The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born. For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier. I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me. She asked whether baby was on a list for school. A little shocked by the question – I said no. At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy. Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it. What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero. Yikes, I was already behind the ball!
Researching Different Options
With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt. In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information. Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia. There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.
The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools. As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools. From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.
Visiting the Schools
A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about. Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer. As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved. What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?
Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well. As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program. The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.
The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies. In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key. This even required a separate visit for some schools. When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable. There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.
Factors to Consider
Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:
- Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
- Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
- Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
- Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
- Curriculum – what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
- Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
- Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
- Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline? Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
- Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?
Shortcut for Sonomans
With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times. The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier. Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.
In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year. As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event. Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs. It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof. Take your list of questions and go booth to booth! It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools. This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.
If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event. If they don’t, maybe start one.
Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you. I hope this article is helpful. I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?