I want to preface this article by disclosing that my child has been to six preschools. Yes, six. Being that my daughter just turned three, I realize she’s averaging two schools per year. However, before you judge me, let me provide you with a little context.
My husband and I both work full-time in a very demanding profession. When I found out I was pregnant with my little girl, I knew I needed to find full-time care starting somewhere in the six- to ten-week range. I started looking around five months pregnant, which I now know is way too late. This put me at a disadvantage from the beginning. Our story looks something like this:
School #1: I probably called 84,396,573,468 facilities in February 2016, four months before my daughter was due. Wait lists, on wait lists, on more wait lists. Resolved I would have to sell a kidney to find full-time care, a friend recommended a center semi-close to our temporary townhouse. I got the last spot. Kate started at 10 weeks old. This place sleep-trained my kid, alerted us to her food allergies, and I still use some of the teachers as babysitters. However, six months after we started, we moved back into our old house, clear across town. Continuing at this school would mean an hour trip out of the way each day. Nope.
School #2: Once again I waited way too long to call around, even with advance notice we were moving back into our house (do I ever learn?). A friend recommended this school to me, and there was one spot available. By the time I showed up to tour the school two hours later, that spot was gone. By the grace of all that is holy, the school agreed to move a kid up to make room for us. I am eternally grateful, and that mom is now one of my dearest friends. I also made some of my most favorite mom friends here. However, we faced significant issues with the school, as there was no communication when it came to reporting illness. After we spent a week at Methodist Children’s Hospital, we decided not to return.
Schools #3 and #4: We knew we wanted our little girl to go to school at our church, and we were pretty close to first on the wait list, but we had to fill eight—count ’em: EIGHT—months before they could accommodate us. I found another cute program that Kate loved. It didn’t have summer care, but luckily I found summer care that was prohibitively expensive. Temporary solutions got the job done. My kid won’t remember this time, right?
School #5: Our beloved church school. The most precious school ever. Kate was loved, cherished, and guided better than we could have hoped, but the hours were hard. There were several weeks in the year without care, which was not conducive to our work schedule. After no fewer than five fights over whose job was more important, my husband and I agreed to look elsewhere for a school with a schedule that was better for us as a family. Cue ugly crying.
School 6: We finally landed at our current school. My little girl is in school with her cousins, which might be the best thing ever. She even has one of them in her class! The school has awesome hours and year-round availability. I communicate with her teachers via an app, and I’m alerted every time my kid eats, pees, or naps. I also get super cute pictures throughout the day. I don’t hate it. I think this is our last school for a while.
With all of this being said, through each school decision, five things have become the most important factors for me when considering a preschool. My hope is that this will help some of you when navigating this circus because, boy, is it a CIRCUS! In no particular order, I present you with the top five things to consider when picking a preschool:
- Ratios—Ratios are critical, and while mandated by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, it seems like the requirements get more lenient the older a kid gets. However, you are paying someone to watch your child, so you want to make sure they are watching your child. Does the lead teacher have assistance? What’s the maximum number of students in each class? How does the school handle breaks? My biggest concern has always been whether there are eyes on my child, especially when kids are tiny. Also, when your kid comes home with a busted lip, it’s nice if someone knows how it happened.
- Internal procedures—What is the sick policy? How are sunscreen and bug spray handled? If your child has asthma, can you leave an inhaler, or do you need to come to school to administer it? In my experience, the places with the most organized internal policies are the best at enforcing them and keeping you in the loop. Also, these questions should be addressed before registration.
- School community—It’s hard, even as a mom, to walk into a new school and not know anyone. I want to be plugged in with my kid, even when I travel to three different cities in a week. This is where school community comes in. When a school has opportunities throughout the year, at varying times to accommodate schedules, for parents to visit and enjoy school with their kids, it fosters communication between parents and teachers and other parents. The friends I’ve made along the way by virtue of these opportunities have been invaluable on my parenting journey, and sometimes it’s just nice to have a friend in the parking lot to lend you a pair of shorts when your toddler vomits all over hers. I am also a firm believer that when a school fosters this type of community, it makes the school itself a happy place for kiddos to be, and there’s nothing better than that.
- School communication—This is two-fold: (1) How easy is it to get in touch with school teachers and administration?; and (2) how does the school communicate with parents? For me, there was nothing scarier than being in the dark about what was going on at school. That my key source of information was from another parent who heard from someone else about a strep throat outbreak is never ideal. Find this out early. Whom can you call if you want to check in? Who will alert you if your child is sick? Will you be able to grab time with the teacher before or after school to see how your child is adjusting? Communication, communication, communication. I firmly believe that good, reliable communication avoids 99% of the problems you might encounter. Flesh. This. Out.
- Other parents—As my little girl has grown, I’ve made friends with other parents and even re-connected with friends with kids who have played the preschool game before. Finding another parent(s) you trust is one of the biggest assets to finding the right preschool. First, other parents are a great resource for getting intel on different schools. Before I had many mom friends, I used to stalk the Alamo City Moms Community + Conversation Facebook group when preschool topics would come up—the information there is invaluable. Now, as a mom in the middle of it, I always try to share input on my child’s school when asked, because I know how helpful it can be. Use your village, and if you feel like you don’t have a village, Alamo City Moms will be your village. We’ve got you!
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is, simply, go with your gut. You are the decision-maker for your precious kiddo(s). You know what environment they will thrive in. You also have a super-human intuition to know when something doesn’t feel quite right. Go with that. I promise you, even if it takes six times, you will land in the right spot.