How to Look for Preschools

We finally found a great school / daycare for Zack, and the relief is palpable in our home.  Zack is back to his happy self, we can now go to work without feeling horrible, and best of all, his behavior issues haven’t surfaced at all in the new place.

In case you don’t have the patience for this whole post, let me just cut right to the heart of it.  In my opinion, there’s only one question you really need to ask yourself when you visit a preschool, and it’s this:  Would you want to hang out with these people for hours and hours?  If so, you’re probably in a good place.  If not, keep looking.

The Montessori School we tried turned out not to be 100% genuine Montessori, but that’s not as important to me as what we discovered about the teachers.  The preschool duo were a couple of old biddies who didn’t have the patience for our son’s difficult transition.  When we spent enough time there to see them in action with kids, we weren’t impressed.

We kept Zack home with a nanny for a bit, which cost us a fortune but bought us peace of mind while we searched for a new place.  We were systematic, but I ended up stumbling across the school we chose by accident, and it’s the nearest one to our house.  I thought we had just about made our choice, and I only went to this one more place to be polite to the director I spoke to on the phone.  I ended up clicking with her instantly, and when I told her the story about Zack’s old daycare, she was upset for me.  Everything she said about the job and about kids seemed right to me.

My husband and I had learned our lesson, so we both went to the school and spent time there, observing the teachers, before we felt comfortable enough to decide.  The teachers speak very respectfully to the kids.  At the new school, you might hear, “Please don’t put those rocks on the slide, dear.  Thank you.  I appreciate that.”  By contrast, at the Montessori school, you might hear, “No running in the class!”  My husband and I speak politely to Zack, so we liked hearing the new teachers.

And the thing is, you can’t fake that attitude.  Not for long anyway.  If you think kids are worthy of respect, you’ll treat them respectfully.  If you don’t, you probably won’t think to put on a show for company.

There was one girl who was very tall, and the teacher asked me to listen to how she speaks.  She looked and sounded like she could be five years old.  ”She’s only three,” said the director, “So we have to remind ourselves that she is just repeating words.”  Since Zack has the same issue (big kid who can talk but is not even three), I felt comfortable that this woman would understand him.

We haven’t seen any aggression emerge in the new setting, but we’re still holding our breath a bit.  My brother’s second boy did have a problem with severe outbursts of anger, and because my brother has two other boys and could compare, it became clear that the middle kid was having genuine trouble.  He’s on Prozac, which has helped him a bit.  Having heard about that situation, I was prepared (and still am) to find out that we might have to get Zack some help.  But so far, his new teachers say he just doesn’t have an aggressive nature.  The problem was something about the environment in his old daycare.  Or maybe the problem was that the old daycare didn’t have room for him and forced him out however they could.  He couldn’t move up on their schedule because of the potty thing, so they started making it hard for us to keep him there.

By coincidence, another boy from the old center ended up in our new school, so Zack has one old friend at the new place, which helped him acclimate.

I was disappointed that we couldn’t get Zack into a Montessori school, but as it turns out, there are no good ones near us that would take him.  The most genuinely Montessori place I found had a toilet training requirement, which has been the root of all our troubles.  The best Montessori schools are a bit of a commute from here, and since we are already commuting to work, it just isn’t practical to head in the opposite direction for school.  I did find a couple schools that labeled themselves as Montessori but were absolute crap holes.  I was perplexed that anyone would leave a kid in those places.

So we’ll see if maybe when Zack turns four we want to try the best local Montessori for a year before he goes to kindergarten.  Until then, he is having a blast at his new school.

8 Responses to How to Look for Preschools

  1. Chris says:

    It does not matter what the sign says in front of the school, the important part are the people inside the building. I’m happy you found one with nice teachers.

  2. Lynn Wilhelm says:

    That’s so great. And like Chris says, the most important thing is that the people are wonderful and understand children. Don’t feel too bad about the Montessori thing–it’s good, but it doesn’t mean there are other types of schools that aren’t. This sounds like an excellent place. Good luck with it.

  3. [...] on a front doorway doesn’t meant it’s a good preschool. Over during a Science-Based Parenting blog they schooled that a tough approach after putting their child in a place that called itself a [...]

  4. Alexis C. says:

    Great post!

    We originally enrolled our son, now 4, in a small church-based preschool in our area. It was affordable, and I’d heard good things about it, but it became clear that it wasn’t a good fit for our rather, er, “quirky” son. The teacher didn’t seem to have much patience for him or many ideas on ways to redirect inappropriate behavior.

    After MUCH looking around, we finally settled on a preschool affiliated with a local university. (It was also one of the few schools that didn’t require potty training, which we’ve struggled with.) The head teachers all have master’s degrees in child development or similar fields, and the aides are child development majors. Everyone there is so patient and loving in the way they interact with him, and very creative in ways of finding ways to help him. It’s not cheap, and it’s not close, but our son really has blossomed there SO much.

    Our younger son would probably do just fine at the first preschool — he is a very “typical” child in most ways and not nearly as challenging as his older brother. But when he’s old enough to go to preschool, we will definitely be choosing the university school for him, as well.

  5. Sarah says:

    I worked at a Montessori preschool before having my son and opting to go the stay-at-home mother route. This made the preschool hunt spectacularly easy as he’s now being taught by my former colleagues. The school isn’t perfect, but I know its pros and cons plus I have kind of an inside track, so I’m comfortable he’s getting the experience I want for him.

    Out of curiosity, why are you considering sending him to Montessori for one year before kindergarten? You said in a previous post that you were impressed by the Montessori method. What made you decide that you weren’t going to take it on through grade school, etc?

    I ask because I see a lot of people considering Montessori as a preschool thing, and wanting to switch to a ‘normal’ school for the ‘serious’ education. I think this is a huge misconception, since Montessori is actually a very carefully thought out system, in my opinion, far better thought out than your average ‘normal’ school which is more worried about meeting a group standard than catering to the individual. I’ve not decided what I’ll be doing with my son’s future education, but I would currently prefer to see him continue Montessori if we have that option.

    • Lynn Wilhelm says:

      Speaking for myself, I would have loved to have my child continue in the Montessori school she attended for preschool/kindergarten, but paying for private school was not/is not in my budget.

      Sadly, there is a Montessori magnet school as well as a charter in my county, but both are too far away for me.

      So, I don’t think most people have a perception that Montessori isn’t “serious”. When I worked at a Montessori school, most kids left the school for public school. I just think many parents can’t budget private education. Luckily, my base elementary school is an excellent magnet (just won a big award) with an International Baccalaureate program. I don’t know how I’d feel if her school wasn’t so good.

      • Sarah says:

        This is very true, particularly currently, so thanks for that reminder. Still, I do see a lot of parents taking their kids on to another private school. Not to mention well-meaning friends and family sometimes ask me the irritating question: “When will you send him to a normal school?”

  6. Sane Mom says:

    I commend your willingness to hold out and find the right place for your son. A lot of parents just go for what’s convenient and then wonder why their child is having such a hard time in preschool. It sounds like you’ve found a good fit for his particular personality.

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