Every year over 500 San Francisco 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 that also allows them to connect with other children.

Parents in the Bay Area, and in many parts of the country, require full and part time preschools to accommodate their diverse work schedules. Schedules can range from very part time (eight hours) a week to full time, 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 preschool selection, I recommend that parents think about these four factors first:

  • Location – between home and work
  • Schedule – part time, full time, how many hours?
  • Fees – what is the family budget for child care?
  • Philosophy – what program will be the best fit for your child, given who they are?

Parents will need to do a web search first. 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. I suggest narrowing the search to four to six preschools. In addition, you should note any extras or special offering 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 website. When touring take in the overall feel of the environment:

  • Who is at the helm? Is the Director available, approachable and does he or she 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 in her care?
  • What are the teacher/child ratios? Optimum for preschoolers is 1:6 or 1:8.
  • How is the environment set up? Do the yard and classrooms look clean and cared for? Is the work on the boards reflective of preschool age minds, hands and curiosities?

Determining the best philosophy for your young child is important. Here are three common approaches to early childhood that you might see:

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 possessed a mind that absorbed 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 preschool’s in the world. Based on the project approach and child led 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 spoon 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.

Some programs may also be a combination of these and use an eclectic approach.

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 check out our upcoming classes and events on choosing preschools.

Preschool Preview Night in Golden Gate Park on September 9, 2015.

This fair is a terrific way to meet many different schools at once, gather information, and talk to school staff.

Mechele Pruitt is the Director of Parents Place in San Francisco.