If you have a preschool-aged child, this post is for you.

Throughout the three-and-a-half years of his life, our child has attended three daycares/preschools. One was during his infancy. The other two, he now alternates between during the school year and the summer.

Before we decided on any one of these preschools and signed the enrollment forms, we preschool shopped. Now, as we’re planning for the arrival of a newborn, we’re preschool shopping again–this time for nurseries.

We’re more experienced at knowing what to look for in preschools now that we’re nearly four years into being parents. We don’t have it all figured out (what parent does?), but we’re certain of what will work for our family and what won’t.

Along the way, we’ve honed in on a set of questions you should ask before enrolling your child in preschool. You can ask these over the phone or during a preschool tour. Feel free to add to or edit these questions as it makes sense for your family, child, and unique situation.

Here are the 10 suggested questions you should ask before enrolling your child in preschool:

What is the curriculum or educational philosophy of the preschool?

If you’re a parent in the United States (and maybe even abroad, depending where you live), you’ve probably heard of the Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf educational philosophies. Here in Texas, we’ve found that people use the term “Montessori” as synonymous with “quality preschool.” “Your child goes to Montessori? Oh, very good,” seems to be the sentiment.

The reality is that there are probably awesome Montessori preschools and probably subpar ones too. Same goes for Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and other types of programs. If you have done your research and your mind is set on your child attending one of these types of schools, great! Remember, though, that just because a preschool is labeled as a certain “type” doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be the best for you and your family. So keep an open mind, and continue asking your questions to ensure any preschool you’re considering is ultimately the right fit.

Also, we’re partial to language immersion preschools, so find out (or seek out) ones that are immersion or dual-language programs. Start with a search via our homepage, and if you can’t find something near you, send us an email so we can do additional searching. It’s possible that there’s a language preschool near you but we’ve yet to add it!

As with preschools of a specific educational philosophy, just because a preschool may be a language immersion preschool doesn’t automatically give it a 5-star pass. Be diligent and do your homework. After all, this will be your child’s home away from home, and you want to feel at peace with your preschool decision.

What is the student-teacher ratio?

We parents want our children to get as much one-on-one time with caregivers as possible. In a preschool setting, teachers’ attention will be divided among the kids, of course. Find out what that division, or ratio, is. Is it one teacher for every six kids? One teacher for every ten kids? If this is something that’s a deal-breaker, don’t forget to inquire about it.

Also, note that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has created guidelines for program administrators to follow. You may want to get familiar with it too.

Do children have to be potty trained before their first day?

Many preschools, particularly those that only accept older children, require that children be fully potty trained before they start attending the program. If your child is mostly potty trained like ours is, what happens when the occasional accident occurs? What if there’s some regression and accidents become a bit more frequent? It’s better to be up front with the preschool about your child’s potty training level than to get into an awkward situation later.

Some preschools don’t have a potty training requirement. Most of these preschools will even work with you and your child to begin or assist with potty training.

Regardless of your child’s potty training status, plan to send an extra change of clothes each day, and understand where this change of clothes will be stored (e.g., a cubby, a backpack, etc.).

Is food provided? If so, what is a typical day’s menu?

Preschools vary in the amount and frequency of food they provide. Some provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Others provide a couple of snacks throughout the day, but not lunch. See what the food situation is, and ask to review a typical day’s menu.

Preschools that do provide food usually follow the state’s standards or criteria for nutrition. However, nutritional science is always evolving, and the state’s guidelines can sometimes take a bit to catch up to the latest findings. That being said, if your family or child has unique dietary preferences or restrictions, what will the accommodations be? Are home-brought lunches and snacks allowed? Get the scoop before you sign the papers.

How much time outdoors do the children get?

Increasingly, research is showing that spending time in nature has immense benefits for children and adults alike: reduced inflammation, increased immunity, improved concentration, enhanced creativity and even better vision. Outdoor time is a personal priority and a value for our family, so we take this into account while searching for new preschools and evaluating our current preschools.

One of our favorite aspects of our language immersion preschool is its adherence to the Germany philosophy of “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Kids are outside for extended periods of the day–rain or shine (but except for thunderstorms, obviously). They have rain boots and jackets for all types of weather, so they’re well prepared for a day filled with fresh air, and we love that.

If ample outdoor time is important to your family, too, look for a preschool that emphasizes it.

What is the discipline policy?

We’re no experts on discipline by any means, so we usually go with the flow on preschools’ outlined policies. But we do review and understand these policies so we are adequately informed of what, how, and when corrective behavior is implemented.

It’s inevitable that your child will bite or get bit. Hit or get hit. Like it or not, learning what’s socially acceptable and appropriate–and what isn’t–is part of child development. Knowing how, ahead of time, the teachers will handle these instances is a must.

How do you ensure the safety of children in your program?

Children’s safety should be the number one priority in any preschool program, so it deserves its own thorough subset of questions:

  • Is the preschool licensed and accredited?
  • Are background checks conducted for all faculty, teachers, and volunteers?
  • Is CPR certification a requirement for all faculty and teachers? Are they also trained in pediatric first aid?
  • What is the protocol when emergencies arise?
  • What are the policies around administering medication?
  • Is the preschool willing to provide referral letters from other parents?

If at any time red flags are raised, listen to and trust your intuition as you analyze the information set in front of you. If you have reasonable concerns about the safety of a program, look elsewhere immediately. Nothing is worth your child’s safety being compromised.

How are parents communicated with?

Teacher-to-parent communication channels vary among preschools. Our language immersion preschool offers quarterly parent-teacher conferences, as well as sends weekly classroom status update emails. We can also schedule face-to-face meetings with teachers or communicate questions, needs, and concerns via email.

Our son’s summer program, a traditional preschool, chooses to communicate with parents through daily written status sheets.

Between the two preschools, we don’t have a preference on the type of communication. We simply appreciate that there’s transparency and an open-door policy. If you find that either of these two things is missing from any preschool you’re looking at, then run. Clear, honest, and transparent communication is an absolute requirement if you’ll be enrolling your child in preschool. Settle for nothing less.

What is the policy for extended leave or absence?

This may not seem like it would make a top “Questions You Should Ask Before Enrolling Your Child in Preschool” list, but for some families, it’s important.

For instance, when our baby comes, we’ll take our preschooler out of his language immersion school during the maternity leave. So he won’t be attending preschool for six to ten weeks (however long I decide to take off work). Instead of removing him from the school entirely and risking losing his spot in the program, we’ll be following the school’s policy of paying 50 percent of his tuition during the weeks he’s not there.

Paying while he’s not attending is not ideal, but his preschool is competitive with a long and growing waitlist, so it enables us to retain his place.

Be sure to find out for yourself what your prospective preschool’s policy for extended leave or absence is. You never know what family situations, for better or for worse, may arise.

Is there a referral program?

Before you assume we’re crazy, think about these two words: free money. That’s what a preschool referral program (or most any type of referral program) is. Some preschools have one; some schools don’t need one.

The first daycare we ever enrolled our son in had a generous referral program because it was new and trying to establish itself. Our current preschool doesn’t do a referral program simply because it’s full with a waitlist. It never hurts to ask, though, especially if you’re well-connected to other parents in your community and you would be happy to recommend your preschool to them.

Your turn! Let us know what we missed.

What questions would you add to this list of things to ask before enrolling your child in preschool? Leave a comment to let us know. Your suggestion will help other parents too.

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