Choosing A Preschool
Beginning preschool is an exciting time for your child, and for you, their parent, or guardian! As you consider your child’s first formal education experience, I want you to remember that you are your child’s first teacher and foremost expert on your child. Use that knowledge and insight to find the program that best “fits” your child. For instance- A smaller group size will be an easier adjustment for a shy or anxious child.
A very active child will do best in a program designed to maximize that energy. A “just 3” child may need a little more nurturing and physical assistance in a group setting. Ask how they handle separation anxiety, shyness, food allergies, behavioral issues, etc..?
While the state’s regulations for preschool is 10 children to one adult, with a 20 child maximum as a group size, these are state maximums, but each program decides their own staffing levels and program size inside that maximum.
On the subject of readiness, remember that Kindergarten starts at age 5 in Massachusetts, and almost always the child’s birthday must be before Sept. 1 of that year before a public school will enroll them. So if you have a child that turns 5 in October, that child may be preschool eligible for three years of preschool, as the state defines a preschool-aged child as 2 years, 9 months. (Prior to that they are considered toddlers, with a whole different set of regulations.)
So what does readiness for preschool look like? Your child is able to separate from you without being in extreme distress. Obviously, some children find that easier than others. They should be able to toilet themselves independently if they are physically capable of doing so. They should be able to verbally communicate basic needs.
And the preschool teachers will love it if they can get their coat on or off by themselves, and oh joy! put their shoes and socks on when needed. They do not need “academic” readiness- i.e., colors, shapes & numbers. That’s why they are there!
Then remember that your child is a very important part, but just one part of your family unit and that the needs of the family must be taken into consideration in some very practical terms.
-Is the program conveniently located?
-Do the hours and days match what you want and need?
-Is there flexibility in attendance if there is an unexpected change in routine?
-Is it possible for siblings to attend the same program, to ease the drop-off/pick-up routines?
-What is included in the program fees, and what is the parent’s responsibility?
And speaking of fees, consider what your household can budget for, and what are the policies regarding holidays, vacations, and closures. There is a wide range of tuition and fees, but if all of them seem unaffordable, you may want to inquire about scholarships at the program or state-supported vouchers.
Parent employment and Income eligibility are the criteria used to qualify for a state voucher, and then the preschool program must agree to accept that voucher often at a lower reimbursement, with whatever the sliding scale parent fee the State is assessing as well.
There is a waiting list for these vouchers, but applications can be done over the phone by dialing 211. Regionally, you can speak with a voucher counselor by calling Child Care Network in Hyannis at (508) 778-9470
I have been fortunate enough to work with many of these programs over the years, and have a great appreciation for their skill, insights, and dedication to children and early childhood education. I would urge all parents to look beyond just the physical facilities of any program and focus on the teachers and staff of each program- how long they’ve been there, what their educational qualifications are, and what were their prior experiences.
Next, consider the profile of the program- are you looking for a particular philosophy? What is most important to you in outcomes for your child? Is it an easy transition into Kindergarten? Is it active, physical experiences? Is it the focus of a small group and ratio? Part-day vs. full day? The philosophical emphasis of each program will vary, as you will see from these video clips!
Lauren Melillo of the Sandwich Partnership for Families- a program of the Sandwich Public Schools and the Mass. Dept of Early Education and Care’s Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) Grant.
Sandwich Integrated Preschool
Sandwich Montessori School
Sandwich School For Early Learning
The Hundred Acre School