Disclosure: We are thrilled to partner with Minnehaha Academy for this post – parents always have questions at the beginning of this process and we love these experts!
1. Will my child be safe? Ask about the safety of your child when he or she is in the building, playing outside or being picked up and dropped off. Most schools offer a system where anyone that enters the building needs to be buzzed in and then must sign in at the office. Talking to current parents in the program can also add some assurance as you consider sending your little one off to preschool.
2. How well-rounded is the program? Do they offer academic themes, integrated faith, world language, arts, and music? It is never too early to expose your child to a variety of ways he or she can learn and grow. Kathy Anderson, preschool teacher for 21 years at Minnehaha Academy says, “We know that children learn in different modalities but most preschool aged children enjoy hands on experiences manipulating concrete objects. In our ocean unit we study many marine creatures, create a sea scene in our classroom, take a field trip to Underwater World at the MOA but then we also have a real (albeit dead) octopus and squid in the classroom for scientific exploration.” At Minnehaha, we have monthly themes that include everything from the ocean to the woods of Minnesota. Even our preschoolers get exposure to art, music, Spanish and the integration of faith through the in-depth discovery of many topics.
3. Does their program offer a schedule and budget that works for your family? At Minnehaha Academy, we offer preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, 3 or 5 days with half day, full day and extended care options after school. When looking at the cost of daycare, compare it to the cost of preschool to see how you can get the most for your money while offering your child the best care.
4. How are you preparing 3 and 4 year olds for kindergarten? Ask about specific guidelines, curriculum and social skills. Kathy says, “We want to foster a love of learning, stimulate curiosity, support and develop social skills which is so important for school success and encourage each child to feel confident that they can succeed in school.” Also, ask where kids go to kindergarten after preschool. The schools they attend can speak to the level of academic preparation because many private schools require a higher level of kindergarten readiness to be accepted. Preschool should be more engaging and challenging than daycare to start kids off with a strong foundation.
5. What is the student to teacher ratio? What is the classroom culture? If you are able to visit the preschool, during the school year, you will get the best opportunity to see the class in action. If you are looking at programs over the summer, ask if you can speak to a past parent about their experience.
6. What is the daily routine for preschool? This will help you see how the kids are learning about routine. Kathy says, “Even though many young children will push at constraints, they feel safe and secure within a reliable schedule. The cadence of our day alternates between busy and quieter times.” Students will face a routine in kindergarten so they will need to be prepared, and besides, we all know how kids thrive on a routine. Ask how they start the day, when they have play time, nap and lunch.
7. How long have your preschool teachers been here? You can learn a lot about an organization based on their teacher turn-over. Any changes in teachers can be upsetting for the kids and can impact the academic consistency from year to year. Teachers who love their jobs tend to stay there a long time.
8. What is the parent community like? Do they have an event that helps you integrate with other parents? At Minnehaha Academy, we have a Preschool Play Date each May to introduce our new parents to our current parents. It also gives new families a chance to meet the teachers and to let the kids play together! The kids play while the parents talk and it is a great way to feel connected before the next school year even begins.
9. Is there a language immersion or a language program for preschoolers? It is never too early for your little one to start hearing a different language. Any exposure to another language or other cultures can offer great value. Ask about the diversity in your preschool and how they foster learning around other languages and cultures.
10. Is there a balance between play time and learning? Preschool should be more challenging that daycare but there is a balance for kids this young. Kathy says, “We consider our program play based but that does not rule out pre-academics. We imbed the math and letter/sound work into the themes, create journals that we write and draw in everyday that support the academics but are hinged on the themes so that there is a connection for the child.” The hope is that playing and learning can easily be combined to show kids how fun learning can be, even at a young age.
Besides asking these questions, I can’t speak enough about the importance of visiting the program, meeting the staff and speaking to current families. It is difficult to let your little 3 year old adventure out into preschool but these years are important for development. Investing in a strong preschool can set your child up to succeed in kindergarten and beyond!
Thankfully, Minnehaha Academy is still enrolling for Preschool for Fall 2015! That means, if you haven’t gotten your little one signed up yet, it’s not too late. Find them online for more information. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
For more information and to enroll, call (612) 728-7778 or email [email protected]
This article was written with the input of a survey conducted with 77 Moms of Multiples in Minneapolis and Minnehaha Academy’s preschool teacher, Kathy Anderson. The author is Michelle Ulland, Director of Admission and Enrollment at Minnehaha Academy who is passionate about quality education and Mom to twins, Carter and Elianna.