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Toddler Tuesday: The Ultimate Guide to Selecting A Preschool

Time is really flying. Your child will be ready to start preschool before you even know it. It’s already time for you to start exploring. There are so many options. Are you wondering how to find a preschool? What’s with all those confusing terms in the brochure? Montessori, Waldorf, or Reggio Emilia? Public or private? What does this mean for my child? How will I know what program is right for my family? 

Here, we’ll outline some factors for you to consider when you choose a preschool. Remember, these years are the foundation of the education your child will recieve throughrout his or her life. Try to make a selection that you won’t come to regret.

Public or Private?

What’s the difference between a public preschool and a private preschool? Well, the obvious one is that private preschool’s usually require a tuition from the parents. Public schools are funded through taxes. Private schools usually require families to go through an application process. Classes are smaller and children may have more activities available to them, some of which may come at an extra cost. 

Don’t assume that private is always better. Some public school systems offer great preschool programs. The downside is that not all public school systems have preschool programs. Also, if you don’t live in the district, you may be denied or passed over for families that do. As for the positives, while class sizes may be bigger, public preschools are great if you have school-age children. Your child will feel like a grown-up going to school with their siblings, and it saves you a trip every morning. 

Also, public schools require all teachers to be certified. So you can rest assured that your child’s teacher has an associate’s degree at minimum. Public school teachers are also required to complete a certain number of hours of professional development courses every year. Most private preschools don’t have a requirement like this in place.

On the other hand, a private school may be better for your child if they have special needs (although some school systems have special needs programs as well). Public schools generally stay with a traditional curriculum. If you’re interested in alternative programs such as Montessori, you’d have to go with a private school. Some private schools offer special programs in the arts or sciences. They may be worth exploring if you know your child has a particular interest.

Another thing to think about is diversity. A public school may provide your child with exposure to many different types of people, whereas a private school may have everyone cut from the same mold. It all depends on what you’re looking for.


There are so many different preschool curriculums, it would be easier to break them down and give you a definition of each one. From there, you may be able to make a determination on which one may work for your child. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will help you get a good starting off point in determining which programs you would like to explore further.


These schools are affiliated with a religion of some type. Sometimes they are located within a church, sometimes not. If your church does offer a preschool program, it’s a great place to start if you’re already involved with your church. In a faith-based curriculum, lessons may include teachings of that particular faith. There may also be class prayers throughout the day. Sometimes though, a school may be affiliated with the church in name only and still teach a secular curriculum. This is something to ask the program director.


These programs involve students following a classroom plan previously set up by the teacher. The teacher directs students in their activities throughout the day. This is sometimes referred to as a teacher-led curriculum. This type of program is very structured and may not suit all children.


A Montessori program allows each child to learn at his or her own pace, select their own activities, and actively learn about daily life by preparing their own meals and setting up their classroom for the day. Montessori schools encourage children to discover and learn on their own with minimal intervention from the teacher, resulting in more of child-led learning environment. Teachers are required to have Montessori-specific degrees. Some public school systems have Montessori options. 


The Waldorf approach focuses on learning through the senses. Children are encouraged to use their imaginations and explore the world around them. They play with toys made from natural materials and follow the teacher in lessons such as cooking and gardening. The learning enviroment is structured and predictable. Unlike Montessori, the Waldorf approach is teacher-led.

Reggio Emilia

A Reggio Emilia program focuses on creative expression. Students learn about new concepts through activities such as puppetry, art, and music. They participate in projects that may last an entire year or just a few weeks. Reggio Emilia classrooms are designed with children in mind, with artwork and posters at eye level of the child. Children are free to choose their own activities and teachers plan based on the interests of the children. Like Montessori, the curruculum is child-led and children are in a classroom set up for many different interests. The classroom is known as the “third teacher”. The Reggio Emilia approach places a lot of emphasis on teamwork.

Language Immersion

In a world that’s becoming more and more diverse, a language immersion preschool may be the way to go. You may want your child to study a particular language or culture because of where you live or to learn more about his or her own background. Language immersion schools expose children to a foreign language and culture either partially or completely. A full immersion program will only use the foreign language. While these schools aren’t available everywhere, they are more popping up everyday. Spanish is the most common immersion option, but some schools offer programs in languages such as Chinese and French. 

12 Things To Consider When Shopping

When you’re looking at a preschool, you may be so overwhelmed during the tour that you may not remember your concerns. That’s why it’s always good to prepare your questions beforehand. Only you can determine if a preschool is right for you and your family, but there are some programs that aren’t the best. Ask yourself these questions when touring a preschool.

1. What’s your first impression? First impressions mean a lot. They are a good indicator of what your overall experience will be. Are you greeted when you walk in? Do you feel welcome? 

2. How do you feel? Do you feel as though you can sit and stay for a while, or are you itching to get out of there? Is it clean? Is it an inviting learning environment? 

3. What curriculum do they follow? Do they use a particular curriculum? Where do they get their learning materials? Why do they use this particular curriculum as opposed to another? Do you see evidence of that curriculum in the classroom?

4. How is the classroom set up? Are there individual learning centers (science, pretend/dramatic play, reading) for children to explore? Are materials changed periodically to maintain interest?

5. What is the demeanor of the children? Try to visit during a time when the children are awake and active. Are they happy and engaged or are they upset and fighting? How do they interact with their teacher? Are they comfortable around him or her?

6. What is the demeanor of the staff? Now look at the teachers. Are they pleasant and warm or cold and unapproachable? Do they interact with the children or sit off to the side without taking control? Unhappy children and teachers are a red flag that this preschool is not a pleasant place to be.

7. Is the staff educated? What is the education background of the staff? Are lead teachers degreed and/or certified? Do they have specific training in early childhood education? How is support staff trained? Is all staff CPR-certified?

8. Is the school licensed and accredited? What about national associations such as NAEYC? Each state has differing accreditation programs so check where your school ranks.

9. Are children exposed to books and read to on a daily basis? Books should be a center of the curriculum. Ask to see a sampling of books that are being used in the classroom. Are they in good condition?

10. What is the student to teacher ratio? This gives you an idea of how big the class sizes are. An ideal ratio for preschool is one adult for every 10 children.

11. Does the school seem safe? Is everyone buzzed in upon entry? Is there are way to see who’s at the door without opening it? Is the playground surrounded by a high fence? Is there soft ground? What policies are in place for someone other than the parent picking up?

12. Is there an open-door policy? Are you, as a parent, free to drop in to observe at any point of the day? If not, why?

A Word About In-Home Preschools

Are you considering an in-home preschool or daycare, meaning the program is run from someone’s private residence? Don’t assume that it’s of a lower quality just because it’s run from someone’s home. I, myself, am a child of in-home daycare. 

With that being said, you need to make sure this environment will meet the needs of your child. Will your child actually be taught a kindergarten preparatory program, or simply babysat? Is there enough staff to cover the number of children present? Are appropriate safety measures in place? Do you know who exactly is in the house and will be around the children? Is the in-home preschool licensed? Keep in mind that it’s illegal to run an in-home daycare that’s unlicensed in most areas. Does the provider have experience in teaching preschool?

You may get a great preschool program in an in-home daycare but you may also get a really bad one. Make sure you vet your provider thoroughly and get references from other parents.

Final Thoughts

Make sure you know what you’re looking for before you start touring preschools. Start your search on the internet with articles like this one and those linked. One size does not fit all when it comes to preschool, that’s why there are so many different programs available. One child may do best in a structured environment, while another may need freedom to explore without being reprimanded. You know your child better than anyone. Take time to consider your options. You may find a hidden gem in an unexpected place.

Whitney Foster is an entrepreneur and educator from Cleveland, OH. She's a foodie and loves crafting, particularly crochet and cross stitching. She also loves children and learning about the world around her.

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