How to Choose a Preschool Series…Part 3

Now you have the phone numbers, you’ve asked the over the phone questions, and even set up the appointment. . .what else do you need to know? The first couple of steps into the door can tell you a lot about a preschool. Here is a list of the things that I think are really important, the things that pull me in or have me running the other way.

How to Choose a Preschool: What to Look For at the Visit

  1. Noise. A room full of 3-5 year olds should not be quiet!  If you listen for a minute, you should be able to hear happy chatter. Children talking with one another as they paint, build and read.
  2. Teacher/Child interactions. While you are there discussing the preschool with the teacher, are the children interrupting you to get to her (or him)? How does the teacher react? Does she answer the child’s question, or send them off? Remember this is their turf. . .and they should feel comfortable to ask questions or request help at any time. I turned down one school because I couldn’t get past the bad feeling I left with.  Not one child spoke to the teacher while I was there. Hmmm?what to look for when choosing a preschool
  3. Play. What type of toys are out for the children to use on their own? Building toys, pretend play items, puzzles, books?
  4. Art. Are the children free to do art through out the day or is it only available at a certain time? Do they include messy art? (Hint: You want a YES on this one.) Are the walls decorated with children’s masterpieces?
  5. Outside.  Make sure to see the outside space. Is there enough room for the kids to move? Are there toys that promote solo play as well as cooperative play? Are there areas that are shaded? Are there any quiet spaces to sit? Fancy equipment and an extra large yard are not necessary for quality outside time.
  6. Business Information. There should be a license for them to practice child care hung on a wall in the school. That will inform you of their license number and a number you can call to verify they are in good standing with the state. You can also use that number to learn of any complaints that have been filed against the school.

How to Choose a Preschool: What to Ask at the Visit

  1. What schedule do they follow? How long is their free play (this one should take up quite a bit of the day. . .it is how preschoolers learn!). Do they play outside everyday? How long is their group time (for most schools they will increase the time through the year, ending with longer group time just before the kids leave for kindergarten.)
  2. How do you discipline? When do you involve the parents? This was on the top of my list of questions with Big M. He is active, curious and can be quite a handful. I was looking for a teacher who would be allow him to be himself, but also enforce rules. I needed a teacher who would communicate with me, so we could work together to make Big M’s first school experience rewarding.
  3. What are your fees? Ask about tuition, when and how it needs to be paid. Is there a deposit fee? What extra fees can you expect? What are the late payment fees? Are there late pick up fees? Are there field trip fees?
  4. Do you have an open door policy? What I mean by that is, can a parent drop in at any time of day, without notice? If the answer is no. I would leave.
Good luck and happy preschool hunting!  I hope you find a preschool just a wonderful as we did. Please add any tips you have for selecting a preschool!
How to Choose a Preschool Series…Part 3 originally appeared on April 3, 2011.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I am looking around for a good preschool for my son to enroll next year. The list given above is very helpful… *making a mental note to print out next time I’m visiting the schools. I just hope I could find one place here that could fulfill at least 80% of my standard requirements..huhu 🙁

    1. You will! It may take time, and a few school visits. On one interview you will walk in and be so impressed you’ll sign up before you leave.

  2. Art. Are the children free to do art through out the day or is it only available at a certain time? Do they include messy art? You want a YES on this one. Are the walls decorated with children’s masterpieces?

    I agree 100% with everything you are saying except the are the walls decorated. I work in a daycare, but according to the fire marshal we are only allowed to cover 20% of our walls. According to DCF and for our APPLE (a program my center uses) we have to have pictures of the children, pictures of different cultures, pictures of animals, on top of art work. So while we do a lot of art work it is usually only in one maybe two areas.

    1. Great point Casey! Those other pictures so important as well. I think the real point I was trying to make is the kids should be honored in the space. Even if it is only a small area, it should be obvious that kids are doing art and that it is being celebrated. Thank you for your input!

  3. Being a preschool teacher myself I would make a few suggestions here… 1) what is the ratio of the class. The lower the ratio the more likely your child will be able to get the good quality one on one interactions. For instance in North Carolina the ratio for 3 year-olds can be as high as 1 teacher to 15 children with a maximum of 25 total children in the room. That is a lot of children!!!! My center has a 1 to 6 ratio. One of the main reasons I chose to work there. 2) Be sure to look at the lesson plan. There should be one posted for the week somewhere in or right outside of the classroom. While I do agree that children should be free to ask questions at all times I also think that manners are very important. But some polite acknowledgement is definitely a must.

  4. As someone whose worked in MANY preschools as a developmental specialist for children who have special needs…please ask for you and your child to spend an entire class or two for the ENTIRE CLASS. Do it on two separate times- preferably a few weeks apart. And if they refuse- LEAVE.

    Some preschools have the answers to these questions rehearsed and now how to bust out the “correct” answers when a parent asks them. For instance one classroom I was in had eloquent and developmentally appropriate answers prepared for all the usual questions- but in reality their “we work up to 10 minute circle times by the end of the year” was 20-30 minutes of forcing the children to sit and listen to the teachers drone on (NOT APPROPRIATE for 3/4 year olds!), they’d yell at the children when they didn’t comply, they would point out my client (who had Down Syndrome) as being slower and needing “special tools” (which was not what I or her mother wanted- we wanted her fully included and celebrated, and asked them repeatedly to stop- but they persisted.) They continually ignored the professionals that came in and made suggestions for improvement to the program- routinely mocking them the second they stepped out of the room in front of the children. When I tried to have conversations about all this with the staff I was accused of trying to “take over the preschool” and they tried to have me fired from my agency (which was not affiliated with the school.)

    The point is that you want to see them in action. Anyone can keep an act up for 20 minutes while you visit the class- but it’s much harder to do it for two hours, multiple times. You want to see how they interact with children on a real level- not just for a few minutes while you talk to the teacher. You want to ensure that they walk the walk, not just know the right answers to routine questions (which is almost worse because they KNOW what’s right but choose to ignore it for their own convenience!)

    1. Great points! I agree that if at all possible, spending an extended amount of time to be able to see them in action is best. Thanks for taking the time to write out your experience. -Jillian

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