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How to Choose a Preschool

How to Choose a Preschool

Published: 12/15/2013

» Parents and Education

It seems that everywhere you turn these days, there are signs advertising preschool open houses, and no two ads are the same. Parents might be left wondering play school or preschool? Montessori or traditional? Full day, half day or three times a week? For first time parents, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

Start with Priorities
When starting your search, it’s important to identify your priorities. Do you want a program that is close to your home or workplace? Do you require full-time care or can you spend more time your child? Has your child expressed specific interests that you want to hone in on, such as music, dance, science, or learning another language?

Once you have outlined your list of must-haves, start asking other parents which programs they like and don’t like and the reasons why. Consult with professionals who may already be seeing your child, daycare providers, speech pathologists, Sunday School teachers even doctors can help point you into the right direction.
What’s in a Name?
As far as titles go, play school, preschool, nursery school and learning centres are generally interchangeable. Individual schools tend to select the term that most lines up with their specific programming focus. Schools offering play-based programs may select play school as part of their name, while more academic focused ones may use pre-school, preparatory school or learning centre. However there are exceptions and it is important to inquire further. 

Some of the most popular programs are Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf.Montessori includes sensory awareness, language arts, mathematics and cultural studies education. Children who enjoy a hands-on approach to learning and those with special needs tend to do well in this type of program as the teacher gives each child specific individual attention.

Reggio Emilia main goal is for children to learn a wide range of life skills that will help to shape them into responsible, cooperative citizens who know how to solve problems and resolve conflict. Whereas in Waldorf programs children are encouraged to engage in creative fee play and use their five senses to absorb and actively engage in life. Classrooms resemble a home environment and daily activities include arts and crafts, music, poetry, baking and dramatic play.
Start by giving each school that meets your priority list a call. Ask a few preliminary questions such as program details, philosophies on discipline, fees and enrolment process. Then book a tour, or attend an open house. Visits can be as short as 15 minutes and as long as the program lasts. The more time you spend, the more you will see and in turn, the more comfortable you will feel (or not feel) about sending your child there. Remember, your child’s first impression is just as important as yours. 

Narrowing your Choices
A good program has solid, up-to-date credentials, clear rules and regulations and firm policies on operating hours, pickup and drop-off times, wellness and behavior.

All programs in Alberta are regulated by Alberta Human Services and are required to post their most recent inspection report in a prominent and visible place. Additionally parents can do their own research at home by visiting
www.child.alberta.ca/home/ChildcareLookup.cfm. This site allows parents to view the school’s full history including any issues of non-compliance.

Some signs that you should keep looking would be a negative first experience, loose rules, questionable curriculum, under qualified staff, undercompensated staff, dirty and or unsafe facilities and an expired license.

Bottom Line
Despite which school is chosen, the most important thing to think about is whether or not your child will be happy there. The main goal of every preschool experience is for your child to enjoy their time there and to engage with other children and to develop a curiosity and life long love of learning. 


www.sapta.ca provides a checklist to help find the right fit for your families needs.