It may not be officially back to school season but rest assured, you’re not alone if you’re one of the many parents with anxiety over an upcoming preschool visit. For those of you who spent last fall applying to schools (likely after weeks of diligent research!), child visit, classroom visit or an observation can feel equally stressful.
Here is a quick primer to help you prepare and ease some of that stress.
So what exactly is a child visit?
A child visit – also known as a child observation, classroom visit, or play date – is a short visit (typically 30-45 minutes but can extend up to 2 hours) where parents bring their child to visit the school and/or classroom that they are considering. The child visit often includes other children (a mix of applying and current students) as well as the teacher or director. It usually includes typical preschool activities (free play, circle time, etc.) in addition to one-on-one time with the teacher. Essentially, a child visit is very much like a typical playdate – just at school!
What is the school looking for?
Child visits can seem intimidating, but the truth is that the school really just wants to get to know you – and your child – better than they can on a piece of paper. Directors like to observe how the children play together as well as to plan classrooms accordingly to best suit each child’s needs. They also need to assess their school readiness and identify anything that may need to be addressed at home prior to starting school. They also want to make sure that your family will fit into the community of the school – the goal here is to make sure everyone is excited about the transition to preschool and prepared to make that transition as smooth as possible. And don’t worry – they are NOT looking for your child to behave perfectly or for a certain type of temperament. This is less of a test and more of an assessment.
What should I look for?
In the same way that the Director will look to make sure your child feels comfortable around the other children and in the school environment, you should watch for that, too. You know your child’s cues better than anyone, so pay attention to how he/she reacts. You’ll learn a lot about which program might be right for your family by how these visits go – and you’ll be better prepared to deal with any separation anxiety that might occur when they do start school.
How should I prepare?
-Choose a time that works for you – some schools have set visit times and won’t offer you choices, but if they do, choose a time of day when your child is typically awake and alert to avoid any nap-time crankiness.
-Don’t overdress your child – remember, this is essentially a playdate so dress your child in whatever they would typically wear to preschool once they’ve started.
-Don’t prep or “coach” them – the child visit is truly meant to be an assessment for both you and the school and is meant to be casual. Trying to prep your child will only heighten the anxiety and make them more likely to react badly. Prep by doing what you normally do to socialize your child – visit the playground, schedule playdates, and keep any class appointments you might have.
-Bring both parents, if possible – as with a tour, it can be helpful to have both parents on site during a visit. One of you can address any questions from the school while the other keeps an eye on your child and you’ll both be able to assess your child’s reaction.
We know this can be a stressful time, but remember that everyone involved is looking for a good fit between your family and the school – and that there are many programs out there. If one isn’t the right fit, there is certain to be another option for you and your child.
Susan Mees loves to travel and cook and spend time with her husband. She’s helping build community through KidAdmit, a website that lets parents search for and compare preschool programs in their area for free.