Deciding when it is time to send your child to school can be a difficult decision to make, especially considering parents often have to start the process long before their children are old enough to attend preschool. In the United States, many preschools begin taking applications the December and January before a September academic year begins. Some even earlier.
Preschool has evolved a lot over the years. There are many things for parents to think about before their child reaches this milestone.
It is often hard to think about school when your little one is still in diapers, and perhaps is even still weaning from bottle or breast. Unfortunately, starting early is a reality for many regions, especially as many households have two working parents, which creates a high market demand.
After the decision is made to send your child to school, the next step in the process is choosing a preschool. Not all preschools are created equal and you'll likely want to do considerable research before settling on a handful of schools to send in an application.
Keep in mind that in many regions, preschools are competitive for enrollment, and this can be a difficult process in itself if you can't get your toddler in your top choice(s). It is a good idea to have at least one or two backups in case your preferred school cannot accommodate or if it turns out the school doesn't feel like a good fit after all.
Parents researching preschools usually look to a school's reputation as a primary consideration. Ads and pamphlets can look great, but does the school's actual teaching methods and environment actually reflect what it advertises? Ask around. Check with family, friends, neighbors and moms’ groups. Often you can get a good gauge on whether or not a school's reputation is a positive one. If you are new to an area, check online to see what is in your area.
Even if a school gets raving reviews from locals, it is always a good idea to check the school out yourself in person. Attend open houses or call the schools and ask for a tour; speak to the staff and get a feel for the school. Many schools will give tours while in session, which also can give a glimpse to what your child’s day will be like.
What kind of classroom structure do you want for your child?
Curriculum and Philosophy
A school's curriculum and teaching philosophy are two important considerations. There are a variety of philosophies taught. Before sending your toddler off to preschool it is important to know if your own values, beliefs and learning expectations are reflected in the teaching, or if the school’s approaches do not align with your own preferences. Questions to ask include:
- How does the school approach learning? Is it more play-based or academic?
- What types of learning will take place? Reading? Math?
- Do you want religion as a part of preschool?
- Does the school follow a specific educational model?
Knowing what type of environment your child will be learning and if it mirrors what you’re seeking in is really important.
Some schools focus primarily on socialization and play, while others mix it up with mnore of an emphasis on academics. What kind of structure would work best for your child? A lot might depend upon his or her age at the time you want to start preschool (i.e. 3 year olds, 4 year olds or pre-K for older children who missed the cutoff date).
Who will be spending several hours a week with your child? It is perfectly acceptable to ask questions to learn more about the people who will be spending a lot of time with your child. Most preschool teachers are happy to share their background, level of experience and education with the parents of prospective students.
Accreditation is something that is increasingly becoming a consideration when it comes to preschools. According to Education.com:
"Accreditation is gaining headway because it is the standard in grading a preschool for quality of care. Over time, quality can drop and organizations can grow complacent." 
The website notes this is why The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has, "upped the ante on their accreditation standards, putting in place more stringent guidelines for facility design, staff qualifications and programming, as well as health and safety, physical environment and administration." 
Coming to a Decision
Once you've narrowed down your options to schools that fit your criteria, it is also important to consider factors such as location, cost, length of school day, and teacher-student ratio. Additionally, many schools do require children are potty-trained before they'll accept your child, so this is another issue to keep in mind.
Other questions to ask:
- What is the teacher to child ratio?
- How much time does the school schedule for play?
- Does the school allow parent volunteers?
- What are food policies? (Some schools provide snacks due to allergies, others may want parents to pack their child's own snacks/lunch)
There are many considerations to think about when it comes to picking a preschool or starting school in general. Many schools fill up quickly, so wait lists and lottery drawings for acceptance are not uncommon occurrences. The sooner you start, the better. If accepted, you can always reserve a place and if it does not work out, all you'll be out is an application fee. This is the far better option than going with a school without examining all options and finding out later the one you initially chose does not meet your expectations.
Doing your homework, along with early preparation, can help you best decide which preschool is right for your child.
Preschool is a big time in a little one's life. Choosing a school that is the right fit for your child will help him or her get on the best path before entering kindergarten.
Do Children Need to Go to Preschool? by mommymommymommy
How to Choose a Pediatrician, by Leigh Goessl
Kindergarten, A Mother's Guide to Letting Go, by Darisse