Are you concerned about how to select a Preschool for your little one? Choosing a school where our child thrives in is a difficult process. In this post I’ve summarized the things to consider and the questions that you may ask the school staff. Also included are a summary-slides video and a simple PDF worksheet.
In the post on Essentialism by Greg McKeown , I had discussed how decision fatigue could affect us – if we have a series of decisions to make, we can get exhausted, and that can impact the quality of our choices. Therefore, in this blog, I share my experiences, which can hopefully make decision making easier for you.
Decisions are particularly difficult when they concern our children because we want the best for them. With a multitude of choices to make for the little ones, a bit of letting go and a little planning can keep us calm. This post is about an aspect of the latter – planning on how to select a preschool.
What is a Preschool?
In the United States, Kindergarten begins at the age of 5-6. In India, too, schools have a Lower Kindergarten and Upper Kindergarten (~4 and ~5 years, respectively). Preschool is offered to kids before (pre) the School/Kindergarten starts and it can begin as early as two years.
What makes the Preschool selection Challenging?
(a) Preschools are not mandatory and often have an informal setting making them vastly different from each other; hence, the selection is a challenge.
(b) Depending upon when the child starts school, a preschool can span for as long as 2-3 years. Therefore it may be crucial in shaping the child’s behavior and becomes an important decision.
Our experience with Preschool Selection
I toured many preschools in the area with my mom, who is a nursery-teacher trainer and my husband.
(a) After visiting a few schools, we were confused because there were multiple factors to consider. Therefore, my husband and I sat down and discussed what we were looking for in a school, considering our child’s personality and several other factors.
(b) Once we had clear expectations, I made a worksheet and assessed the schools on that basis. This worksheet helped us streamline the school selection.
Our son now goes to a Montessori Preschool, which seems to be a good fit for us at this stage. That may not be the case for you. Therefore, read on to dive into the factors to consider, and I hope you find an excellent school for your child.
“How to select a Preschool?” –
The Factors to Consider
If you have the constraints on school hours and our budget, they can prune the school list. For an exhaustive list of other factors, please read on. I’ve created this list based on the research that we did and the experiences that we had.
1. Is the Preschool Licensed?
A certified and licensed preschool should be an essential aspect of your search. A license indicates that the city has done due diligence to check if the school has the most critical infrastructure needed in case of emergencies, the school is staffed adequately, and the premises are overall safe.
If not checked already, please ask if the school is licensed. If so, for how many children. Moreover, sometimes, the schools may have a plan for expansion – in that case it becomes important to see if the premises are big enough. Answers to these questions can help understand if the school is large enough for the child to explore.
2. The Commute
Distance from home and the workplace(s) is one of the significant parameters to consider. Typically, this is a problem when the workplace and home are far apart.
Having the daycare/preschool closer to one’s workplace is fit for attending to urgent calls. However, if the commute to work is long, it can be uneasy for the child to ride every day. Therefore, a thumb-rule for us has been: if the one-way commute is more than thirty minutes, choose the preschool/daycare close to home, else close to work.
Reviews from friends and family make this process very easy. Therefore, if you find a school referred by a family/friend, nothing like it. If not, online reviews are also a valuable tool. Please do a quick research and shortlist the schools with good reviews/ratings.
Please consider the online reviews on different platforms – the number of reviews and the reviews themselves. I’d place a threshold and shortlist the schools accordingly. You may also want to speak with the parents of current children who attend that preschool.
4. The Teaching Philosophy
As discussed above, since a preschool is optional, there may not be a fixed curriculum to which the schools adheres. There are teaching philosophies (“Comparing Preschool Philosophies”, by Laura Lewis Brown, PBS.org,) like Montessori, Reggio Emilia, or Waldorf, to which the school may loosely subscribe. These styles may imply play-based, instruction-based, project-based and the hybrids.
“One of the teacher’s roles is to guide the child through what Montessori termed the prepared environment, i.e., a classroom and a way of learning that are designed to support the child’s intellectual, physical, emotional and social development through active exploration, choice and independent learning. “… ” This is a very different goal to that of most education systems today, where the focus is on attainment in academic subjects such as literacy and mathematics.” Chloë et. al, Nature, 2017 
Please inquire which philosophy does the school subscribe to, if any. Please visit the schools with an open mind. More important than the philosophy that the school follows, it is how the school brings it to practice.
5. Individual Attention to the Child
Although the child may not need one-to-one care all the time, a connect with the caregivers can help her shine.
You may choose to inquire about the children-to-teacher ratio. The second pertinent question may be to ask how long on an average a teacher stays with the school? It works better if the teachers are not temporary and don’t leave often. You may look out for reviews for the individual teacher(s) – do other kids interact well and connect with her? A good teacher can make so much of a difference.
6. Toilet Training
Many preschools require that the kids be toilet trained. If your child is toilet trained, it opens up a lot of options. However, if not, some schools offer to train the child. Toilet training the child can be challenging, and working with the teachers can help to ease the whole process.
Do the teachers train the child; if so, how? What is the followed procedure – do they’ve guidelines, and should you work with them to prepare the child – these are a few reasonable questions is good to ask.
Food is a vital piece to consider, and we all hope that our children eat healthy meals. There are schools which provide lunch, and there are others which require us to pack it with the child.
Is the lunch served? If so, you can ask for the menu and visit the kitchen. If sending home-cooked meals, please confirm if the school has a microwave and if they heat the lunch. If not, you might want to pack the food that is okay to eat as is. Snacks that are low on sugar and salt are suitable for children, and it is okay to ask and inquire about the same.
8. Accidents – The Protocol
Accidents are unfortunate but can happen. The daycare/preschool must have a protocol around accidents, and we should enquire about it. In case of a severe accident, they should call 911 right away and contact your pediatrician.
Please speak with the teaching staff about their protocol around accidents. Also, for a licensed school, the teachers are CPR trained. Please inquire about whether and when are parents informed in case of an accident. Please ask: Even in the case of small accidents, does the school notify the parents right away?
9. Additional Activities
Many schools have other activities for which one can sign up – e.g., music or soccer lessons. If you are planning to keep your child in the same preschool for a long time, as he grows up, these classes may be crucial to his development.
Please speak with the teaching staff about the activities, the signing up process, the frequency of the classes. You may ask if and how it adds value to his/her development.
10. Soft Skills
A child’s brain develops to 90% by the age of 5 ! At such a critical phase of life, it is vital to choose an environment that helps the child learn soft skills and manage his/her emotions. I’ve visited schools where they emphasize conflict handling by encouraging the kids to talk to each other!
Please speak with the teaching staff about conflicts and how do they address them. It is okay not to have anything planned on this front, but this can be an engaging conversation and help you learn more about the school. You may also ask if there are activities where the kids interact with each other.
Schools have a routine that they follow, and all schools have playtime and a play area. If you have a few schools to consider, please survey the play area. They can range from very small to huge with trees and sand areas.
Please check the total outside playtime and the play timings – you may want to drop them before the outside play in the morning. If you are in sunny California, if the children play outside, a built shade/big trees help a lot.
A few last Notes:
I’ve put together this exhaustive list that we had used for making a decision, but a few points may not be valid for you (e.g., your child might already be toilet trained).
Which school suits your child depends a lot on his/her personality. Please consider your convenience, too; stretching too thin to get the best preschool may not work well for the family as a whole.
A Parting Thought: It is perfectly okay for our child’s school to not be stellar in everything. Not everything can be the best, anyways. However, it is good to do our homework and set expectations before. I hope this post helps you to select better and be relaxed!
1. “Essentialism for a Stress-Free Life: 5 Book Takeaways”, Smell the Mint Leaves, 2019.
2. “Comparing Preschool Philosophies: Montessori, Waldorf and More”, Laura Lewis Brown, PBS KIDS for Parents, 2012
3. “Montessori education: a review of the evidence base”, Chloë Marshall, 2017,
4. “Early childhood brain development has lifelong impact”, Arizona PBS