As a first time mom, finding and choosing a school for my daughter was one of the most daunting things I had to do. I had no idea what to look for, how to screen for potential problems, or even what the law was regarding the qualifications of teachers and preschool owners. And so my poor child, and then the next child too, got moved from school to school almost yearly before I decided to homeschool.
So let me just say, from the outset, that every school will have its problems. There is no such thing as a perfect school, but there may just be a perfect school for you and your child – one where they don’t bother about things that are not on your priority list and do care about the same things as you.
If I were to do it all again, I would do the following:
I would make a list of what was important to ME in terms of childcare. For example, it is important to me that my kids eat nutritious food and not junk, that their caregivers are caring and not overly disciplinarian, that there is no shaming or naughty corners or physical punishment, and that kids are allowed to be kids and have lots of free play.
I would absolutely INSIST on spending a week at the preschool with my child. Most schools discourage this as they say the kids settle quicker if the parents are not around, but a small child cannot articulate problems to you when they arise. I would like to see for myself how certain issues are handled. For example, at one school my kids were at I found out years later that if they cried they were shamed by being put into nappies. I knew my daughter was unhappy at the school (the school kept telling me she was very happy there) but she was only 4 and couldn’t express what it was that was bothering her.
I would hang around at the end of the day and chat to parents of kids who are already in the school. Of course the school will tell you they are marvelous, but you may get a different picture from the parents. I would have a list of questions for them such as what they like most and least about the school, if they’ve ever had an issue with a teacher and how the management handled it, etc. Get a broad overview from a number of people.
I would find out what qualifications each of the teachers has and what additional training they are exposed to on a regular basis. We had one teacher who had never even heard of a sensory integration disorder and so was shaming my child for coming to preschool in her pyjamas when she was tactile defensive and literally couldn’t handle wearing much else. The same teacher used sarcasm with her class (telling them she would cut their tongues out if they spoke in class), something that children can only cognitively start to comprehend at around age 8. Teachers need to be up to date on current research, childcare philosophies, and childhood growth and development.
Other questions I would ask the management would be around the size of the class, the teacher to child ratio, the teachers’ working hours, and even their salary if they will disclose that. I would want to know that the teachers are not overworked and underpaid and unhappy.
And lastly, I would trust my instincts. This was a tough lesson that I learned through all of this – where I had a feeling that things were not ok and yet when I asked I was told that my children were happy and playing and everything was fine.
You know your child. Trust that. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And do not be afraid to change schools if you need to. Of course the ideal is to get your child into one school where they are happy and make friends and are settled, but kids can and do adapt to change. Rather keep looking until you are completely satisfied than settle for something less than ideal because you are afraid of making the change.
For us, in the end, homeschooling was what best suited all of our needs, but that is also not for everyone. There are pros and cons to both and you need to look at your unique family, your own values and needs and then find the best solution for you.