For the first time in a decade, I won't be joining the ranks of parents who are signing up their kids for day care or preschool. My younger one is headed to kindergarten in the fall. And she is ready!
But I do remember being shocked that, just like summer camps, the time to register for half-day preschools is now especially for more popular programs that fill up months before the school year begins.
Many have had open houses or will be offering tours and open houses in the coming weeks. Registration also has begun for many.
If you're considering a half-day preschool, which often are hosted at local churches, now is the time to research your options and make your selections. We have a database with preschool information.
I checked in with Caroline Tatum-Carter, a teacher parent consultant at Project Enlightenment, Wake County Public School System's early childhood intervention and education center. Tatum-Carter works with parents and teachers of children ages birth to six through a variety of programs.
Tatum-Carter encourages parents consider a handful of issues as they tour and consider schools for their young children. Here are her recommendations:
- Ratios: The ratio of children to adults in each classroom is important, Tatum-Carter says, especially for the younger ages. If one adult is changing a diaper, there should be another adult with her eyes on the children. Ratios that parents should look for should be one adult to four or five children in the infant rooms; one adult to six or seven children in the toddler rooms; and one adult to 10 children in the four-year-old or transitional kindergarten rooms.
- Playtime: For some parents, academics are key as they consider schools for their children. But Tatum-Carter says that it is really critical for young children to have playtime during the school day. Parents should make sure that preschools offer free choice centers and time for free play. Play is how kids learn about the world around them, social and academic skills and other lessons that will help them be successful in school and life. "Schools haven't had a focus on play in a long time," she said. "I feel like a lot of parents don't know that that's really important."
- Allergy Policies: If your child has an allergy or other health issue, it's best to talk with a preschool administrator before you sign your child up to find out about the school's policies and procedures. "It's a question you're going to have to ask," Tatum-Carter said. "You can't assume."
- Take a Tour: Take a look at the kids who are in the classroom. "Do the kids who are there seem like they are happy and comfortable?" she said. "Do they look like they are enjoying being there?"
- Engaging Materials: While you're on that tour, look at what toys and other materials are available for the children to play with. And, especially for the younger children in the two-year-old or toddler room, check to see if there are enough toys to play with. "Make sure there's two trucks instead of one because they really, developmentally, cannot share things," Tatum-Carter said.
- Discipline: Get a copy of the school's policy for guiding and managing child behavaior. Most preschools should have it written up. "And make sure it matches your family's philosophies," she said.
Once you've made your choice and the school year has started, be sure to spend some time, but not all of your time, there with your child. If you can, volunteer or meet with other moms after school while the kids play on the playground. I've found that this is a great time to get advice, support and a few laughs during those sometimes exhausting early years.
"It's really helpful to get to know the other children so if your child is talking about them, you know who they are talking about," Tatum-Carter said.
Project Enlightenment offers all kinds of services for kids ages 0 to 6, including the popular TALKline at 919-856-7808. Parents, grandparents, teachers, nannies and other caregivers can call the number from 9:30 to 11 a.m., Tuesdays, and 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays, with questions or concerns about a young child.
Project Enlightenment, which is near downtown Raleigh, also offers workshops, a resource center with books and materials for parents and teachers, and parent teacher consultations.