Picking the Preschool That is Right for You

The Great Preschool Question header

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Preschool Enrollment Doesn’t Have to Give you a Panic Attack!

Rewind the clock five years and you would see me, a pregnant mother of an almost-three-year-old, trying to decide where to send our oldest child to preschool.

Information was hitting me hard from every direction. One friend told me that preschool registration started in January for spots the following Fall. Since my son was a late bloomer and so far an only child, I wanted him to attend three-year-old preschool for the social aspect.

Plus, I wanted to send him to the “best” school and I’d heard rumors about parents waiting in Black Friday-esque lines to get their children enrolled in some of these schools. It all made me a bit anxious. We visited a few school Open Houses but I had no idea how to choose.

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School has Changed Since we Were Kids

To top it all off, I was still grappling with how today’s school now meshed with what I experienced in childhood:  I didn’t start school until I stepped into kindergarten at the ripe old age of five! Consequently, I was having a hard time understanding why preschool was so important anyway. But all the other moms I bumped into in play groups and at the library were all abuzz about preschool, so I thought I should be, too.

To complicate matters more, I spent nights lying awake trying to figure out how I was going to coordinate our childcare providers, preschool carpools, and my part-time teaching job. It was overwhelming and exhausting. We visited a few school openhouses but I had no idea how to choose. They all looked the same and all the teachers were really nice.

Some schools were activity-based while others focused more on academics.They all had a good curriculum, a solid mission statement, policies I agreed with, and they were accredited. Yes, I was a teacher myself, but I taught high school juniors: a far cry from the preschool scene I now found myself in. Be honest with yourself about what will fit your family best and you will have picked the Grand Rapids area preschool that is right for you.

We finally settled on a preschool that was pretty close to our home and recommended by a few of my neighbors. A relative agreed to help with driving preschool carpool when I was teaching.

I would say that our experience at that school was mostly positive, but as I reflect, I wish I would have paid more attention to the following details while looking at prospective preschools.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Preschool

LOCATION

The typical preschool session is about two and a half hours. It’s just long enough to eat up a chunk of your day but not long enough to accomplish much. Signing up at the same preschool as your neighbors’ kids is a great way to go because you can carpool. You will be making this drive over and over again, so make sure it is one you can commit to.

SCHEDULE

Many preschools offer different sessions for their preschoolers based on age. Confirm that the session you’re interested in syncs with your work schedule or childcare provider’s schedule, if necessary. Also consider the nap schedule of younger siblings. Do you really want to have to wake a sleeping baby at 2:30 PM so you can go pick up big sister?

HOMEWORK EXPECTATIONS

I wasn’t prepared for the amount of homework and papers that came home with my son at his preschool. I was trying to teach chemistry classes, juggle our crazy family schedule, and on top of all of that we were given special preschool projects to do on just about a weekly basis. This, plus the daily notes going home made it hard for me to keep up. Compare that to my daughter’s preschool experience a few years later where there was one note sent home every week with a monthly calendar and minimal outside projects. Ask the teachers at your prospective school what the outside-of-class homework/project expectations are.

FIELD TRIPS AND SPECIAL EVENTS

Most preschools will take field trips and have special parties or events during their class periods. Some things to think about: Will you be expected to help drive carpool? Are siblings allowed to attend special events at the preschool?

RECESS

If the school has the luxury of an indoor gym, you may not have to wrangle your preschooler in and out of snow pants on wintery days. I know that is a game-changer for many families if your child hates putting on snow gear.

PICK UP/DROP OFF

Does the school require you to walk your child into the classroom, or will you be able to drop your student off in a carpool lane? This matters when you have a younger sibling or two (baby in a carseat carrier or squirmy toddler, anyone?) that you’d like to keep buckled up in the car.

THE VIBE

A good preschool will not only educate the child but it will also educate the parent. For many moms and dads, sending a child to preschool is their first encounter with a school system and they are learning what it means to be a parent of a student. Parents need support at this crucial time of their child’s development. A good preschool will come alongside parents and give them resources, advice and support. Beware of preschools that do not view parents as members of the team or treat them in a condescending way. If you get along with the staff well it’s a good bet your child will, too.

MOVING FORWARD

As you consider preschools, I want to encourage you to make the decision that is best for you and your West Michigan family. Put aside for a moment what your friends or other moms you know might be doing. Take stock of your daily schedule, your finances, and your personality. You might be a candidate for doing a preschool co-op or finding another preschool alternative. Your child might not even need preschool if he or she is getting social and educational needs met in other ways. Be honest with yourself about what will fit your family best and you will have picked the Grand Rapids area preschool that is right for you. And remember, every child is different and preschools change. Just because one school was a good fit for one of your children doesn’t mean that the school will be the same when you come back in three years to enroll your next child.

To help you in your search for a preschool that is a good fit for you, we’ve put together our 2018 Preschool Guide. It’s an extensive list of preschools in greater Grand Rapids with information about their program offerings, philosophies, contact information and more.

What factors did you consider when choosing a preschool? Where will your child go when fall rolls around?

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2 thoughts on “Picking the Preschool That is Right for You”

  1. Pingback: Parenting For The Future | grkids.com

  2. Please add Living Stones Academy to your preschool list.

    Their website is livingstonesgr.org

    It’s a great Christ-based Preschool in urban GR with lots of different options!

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