We’ve asked some Hudson Valley education administrators to tell us what they feel are the real important questions to think about when choosing a preschool.
1. Credentials. Most pre-schools are private. In New York, accreditation (by the National Association for the Education of Young Children — naeyc.com) is voluntary and has rigorous standards. All pre-school teachers must have a degree in early childhood education, and all equipment must meet their standards. “Most preschools are not accredited because of the costs,” explains Carol Murray, director of the Dutchess Community College Day Care Center. These include application fees, and money to regularly upgrade equipment/toys, etc.
Concerns about potty training?
2. Discipline. How does the preschool handle bad behavior? Are there time-outs? Do teachers intervene or allow children to work out conflicts by themselves? This is an important consideration since educators believe that whatever approach is used in class be practiced at home. “Structure and routine are important to help preschoolers feel safe,” says Jessica Goodwin, a graduate of the Dutchess Community College early childhood education program.
3. Hours. While a preschool does not have to be licensed or accredited, it does have to abide by safety requirements and cannot operate for more than three hours a day. It’s usually limited to ages 3 to 5 years, and more structured. “Day care,” on the other hand does require a state license and can offer longer hours. Ages range from 6 weeks to age 5.
4. Nutrition. Does the preschool provide lunch and snacks, or will you have to pack them? If they do serve lunch, what is it? Ask to see sample menus. If your child has food allergies, make sure the preschool can ensure his/her safety and teachers are trained to use an Epi-Pen.
5. Safety. How does the preschool ensure child safety, and keep track of child drop-off/pick-up? “Each preschool should have timely inspections from the building, fire inspector and health department. An evacuation plan is very important and each employee should be trained in CPR. We also have a defibrillator on site,” states Carol Lahti, director of Kids Club House, Warwick NY.
6. Visiting. Is there an open-door policy? Can parents drop in any time or are there set days for observation? “We have an open door policy for parents, and encourage them to come any time they want,” explains Danielle Canero, director of Kidz Town of Dutchess, Wappingers Falls. She says parents are kept in the loop via regular emails, and a detailed website with the preschool’s calendar of events.
7. Philosophy. Some preschools place more emphasis on play while others adhere to very strict curriculum. Ms. Canero adds, “We want to make sure the parents are on the same page and match the schools’ discipline policy, potty training routine, etc. We request a parent-teacher conference within the first three months of school to be clear on the parents’ expectations.”
Nina Flanagan is a journalist and writer and loves to weave a good story.