Tuesday, 16 February 2016

What to Look for in a Pre-School

At some point, you are likely to send your child to a daycare, nursery school, creche or play school. This is a scary step for both parents and little ones but, for most, a necessary one. When you do take this big step, you obviously want to make sure that you are sending your child somewhere where they will be safe, happy and appropriately stimulated. 

Sadly, while there are some great schools out there, you also hear lots of terrifying horror stories, so it is important to check that the place that you are considering is up to scratch. To a large extent, your requirements will depend on your personal circumstances, eg. whether you work full time your child's personality, whether you are looking for a school that is more play focused or more academic etc.

Of course a visit (preferably during school time when you can observe) is mandatory before making a decision. Besides this, here are some of the things that you should consider:

First things first- is the school registered? How long has the school been running? Do they have a proven track record? Have all staff members completed first aid courses?

Do you like the staff members? Do they seem trustworthy? What did your instincts tell you when you visited the school? Did the children LOOK happy? Your gut feel is crucially important here. 

Do you know any other parents who have their kids at the school? If not, ask around and get their views on the school.
Do their hours suit your requirements? For example, if you are at home and have younger children, you may want a place that you can send your child a couple of times a week for a few hours. If you work, you will need somewhere that opens early enough and closes late enough to enable you to do pick ups and drop offs. (Remember that with younger children, drop off's can sometimes kill a good fifteen minutes).

Are the facilities clean, well looked after and appealing to little ones? Are there any safety hazards? Look at things from a child level when considering this one. Are small toys kept where younger children can access them?

How many children are there?  With very large classes your child might receive less attention and be more prone to catch bugs. Are smaller children kept separate from the older ones?

Who will be looking after your little one? What is the ratio of caregivers to children.
What is their daily schedule like? Do the teachers have the necessary qualifications? Look into the different methodologies out there, eg. Montessorri, Waldorf etc and consider what would best suit your child.

What are the fees like? Can you afford them? While good child care does come at a cost, pricier does not always equate to better. Consider whether there are extra costs, for example stationary, meals, excursions, extra-murals, inhouse health checks, special clothes for certain activities etc (these can all add up). Also, bear in mind that some schools expect you to send basics such as toilet paper, tissues, soap or plasters. Work out what all of these items will cost you before labelling one school as being cheaper than the other.

What is their philosophy with regards to raising a child? What is their approach to discipline and does this align to your own moral code?

What are their processes in a scenario that your child falls ill or gets injured? 

Are meals provided? Are any dietary restrictions catered for? Besides meals catered by the school, what is the approach when food is brought in by other learners for bakers days, birthdays etc? 

Is the area safe? Is security adequate? Are there cameras? What policies are in place in terms of who is allowed to fetch the child? Ironically, too much security is also a possibility in Johannesburg- the first school we sent Noodle to had boom gates and three fingerprint checkpoints before you could get near the children. While we were certain the children were safe, it did feel a bit like the little ones were in prison and they also didn't allow anyone but the parents to pick children up under any circumstances, which was a problem if we were in a fix for whatever reason. 

Is the school in a convenient area for you? If you have to drive there, how long will it take you to get there in traffic? Consider doing a test run before enrolling your child if getting to work on time is on your priority list. Is there  sufficient parking for parents?

What is the daily routine like? How much of time is spent indoors versus outdoors? What activities are there for the little ones? How much of parental involvement is required? For example, I love the school my son is at right now but I honestly do not know if I could keep up with all the extras parents need to do and send if I were working full time.

How does the school keep you updated with regards to your child's progress and daily events?

What is the nap time regime?

What is their approach with regards to nappies/ potty training/ toilet routines? Are the toilets clean? Do the children get enough assistance in the toilet? (This was another gripe that I had at a previous school- two year old's were expected to go to toilet alone unsupervised). What are the nappy change facilities like?

At the end of the day, you will know best what is best for your little one, but hopefully this list will help you to make an informed decision.