Every year over 500 parents attend Parents Place’s Preschool Preview Night in Golden Gate Park at the Hall of Flowers. What are they hoping for? To find a first school that provides their child with a safe, stimulating learning place and allows them to connect with other children like themselves.

Parents in the Bay Area and in many parts of the country require full or part time preschool to accommodate their diverse work schedules. Schedules can range from part time to very full time, sometimes averaging 40-50 hours a week.

Looking at different preschools involves a multi-layered approach to finding the “best fit” for your child, your schedule and your budget. In the class I teach on school selection, I recommend that parents first determine these four factors:

  • Location: Between home and work is often best
  • Schedule: Do you need part time, full time, how many hours?
  • Fees: What is the family budget for child care?
  • Philosophy: What type of program will be the best fit for your child, given who they are?

You will need to do a web search first. Organize a folder for the search and read about each school that you are interested in or that you have heard about through the grapevine. Then, jot a few notes down about each school, using the four points mentioned above.

If you are in San Francisco, you can also use the handy guide that Parents Place is publishing this year with Parents Press. It lists all our local preschools and you can get a copy at Preschool Preview Night on September 28.

I suggest narrowing the search to four to six preschools. In addition you should note any special offerings that the preschool provides such as music, dance, gymnastics, prepared meals, etc.

Next, schedule a tour and come prepared with a few questions that did not get addressed on the school’s website. When touring consider the following questions:

  • Who is at the helm? Is the Director available, approachable, and does s/he connect well with parents?
  • What is the energy like when you arrive? Happy? Stimulating? Organized? Pleasant?
  • Are children engaged in a meaningful way? Are children free to move, play, and make choices independently? Is there a teacher supervising closely and meeting the needs of the children who are in her care?
  • What are the ratios? Optimum for preschoolers is 1:6 or 1:8.
  • How is the environment set up? Do the outdoor spaces and classrooms look clean and cared for? Are the projects reflective of preschool aged minds, hands, and curiosities?

Preschool Philosophies

Determining the best school philosophy for your young child is important. Here are three main approaches to early childhood that you might see. Some programs may be a combination of these, using an eclectic approach.

  • Play based: Play is the work of the young child and how they learn about themselves, the world around them and about others. The environment includes age-appropriate materials that allow for fine motor and gross motor development, creative expression and plenty of time to socialize and explore.
  • Montessori: This philosophy is based on developing a love of learning and exploration by preparing the independent child to focus, complete tasks, and experience the mastery of the beautiful materials designed by Dr. Maria Montessori, who was a trained pediatrician. Montessori also saw the child as a spiritual being who possesses a mind that absorbs knowledge through rich experiences and materials designed just for them.
  • Reggio Emilia: This town in Northern Italy was hailed by Newsweek magazine in the 1990’s as having the best preschools in the world. Based on the project approach and child lead curriculum, teachers are trained to listen, observe, document, and follow the child’s ideas and vast sense of wonder in the world around them. Children are not viewed as empty vessels requiring spoo- fed knowledge by their teachers; rather, they are respected for their keen sense of beauty, fairness, desire to collaborate with peers, and learn from “hands on” experiences.

Preschools can offer your child many opportunities for growth: social development, a love for learning and the important ability to connect with others outside of the family. I hope you enjoy your search for a great preschool. Please call us at Parents Place if you need support and make sure to attend Preschool Preview Night if you are in San Francisco. This fair is a terrific way to meet many different schools at once, gather information, and talk to school staff.