment! Are there teachers rocking babies to sleep? This simple act is bonding and helps children later on in life with relationships. Is there soft soothing music playing in the background? Do you see all ages of children being read to? Do you hear lots of crying or lots of laughter and giggles? Do you see smiling faces from teachers, staff, and children? Little Sunshine’s Playhouse and Preschools are not MEGA preschools and we do not house two hundred children under one roof. This creates a quality program where each teacher can spend time with each child, which creates a caring admiration for not only the child, but for the teacher! This is one reason why teacher turnover is low because each teacher is invested. An important question to ask when touring is, “What is your teacher turnover?” This has a lot to do with quality care; if there is a new teacher in your child’s class every week, how in the world would they really know your child?
You can also tell a lot about a quality program by its curriculum. Is there a curriculum at the center you are touring and what are the components? A developmentally sound curriculum will encompass the whole child, even a six week old infant! At Little Sunshine’s Playhouse and Preschool the whole child is taught. Along with the traditional elements of a curriculum, LSP takes it a step farther with their Creatively Shine™ and works with the child to facilitate social and emotional learning and independence skills! We want our future kindergarteners to know that they can zip their own coats and open their own milk when they go to kindergarten. As simple as this may seem, don’t you remember the healthy self-esteem that came along with you once you were able to conquer these skills? When these independence skills are mastered in Pre-K the now kindergartner can focus on their academic day at elementary school! During a tour always asks to see the curriculum! Any Program Director should be proud and happy to show you the curriculum that they believe in!
Standards, though a broad topic, is the most easily explained. There should be a measurable documented standard for everything discussed during a tour, yes everything, to ensure a quality program. If there is not a documented measurable standard then often times there becomes an internal bleed of inconsistency which then leads to discourse in every facet of the program.
Finally, there are a couple of things to remember when touring. 1) You can never ask too many questions. Coming in to a tour with a notepad is very acceptable, and an invested Program Director will sit with you and answer every question you have. 2) If you have reservations about a center, tour it again, if you still don’t feel comfortable, then there is another center that will. Ultimately finding a quality program that is right for your family should be your goal!
Abby Davis- Program Director