Choosing the right preschool is an important decision. And while a preschool interview is a chance for the staff to get to know your child, it's also an opportunity for you to get to know them.
When interviewing the staff at a potential school, write out questions beforehand, and bring a pen, paper and your powers of observation to help you make the most of the visit. It's better if you child doesn't accompany you, to allow you to focus. (If you decide that this school is a contender, bring her another time.) But if you can't get a sitter, or the school encourages it, by all means, have your little one come.
You may know the answers to many of these questions -- or at least think you know -- but still, it's a good idea to get the answers from someone in authority. They include:
- How long have you been in business?
- What are the school's accreditations?
- What is the student capacity?
- What are the operating hours?
- What days/holidays is the school closed?
You should also ask to see the school's license, if it isn't displayed. Licensing assures that a preschool program meets basic safety and quality standards, not to be confused with accreditation. Accredited programs must meet higher criteria. Although a license does not guarantee that a preschool offers a quality education, you should not consider a facility that does not have a license.
About Your Child
General questions are important, but you also need to find out answers that are specific to your child including:
- Do you have space for my child?
- If not, do you have waiting list? How long is it? What is the likelihood that we will be called?
- Does my child have to be potty-trained to attend? Are pull-up-type diapers acceptable?
- Are children required to be immunized?
- Can I bring my child in for a site visit before we decide to enroll? (Applicable if you haven't brought your child with you this time.) After we decide to enroll?
Do You Have an Educational Philosophy?
There is more than one way to teach a classroom full of preschoolers. In fact, there are dozens. So when you meet with the teachers or staff, find out if there is a certain philosophy that they follow. For example, Montessori schools are known for fostering independence, Waldorf schools for their creativity, the High/Scope method sets personal goals for kids, Bank Street> focuses on child-centered education and the Reggio Emilia approach follows a child's natural development -- and for the most part they fit, but remember that each individual school sets their own tone and has their own method. Some schools don't have a set school of thought, per se, but still, it's likely do have a mission of some sort. Find out what it is.
Learning and Activities
This is the meat and potatoes part of the preschool interview. Make sure you have the chance to tour all parts of the school.
- What is a typical day like?
- Do you focus more on academics or social growth?
- Will my child learn basic skills like letters and numbers? Colors and shapes?
- What type of motor skill activities do the children engage in?
- Are their separate spaces to learn art and music?
- Do the children go outside? Weather permitting, how often and how long?
- What types of toys and games do you have? How often are new toys brought in?
- Do you go on field trips?
- Are outside groups (dance schools, librarians, etc) brought in to speak?
- Do you show movies or television programs? How often?
- Do the children take naps? Where?
Discipline, Socialization and Meals
Part of preschool is teaching your child social skills that they'll use later on in life. It's important to find out what methods the preschool will use and how you can complement these methods at home.
- How are children disciplined?
- How do you handle bullying or teasing?
- What do you do if a child needs to be comforted?
- At what point do you notify the parents if there is a discipline or other type of issue?
- Will my child eat here? What meals and who provides the food?
- If I provide the food, are their any items that aren't permitted?
- How do you handle food allergies?
Health, Safety and FoodWhile you don't want to imagine anything going wrong, it's important to be prepared in case something does -- and make sure that the preschool is as well.
- What is your sick child policy?
- Will you give my child medication during the day if I request it? Do I need a doctor's note?
- Do you teach children to wash their hands? When and how often?
- How often are the toys and games and equipment washed?
- How old is the play equipment and how often is it inspected?
- How are visitors handled? Are the doors locked?
- Do you have a sign-in sheet?
- Who is allowed to pick my child up?
- Do you have fire drills?
- Do you have a disaster plan? What is the procedure in case of an emergency?
Classroom and Staff Questions
Learning as much as you can about the teachers who will be working with your child is of the utmost important. The National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests a student/teacher ratio of 1:8 to 1:10 for children in the four to five year old age group.
- How are the kids divided up?
- How many children would be in my child's class?
- What is the teacher/child ratio?
- What kind of education and safety training do your teachers have? How often do they go back for more classes?
- Is everyone in the building trained in CPR and first aid?
- How many full-time teachers do you have? Are there teacher assistants? Who will be teaching my child?
- How are staff members screened prior to being hired?
- Who else is in the building?
How Much Parental Involvement is Required/Encouraged?
Some schools prefer not to have any parental involvement, while others, like co-ops, require it. Find out how often you will be expected to be in the classroom or if you are even permitted to visit.
- Is parental participation required?
- Are parents allowed to visit the classroom?
- How often and under what terms?
- How do you communicate with parents on a regular basis? (Message board, notes sent home, etc.)
- Are there parent/teacher conferences? How often?
How Much is Preschool Tuition?
For many parents, this is a dealbreaker. And it's important to note their can be many facets to preschool costs, including supplies and fundraisers. Try to get as many details ahead of time as you can.
- How much is tuition?
- How often is it due?
- What methods of payment do you accept?
- Do you offer scholarships or discounts?
- Is there a late fee?
- Is there a discount if I pay for the year up front?
- Will we be responsible for buying school supplies?
- Do you require parents to participate in fundraising efforts?
- Are there any other costs that I should know about?
Questions to Ask Yourself
When your interview is over, it's a good idea to take a few minutes to think about your meeting and ask yourself some key questions about what you just saw (that's where those powers of observation come in)!
- If you visited during school hours, were the children happy?
- Are the rooms decorated with the children's art?
- Do the teachers seem to like what they are doing?
- Do the teachers engage directly with the children in a kind, happy, caring manner?
- Is the preschool clean? What about the bathroom?
- Does the school seem safe, with the proper equipment (first aid kit, fence around the playground, locked doors, etc.)?
- What are your instincts saying? Will your child be happy at this school?