By Stephanie Agnew
Are you looking for a preschool for your child? The Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents Club Preschool Fair on Saturday, November 4th and other preschool fairs that are sponsored by local area mothers clubs are a great way to learn about the many early childhood education options available in your community. The variety of choices presented at a fair can be overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to go prepared. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of the fair:
Before the Fair
- Try to go in with a sense of what you are looking for based on your goals for your child, your child’s temperament and your family’s needs (desired starting age and schedule, program structure and philosophy, etc.).
- Bring a notebook, and take notes on the conversations that you have with school representatives to help you remember the information.
- Study the list of schools presenting at the fair. Identify the schools you are most interested in so you can see them first, before you reach your “saturation point.”
- Don’t bring your child with you, if possible. The fair can be overstimulating for children, and they can make it harder for you to concentrate on your conversations with school representatives.
During the Fair
- Look at the displays, and collect all of the available printed information. (It helps to bring a bag to carry everything).
- In your conversations with school representatives, here are some key questions to ask:
- What is the mission and teaching philosophy of the school?
- What age range is served, and what schedules are available for each age?
- Is toilet training required?
- What is the class size and teacher/child ratio?
- What is a typical day like?
- How does the application/admissions process work? How likely is it that there will be space available?
- Can I set up a time to visit the school?
- (If you are talking to a parent from the school) What do you like best about this school?
- (If you are talking to a teacher or the director) What is your top priority in working with children and families at this school?
- As you listen to the school representatives, notice how they articulate the mission and program of the school. Do they seem knowledgeable and passionate about the school?
If you visit the school, you can ask more detailed questions about specific topics such as discipline, parent involvement, etc. It is hard to get all of this information at a fair.
After the Fair
- When you get home from the fair, organize all the information while it’s still fresh in your mind. Review your notes, and add any additional thoughts on each school.
- Identify four to six schools that meet your criteria, and make tour appointments. Don’t take your child on the first round of tours; it’s better to wait until you know a space is available.
- Make a list of questions to ask when you visit a school. Important topics include staff qualifications and turnover rate, how information is communicated to parents, safety issues, potty-training requirements and curriculum. Think about your own goals for your child, and consult school quality checklists (see resources below).
- Submit applications for three to four schools to ensure a high chance of finding a space.
- Before making your final decision, visit the school again to confirm it still looks like a good fit for your child and family. If possible, bring your child to this visit, and observe how he/she interacts in the learning environment.
- Once you’ve made your choice, go with it, and rest assured you’ve done everything possible to find the best fit for your child and family.
Resources for More Information
If you would like to have a conversation about specific schools on the Peninsula and get help deciding which school would be the best fit for your child and family, call Parents Place at 650-688-3046. We can work with you individually to help you through the process.
Some other resources are below:
- 10 Signs of a Great Preschool
- How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School by Jenifer Wana (2010)
Stephanie Agnew is the Assistant Director of Parents Place on the Peninsula where she has worked since 2002. She has an extensive background in Early Childhood Education with 25 years of teaching experience. She works with parents individually on a wide array of topics including preschool and elementary school choices, and behaviour management. She can be reached at 650-931-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To arrange for an individual consultation please call 650-688-3046.