Preschool offers families the opportunity for a deep and meaningful shared early childhood experience. It is where children explore, play, learn, and build confidence, and where they start discovering that they are capable and competent. While preparing for this new chapter in your child’s life and exciting time, the process of choosing a preschool program can also be intimidating. How will you know which one is the right fit for your child and your family?
Open houses are a great way to learn about a school and to meet current parents. You can also schedule a time for a private tour and a meeting with the director. Before visiting, of course, make sure that the school’s location, hours, costs, days off, and inclement weather policies work for your family logistically.
During your visit, note how you feel when you enter the school. Is the school warm and inviting? Is there an atmosphere of excitement and activity? Are teachers engaging with the children? What kind of work is hanging on the walls? Most importantly, what is your gut reaction?
When meeting with the preschool director, come prepared to ask questions. The ones outlined below can help you make an informed decision, but you may have specific questions related to your own personal circumstances to ask as well.
What is the school’s educational philosophy? A school’s philosophy can guide the way the day is structured and shape the curriculum, so familiarize yourself with a few of the more common early childhood educational philosophies, such as play-based, Reggio Emilia, Constructivist, and Montessori, before your visit.
What does a typical day look like? A quality preschool will provide many varied opportunities for cognitive, gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and spiritual growth for your child.
How big is the class, and what is the teacher-student ratio? Not only should there be adequate supervision in a classroom, but it is also important that a teacher can provide time for both group and individual attention.
How do teachers help the children resolve conflicts? A child’s social and emotional development should be at the forefront of all quality preschool programs.
How does the school accommodate students with special needs or learning differences? You want to determine how willing the school will be in working with you to best meet your child’s needs and what types of support they can provide.
How does the school communicate with parents? Communication is indicative of the importance that the school places on the parents-teacher team. How will you receive updates about your child and school happenings? What types of family programming are available? Can parents get involved in school activities? Are you welcome to drop in or visit the classroom at any time?
Along those lines, you may also ask the director for references to hear perspectives from other parents and gain additional insights on the program.
Choosing a school where your child will learn, grow, and thrive can be both exciting and overwhelming. Doing due diligence and asking the right questions can help you make the most informed decision for your child.
For a listing of Jewish preschools in the Greater Washington area, visit the Community Directory at The Jewish Federation’s JConnect at www.jconnect.org.
Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA)’s Synagogue Liaison Program works in partnership with local synagogues and their preschools to provide resources and support to students and their families. JSSA also provides a range of mental health and supportive services for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors in their Maryland and Northern Virginia offices. For more information, please visit www.JSSA.org.
By Sharon Sherry, Michal Berkson, and Ellen Levin
Sharon Sherry is the early childhood education and family engagement specialist at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Michal Berkson, LCSW, LICSW and Ellen Levin, LCSW, LICSW are synagogue liaisons at JSSA Community Outreach.