How to Choose a Preschool for Your Child

Smiling preschoolers with puzzle games on the table in front of them

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If your child is 2, 3, or 4 years old, you may be wondering how to choose a preschool. Preschool is the first step on your child's academic journey and can serve as the basis for all future learning.

Aside from starting to learn the basics like the alphabet and numbers, preschool teaches important social skills like how to be independent, how to share, and how to follow directions.

Determine Preschool Readiness

The first step in getting ready for preschool is making sure that your child is ready. There is a great deal of variability—and what is right for one child is not always appropriate for another.

Once you decide your child is ready, choosing the best preschool can seem like a daunting process—but a lot of it is knowing what you want and what is best for your child. Generally geared at kids aged 3 to 4, some programs accept children as young as 2.

Choosing the Best Preschool

From academics to socialization to transportation and even how long the school day is, here's how to carefully weigh each aspect of preschool and make a decision that works for both you and your child.

When to Start Looking at Schools

Many preschoolers start to take applications in January, and may hold open houses sooner than that. Be sure to check with each individual program in advance to ensure you don't miss any important deadlines.

Start looking at schools during September prior to the start of the new school year (assuming it begins in January). In many cases, this is when the child is 2 years old. Check with the school to find out the details on age qualifications and other factors such as potty training.

Determine What Is Important to You

No matter what all the experts may say, you are your child's best advocate and judge of what type of environment they'll do best in. Think about your child's personality.

Are they shy? Do they make friends quickly? What do you want from your child's preschool? Are you looking for a rigorous academic program or something more social and/or creativity-based?

Compile a List of Schools Near You

There are a lot of different options out there. It's up to you to weed through them all and determine the best fit. So, where do you start? Ask around. Anyone you know with kids is a good person to query, whether you know them from work, the neighborhood, playgroup, or the library.

In particular, focus on the folks who have kids close in age to yours and whose kids have similar personalities. You may even want to have a chat with your pediatrician about what they might think, especially if your child has some underlying medical issues or mental health concerns.

Reflect on Each School's Philosophy

Every preschool has a different education style and philosophy. Montessori schools are known for fostering independence, Waldorf schools for their creativity, the High/Scope method takes an "intentional learning" approach, Bank Street focuses on child-centered education, and the Reggio Emilia approach follows a child's natural development.

Remember that each individual school sets their own tone and has their own method. So be sure to do your research ahead of time to find the best fit for your child.

You can also find programs run through churches and temples where religion is part of the everyday curriculum. Other options include cooperative programs run by parents, programs affiliated with community groups such as the YMCA.

There's also state-funded programs like Head Start that are often free for all residents or low-income families. You could also explore various stand-alone programs that can be found in many towns and cities as well as schools run by daycare centers. There are myriad possibilities to explore the best preschool options to suit the needs and personality of your child.

What to Look for at Every School

To meet a child's individual needs, you want to find a school that offers small class sizes and low child-teacher ratios. The general guideline is one adult for every four to six 2- to 3-year-olds; six adults to ten 3- to 5-year-olds; no more than 12 students in a room for 2- to 3-year-olds; no more than 20 students in a room for 3- to 5-year-olds.

The classroom should have lots of toys and other play items that are clean, safe, and in easy reach of little ones. If there is an outside play space, make sure it is fenced in and ask if the staff is trained in first aid.

Transportation and Distance Are Also Important

How will your child get to school? Will they ride a bus or will you pick them up and drop them off? How far away is the school from your home? These may seem like secondary concerns, but they are very important. If it takes a long time to get to school, your child may be all too excited by the time they get there.

At the same time, if preschool also functions as daycare for your child, a long car ride may serve as important quality time for your family. A preschool close to where you live may make it easier for your child to foster the friendships they make in school, thanks to playdates and party invitations in the neighborhood.

How Long Is a School Day?

Believe it or not, preschool can be hard work for many kids, especially for those who have never been in a formal program away from home. Many preschool programs are for a half-day or just a few hours and with good reason.

Many children, especially younger preschoolers, are ready for a break and need some quiet time even after just a few hours of preschool. Some preschools also offer extended hours and full-day programs, however, which can be ideal for parents who work full-time.

Ask about all the available options and decide which one will work best for your child. If you are unhappy with the option you have chosen or if your circumstances have changed, chances are you can always switch.

Do a Site Visit

At some point, doing a site visit to all of your potential choices is necessary. (If a school does not allow you to come for a visit, you may want to go ahead and cross it off your list.) Call ahead to schedule a mutually convenient time to meet with either the school principal, director, or a staff member to speak with.

You can also ask to schedule a preschool interview with a teacher and even take a tour of the facilities. You may also want to find out if you can observe a classroom in action. If you are permitted to do so, be sure you allow the teacher to conduct their lessons without disrupting them so you can observe how the children respond to their teacher and engage in the classroom setting.

Try to stay for at least a half-hour so you can get a real feel for how the class runs.

After you've done a visit on your own and once you've narrowed down your choices, find out if it's possible to bring your child to the school to get a sense of their comfort level. Many schools will welcome the opportunity to meet potential students, and a visit can also help your child start to understand what preschool is all about.

Consider Your Child's Happiness

Priority number one in choosing a preschool? Picking the place where your child will be most happy and comfortable. Academics are important, but your child has a lifetime of formal learning ahead of them. Preschool should be a place where your child can discover a love for school and foster an appreciation for lifelong learning.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ackerman S. Scholastic. The Ultimate Guide to Preschool.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Children and Mental Health.

  3. Ratios and Group Sizes.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.