It’s never too early to start thinking about your baby’s education. Many programs have waitlists or other lengthy admission processes, so it’s best to start as soon as possible. Early childhood education programs are beneficial for learning and cognitive development of preschool students. It helps them build a foundation for success as they proceed to elementary school and beyond. In addition to gaining basic knowledge such as ABC’s and 123’s, preschools and childcare centers create an environment for socialization, exploration, respect, and problem-solving among other skills. However, not all preschool programs are the same nor do they cost the same. Consider these factors when choosing the perfect early childhood education program for you and your little one.

Before you begin…

Keep in mind that every preschool is different. The learning environment depends on location, resources, and educators. So before researching programs, think about the type of environment your child thrives in, whether it is noisy, quiet, free, or structured. Also, state-funded, private, and religious programs adhere to different learning and safety standards. To begin your search, make a list of what you’re looking for in a school. Include skills you want your child to develop, location, learning environment, and cost.

Researching schools

Now that you have a sense of the type of preschool you want for your child, you can begin your online research. Browse the program’s website to get a first impression and also search for any reviews parents may give the program. You can also find information such as the program’s philosophy, hours, and admission process. Knowing the program’s philosophy is particularly useful in determining the type of skills they teach their students. These values will also give you a sense of the skills they encourage their students to learn. For example, preschools that emphasize teamwork will also emphasize communication. Furthermore, preschools encouraging exploration also encourage problem-solving.

In addition to skills and values, you may also want to consider the type of care your child needs during the day such as snacks and potty training. Childcare centers typically admit children ages 3 to 4, while some have an infant and toddler program. The type of services the program offers depends on the age group. Again, it is important to remember that every early childhood education program is different.

Visiting the schools

Looking online can only give you a brief idea of what the preschool is all about. So the next step in finding the perfect preschool is visiting the school yourself. Many early childhood education programs offer tours that let parents experience the day-to-day of the program. For the first visit, come without your child. Then, bring your child for the follow-up visit to see how he/she interacts with the environment.

When you’re at the school, first think about whether the facility will spark your child’s interest. If your child likes to play dress-up, are there costumes to use? What sensory stations are available? Is there a sand pit? Is there play-doh? Also, what books are available for the children to read? Every facility is set up in a different way and offers different learning methods depending on the teacher and curriculum.

Another thing to observe is the staff-child interactions that take place. One important consideration is the staff-child ratio. Classrooms tend to have anywhere from a 1:2 ratio to a 1:4 depending on the age group and needs of the children. However, programs that have more than a 1:4 ratio may not give each child adequate attention.

During your visit, pay special attention to the happiness of the children and how the staff resolves conflicts. Are children fighting with each other or are they happily exploring together? How do the staff make a crying child smile again? What happens when children fight over a toy? Also, pay attention to the level of engagement and excitement in the room. The program’s values and philosophy determine how staff members interact with the children. You know best what methods work well with your child, whether it’s a more hands-on approach or individualistic.

The final decision

Finally, it’s time to make a decision. Before considering any other factor, consider the schools that excited your child the most. Interest plus engagement make the perfect combo for an amazing learning experience. Next, make a pros and cons list of each school based on what you want for your child. You can even put together a score sheet based on the most important factors such as location, cost, and curriculum. Be patient making the decision of where you want your child to attend. Preschool is a big time and cost investment but will all be worth it in the end.