January doesn’t intuitively seem like the time to start looking for preschools, but in fact, it really is. A lot of Cincinnati preschools open their doors after the holidays for open houses and tours, so the time to start making your preschool plans is now. Here are some important things to consider as you research schools and make the rounds visiting the classrooms.
The Signs of a Quality Preschool
When touring a preschool, you’ll want to focus on four major components: the building, the staff, the children and the parent body, says Rochel Kalmanson, director of Chai Tots Early Childhood Center in Cincinnati.
“The building, as well as the classrooms, should be clean, warm and welcoming,” Kalmanson says. “Bright classrooms should be equipped with child-sized furniture and developmentally appropriate materials. A quality school utilizes its classrooms to serve as an additional teacher when it is designed to address the whole child, socially, emotionally and academically. Natural elements, such as plants and animals, should play a part in the classroom environment.”
The quality of the teachers and staff are important, too. “Quality preschools maintain a top-level teaching staff, focused on a balance of academic, school readiness and social-emotional skills,” says Corey Stoops, principal at Guardian Angels School & Parish. “Teachers should demonstrate an outward expression of care, nurture, enthusiasm and passion for working with children.”
Look for Red Flags
As you tour the classroom, if you notice that the students are not engaged, the learning space is cluttered or sterile, or there is a high turn-over rate with staff, that should set off some warning bells. Ideally, you want to see “uncluttered walls, organized materials, and a calm, quiet setting that allows children to focus and be engaged,” says Kalmanson.
Emilie Parry, owner and director of Creative Tots in Mason, advises that parents should also look out for “a dirty facility, teachers on devices, teachers not interacting with the children or children left unattended,” she says.
On the flip side, if a school has teachers who have been there for years, that is a great sign, Parry says.
“Teachers who have been there for a long time are always a good sign of a good preschool,” Parry says. She adds that other signs of a good preschool include a classroom space where children have access to a variety of activities for different learning styles, such as building blocks, an art center, dramatic play, fine motor activities, interactive games and a library.
“You want to see a space where children have the opportunity to work independently, in small groups and large groups, as well as one-on-one time with the teacher,” Parry says.
Why Touring is Important
While doing online research and gaining word-of-mouth referrals are great ways to learn about a preschool, nothing compares to taking the time to tour a preschool during the school day to get a feel for the environment of the school, says Sandy Breitholle, principal of the early childhood program/lower elementary at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.
“It is important to get a glimpse of what happens in a day in the life of a preschool student,” Breitholle says. “A personal visit offers a great opportunity to see students interacting with their teachers, engaging with their spaces, seeing the learning environment during the day, and learning about the philosophy and daily routines the students experience. It is also a perfect time to ask questions specific to the needs of your family.”
Stoops adds that touring a school before enrolling is very important. “It allows parents to talk with school administration and observe how well the teachers interact with students,” he says. “Additionally, parents will be able to walk away with a sense of the school’s community.”