Top tips

What to ask when choosing a pre-school

As a parent, you want to be confident when you decide on the right place for your child, but how do you make the best choice?

1. Be practical

As a busy parent, you'll no doubt consider the practical points first. These include how close the pre-school is to home or work, the pre-school's hours, after hours options, cost, class size, and staff/child ratio.

When you do find a nursery or pre-school that works practically, don't forget to consider just how early you might have to apply. A good indication is 9 to 12 months before you want your child to start. However, be aware that timelines for application and admission processes vary, not just where you live, but also from pre-school to pre-school. Make time to do your research and visit the pre-schools in person.

2. Find an approach that fits with your own

Just as every parent has a different approach to parenting so, too, do early childhood schools. Finding a pre-school run on principles you respect will mean you can enjoy a shared approach to your child's care and education.

Even at early childhood level, schools will often share information about their 'ethos', their 'methods' and their 'educational philosophies'. It can all get a bit confusing and full of jargon. You'll want to start off with open communication with the pre-school you have selected. Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek further information.

Then, we recommend you get right to the point. Ask about the early childhood curriculum. Is it discovery-based or does it focus on drill and practice? Is it structured, free-form or somewhere in-between (where your child can make some choices themselves)?

Principles of behavioural guidance (discipline) need to be clearly communicated so that you and your child know what to expect. We recommend that, rather than simply asking, you visit the pre-school to observe first-hand how guidance is handled. You'll want to know how the teacher encourages positive behaviour and how they handle conflict.  

3. Get to know the teachers and staff

It is not all about the curriculum. Every nursery and pre-school has its own unique personality that comes from the committed educators who take care of your child every day.

Of course, you need to be sure that your child's pre-school teacher is experienced and qualified. Ask them personally about their training and their experience of working with young children. (Early childhood education qualifications do vary in every local community; the nursery or pre-school you have selected can give you the details about the relevant accrediting body.)

Safety and security is never negotiable. Be sure to find out the ratio of staff to children and who is certified in CPR and first aid.

4. See the school’s learning environments

Children are little bundles of energy so it helps to find a school that can harness their eyes-wide-open approach to life positively. Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, the learning environment should be warm and inviting, making children feel right at home in school.

The best early years classrooms have creative learning areas where little hands can explore making things with blocks, learn about shapes and more. Dramatic play, puzzles, arts and crafts are fun projects that also help the development of fine motor skills. Take the time to see how and where digital technology is integrated into your child's learning.

Learning outdoors gives children the opportunity to develop fine and gross motor skills through building sandcastles in the sandpit, having a splash in the pool and other creative pursuits. 

Always book a visit to see the school's daily activities in action.

5. Fit your child's routine

Eat - What is provided? Is it healthy? Will they have to eat everything?

Sleep - When do children rest or nap? Do you need to supply pillows or sheets?

Toilet - Is potty training required? What happens if your child has a toilet accident?

Finally, don't hesitate to ask, most pre-schools are happy to share information with parents upon request.