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How to Choose a Preschool: Complete Guide

Medically Reviewed by Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
More parents are enrolling their kids in preschool -- find out why.

Should you enroll your child in preschool? This is a question many parents feel the pressure to respond to and act on as their kids get older. The choice to put kids in preschool or forego the whole thing elicits heated debates.

Each option has its merits and whichever one you choose, we know you have your child’s interests at heart.

Picking a preschool isn’t easy. As parents, we have to give our choice careful consideration to teach our children to love — not despise — school. Preschool is all about play and learning, your goal should be to find a safe and pleasant environment that your child will be happy to attend.

In this guide, we will show you everything you need to know when choosing a preschool.

Do Kids Need Preschool?

The period between birth up to 8 years of age is arguably the most crucial in your child’s life. During these formative years, the experiences your child goes through shape their brain, increase language, capacity to learn, empathize and socialize (1).

It also dictates how they respond to stress or challenging situations. Exposing your child to early learning opportunities before 5 gives them a clear advantage over others (2).

Preschool is one such opportunity. It provides an environment for your child to learn through play, to receive positive discipline, and forge friendships.

56% Enrollment Increase

More parents are beginning to appreciate the role preschool plays in their children’s overall development. You don’t need to take my word for it — the National Center for Education Statistics produced a report in 2017 to support this claim (3). The number of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in full-day preschool programs rose to 56 percent in 2017. This is up from 47 percent in 2000 (4).

While figures and facts don’t lie, several factors may cause a parent to opt-out for their child’s preschool.

The high cost of living coupled with the added cost of private preschool is one such reason. In a scenario where the family is struggling to stay afloat, preschool takes a back seat.

Other parents worry about institutionalizing their children too early. They worry that today’s preschool curriculum is geared toward academic performance. That their child will know their ABCs but possess little creativity or imagination.

Granted, some preschools concentrate on academic achievement, which is not what we’re advocating for here. But, then, that’s where you as the parent come in.

Quick Tip

When choosing a preschool, the one closest to your home or the cheapest may not be the best. You’ll need to do some homework to ensure it offers an appropriate curriculum.

Attending preschool may be the difference between a successful student and one who is always playing catch up.

Benefits of Preschool

Benefits of Preschool for Kids

It’s said that children are like sponges — they soak up a lot of information thanks to their curious nature. In preschool, kids aren’t just learning how to count better or recognize shapes and colors or read.

They are getting into an atmosphere that encourages them to develop emotionally and socially. Here are some top benefits of enrolling your child in preschool.

1. Social Interaction

We’ve all seen that child who grabs a toy from another child and a fight ensues. Unless told otherwise, this behavior will continue and may affect the child’s ability to interact with others.

In preschool, your children will learn how to share toys, cooperate with other children, and take turns to do stuff. They will be involved in activities that are designed to help develop these skills (5).

Many parents will do their best to encourage play dates with other moms and kids regularly. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the kids will learn positive social interactions.

2. Exposure to Diversity

In a multicultural society like ours, embracing diversity is important to our society’s well-being. As children grow, they realize not everyone looks like their parents. Not everyone speaks the same language or carries themselves in the same way.

Unless they are taught that diversity is part of life, kids may shy away from the unique people. In preschool, kids meet children and adults from other walks of life regularly.

This continuous interaction teaches kids early on to appreciate and embrace others regardless of their cultural differences. They become comfortable around people who aren’t exactly like them. This plants positive seeds of tolerance and cohesion.

3. They Learn Responsibility and Self-Sufficiency

In preschool, children learn to take care of their own things and those belonging to other students. Lessons that momma has been teaching them about putting away toys and books when not in use are reinforced in preschool.

In Montessori schools, for example, kids are taught self-care to make them less reliant on their parents. Everyday activities such as brushing teeth, using the restroom, or getting dressed are some things that are focused on.

4. Learn to Follow Directions From Other Adults

This is key for any growing child and it’s something they take with them into adulthood. Attending preschool quickly shows your child that there are other authority figures whose instructions must be followed.

They learn cause and effect as well. When you do as you’re told, there is a positive outcome. When you fail to do so, there will be a negative outcome.

Learning to respect adults helps shape their behavior positively.

5. Teamwork

Many preschool activities revolve around teamwork. Kids are paired and work together toward a common goal. During these sessions, kids exchange ideas, respect the opinions of others, and solve problems together.

It helps them understand the importance of working with others to reach a shared goal. They become better listeners and communicators. They get a sense of belonging which may enhance their self-confidence (6).

6. Playtime Keeps Kids Active

Many children these days would rather spend time watching TV or online, which takes away time that should have been spent in play, study, or even sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for 2- to 5-year-olds to one hour per day (7).

While this is good for your child’s overall health, it may be difficult to implement in some situations. Sending your child to preschool can help solve the problem as they have programs that will keep kids busy for most of the day.

7. Kids Learn Manners

Have you ever come across a child who cuts in line because they don’t know better or because they can? We are by no means insinuating that children who don’t attend preschool are ill-mannered, but preschool can help nip this habit in the bud.

As a parent, I know we all strive to ensure our children are well-mannered. Still, it’s easy to overlook some things.

The structured setting in a preschool helps instill good manners in children. Children learn to line up, share, wait their turn, and how to behave themselves. They also see how it feels to be on the receiving end of another child with bad manners, which can help convince them that they don’t want to be like that.

8. Instills a Love for Learning

Preschool activities are designed to make learning fun, exciting, and interactive. They explore new concepts and receive answers to their questions. Preschool programs feed your child’s curiosity and keep them coming back for more.

Furthermore, research shows that kids who enroll in a good-quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school (8). When kids enjoy learning from an early age, it minimizes incarcerations, truancy, and other teenage difficulties.

9. Improves Concentration and Fosters Imagination

We all know how difficult it is for kids to sit still for more than a couple of minutes. The preschool setting and having a teacher as an authority figure will help improve their ability to concentrate on doing one thing for several minutes.

Additionally, preschool activities such as creative arts, blocks, and dramatic plays often conducted in groups help build your child’s imagination.

10. Enhances Fine Motor Skills and Hand-Eye Coordination

Activities such as clapping, pasting, building blocks, holding crayons, or getting dressed help develop a child’s fine motor skills.

Coloring or drawing requires the child to use their eyes to follow their hand’s actions. As they become more independent things like buttoning or unbuttoning things or tying shoelaces help fine-tune hand-eye coordination (9).

Type of Preschool

Types of Preschool

If you’ve never paid attention to preschools before, you may find yourself flooded with names presenting different philosophies. Some of the names may be familiar, while others will be new to you. How do you choose one?

Broadly speaking, you have the play-based (or child-centered model) and the academic model. While each preschool may have its own philosophy and unique features, most of them are child-centered.

In child-centered preschools, children learn through play with teachers guiding them along the way. Children play an active role and may even take the lead in the learning process.

In contrast, academic models rely on programs that the teacher dictates. Children take on a more passive approach and follow instructions. Learning is gauged through test scores, grades, and competition (10).

In the end, both the play-based and the academic model prepare kids for the next educational phase in their lives — kindergarten.

It is worth noting that the play-centered models have different philosophies. It’s important to look through each to ensure you understand what they offer.

1. Montessori

This model of learning is popular all over the world. Maria Montessori started it with the child as its focus. Some don’t consider Montessori academic due to their different approach to education and their structure.

In this model, teachers act as learning guides for children who learn at their own pace. It encourages self-discipline and intrinsic motivation.

A lot of emphases is placed on creativity, hands-on learning, and nature. It aims to develop a child’s character, practical life skills, senses, and academic ability (11).

2. Waldorf

This program combines creative learning and structure in a mixed-age classroom. Children learn through play-based activities and have regular routines such as art class or music.

This model places considerable emphasis on creativity as well as the outdoors. Compared to other types of preschools, you’ll find no grading, homework, or tests of any kind.

3. Reggio Emilia

In this model, learning happens through exploring ideas as well as project-based activities. Throughout the year, your child’s learning is documented via video, photos, and observations. The aim is to turn them into good citizens.

For a child to learn how plants grow, the lessons may incorporate gardening. Children will work together on the project and in the process also learn about the nourishment we receive from food.

There’s no curriculum or teacher training in the model. This is because Reggio Emilia isn’t a set method, but rather theoretical education and practice.

4. HighScope

This program is popular in community-based programs and focuses on academic learning based on research in child development. It provides planned experiences in reading, math, and science.

5. Play-based

This model may draw inspiration from the Montessori and Waldorf models. It focuses on getting kids to participate in age-appropriate activities like unstructured play, group storytime, academics, and themed activities (12).

6. Parent Co-operative

A preschool co-op is ideal for parents who want to have direct involvement in their child’s school experience. It can follow any of the above philosophies or combine more than one philosophy. Its defining characteristic is that parents play significant roles in the school.

This model is much cheaper since parents handle some of the school’s operations. They may be involved in the classroom or preparation of snacks or even sit on the board.

As a parent, you’ll get to know exactly what your child is learning. It does require a lot of time so it may not work for everyone.

Know the Lingo

You’re likely to find different terms used to describe what these institutions offer. Knowing the lingo will clear any confusion that may arise when you are out searching for a good preschool. Here are some of the common terms used to describe preschool settings:

  • Teacher-led: Here, students follow a pre-set schedule developed by the teacher. This schedule covers the curriculum and all other supplemental activities.
  • Child-centered: In this setting, the interests of the children determine the classroom activities. Throughout the day, the child chooses the activities that interest them.
  • Child-led: This is a child-initiated setting where the teacher waits for the child to ask for a new activity. It is developed on the theory that learning happens best when the child is interested.
  • Cooperative: This is a joint venture between the school and parents where the latter are called upon to assist in the running of the preschool.
  • Faith-based: These programs are run by religious organizations such as churches in accordance with their faith.
  • Developmentally appropriate: These settings provide curriculum and activities that are based on the age of the child.
  • Pre-kindergarten (Pre-K): This refers to a program that kids attend the year before kindergarten. It offers a much more structured setting than a conventional preschool.

How Much Do Preschools Cost?

The cost is determined by factors including location, quality of services provided, and time spent in preschool. It ranges between $4,460 to $13,158 a year or $372 to $1,100 every month (13) for private preschools. But some preschool programs run through school districts are free to attend if a child qualifies.

With private preschools, you may find yourself meeting other costs such as application, enrollment, or re-enrollment. That can range between $50 to $100 a year. Books and materials for kids to use may cost around $200 to $500.

Additionally, if your child will be consuming a school-provided lunch, that will set you back $30 to $100 a month. Plus, the average cost of field trips or other events cost $50 to $300.

If you opt to enroll your child in a cooperative preschool, you may find the costs a lot cheaper as they range between $250 to $1,000 (14).

What about Headstart? This federal preschool program is available to low-income families. Some families whose income exceeds the federal poverty level may qualify for free if they meet other requirements (15).

How to Choose a Good Preschool

How to Choose a Preschool

Looking for a good school will require some input from you. Remember though, a good preschool is the one that feels right for you and your child. Here are some tips for finding one.

1. Start Early

I’m sure you’ve heard of preschools that have waiting lists that are years long. Some preschools require you to submit your application on the first day of January — any later and you may not get in. It can take as much time as looking for a college.

Think about looking for a preschool before your child needs to join one. It’ll give you ample time to shop around and perhaps even get on the waiting list.

2. Which Preschool Setting Works for You

Preschool is more than eye-catching buildings in beautiful surroundings. Does its philosophy line up with your child’s personality?

Some kids are independent thinkers who can accomplish much on their own while others need a little nudge. Some thrive in quiet environments and some prefer interacting with others in a louder setting.

Plus, does the school’s philosophy line up with your ideals?

3. Distance

Distance is an important consideration and you’ll want to think about how far the preschool is from home or work. If your child attends a few classes a couple of times a week, figure out the logistics — who will drop and pick them up and at what time.

A preschool that’s far away will eat into your time and consume more gas. You’ll need to work these expenses out and see if it’s something you can live with.

4. Ask People

One of the best ways to find a good preschool is to ask other people to recommend one. Talk to friends, family, and other moms in your neighborhood whose kids attend preschool and listen to their experiences.

You can also go online and search Google for nearby preschools. When possible, read reviews on their website and find out what people are saying about them.

5. Obtain the School’s Schedule

Ask potential preschools to share their daily schedule with you. See what a day is like in the lives of these preschoolers.

What are the class schedules like? How long does each class last? Is there outdoor play time or scheduled naps?

If you’re not clear about something, call up the school and find out.

6. Schedule a Tour of the School

Call up the school’s director or principal and schedule a visit. It would be best if you visited all potential schools to establish a couple of things.

  • That the school follows the philosophies it claims to because some preschools don’t. You want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.
  • That you know and are comfortable with the environment your child will be in. Be wary of school administrators who are hesitant about allowing you into the school. You may need to cross out those schools.

Ideally, make the first visit by yourself or with another adult to help you remain objective.

7. Observe the School Environment

Tour all the school’s facilities and pay attention to the restrooms. Are they clean and child-friendly? If there’s a smell that tickles your nose, then you may need to move on from that institution.

What does the classroom look like? Is it clean and does it have enough toys? What kind of furniture do the kids use and is it well maintained?

Additionally, are the storage shelves within comfortable reach of a preschooler?

Another crucial factor is what the teacher-to-child ratio is in the class. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends 10 preschoolers for every teacher.

If the number of students is higher than 10, it should not go beyond 20. This ensures each child receives quality time with their teacher.

When looking at the school environment, find out how the teachers handle conflict among the children and what disciplinary action is used when the children misbehave.

Finally, ask about the social activities the children are involved in. How much time is allocated to play, and if the kids have access to a TV and for how long?

8. Observe the School Staff

Ask to sit-in during a class session and observe the tone the teacher uses with the kids. When speaking to the children, the teacher should get down to be on the same eye-level with the kids.

This helps maintain a connection between the two of them and the child will feel a lot safer. The children will feel free to talk openly without fear of intimidation.

You can tell a lot about a person’s attitude toward their job by the way they speak. A teacher is no different.

Talk to them about their classes and the school in general and get a feel of their attitude. If it stinks or they seem disinterested, move on.

9. School Safety and Precautions

This is one of the things that should be added to the list of requirements. Find out what safety procedures are in place concerning dropping off and picking up children.

Ideally, the doors to the school will be locked to visitors. They should have to buzz in to gain access to the building.

You’ll also want to know what background checks the preschool has carried out on its teachers and what happens in case of an emergency. If anything doesn’t feel right, then you may need to reconsider this choice. It’s your child’s life, after all.

10. Does Your Child Like the Preschool?

By now you have shortlisted a couple of suitable schools for your child. Take them along and see how they like the schools. Observe how the school administrators and teachers treat them.

If your child is not comfortable in one preschool, look at another. Let them enroll in one they will enjoy attending. If the child is happy, momma is happy.

Questions to Ask

Does it feel like we’ve already covered everything you need to look for and know? There are still a couple more things you should look into.

Don’t feel like you’re bombarding the school director, principal, or teacher with too many questions. You have a right to ask questions — you’ll be placing your child in their care. They need to prove they can take care of him or her.

Here are some questions you should ask during the preschool interview:


  • What is the fee structure and how are payments made?
  • Do they accept installments and over what period?
  • Does the school offer scholarships?
  • Is there a sibling discount?
  • What is the pickup and drop-off times?
  • What happens when you pick up your child later than the scheduled time — is there a fee charged?
  • Does the preschool offer part-time or full-time sessions?
  • How many days a week is the preschool open?
  • Do they open over the holidays?
  • Does the school offer meals or snacks? Do they come at a cost?
  • Are there restrictions on certain foods?
  • Can they accommodate a child who is on a special diet? What are the school’s food allergy policies?
  • What happens if your child is not potty-trained?
  • What emergency plans are in place?
  • Is there a nurse on staff?
  • What safety measures are in place regarding adults coming into the building?

The School

You may find the school’s history posted on a wall but when it’s not available, ask about it. Other questions include:

  • What’s the school’s philosophy?
  • Is their program play-based or does it lean toward academics?
  • Does the school have a valid license?
  • Do they have accreditation by NAEYC? Few schools are accredited so if they are, it’s a bonus. It ensures that children are receiving high-quality care and education from professionals (16).
  • What is their student capacity?
  • How many full-time teachers and assistants are in the school?
  • What are their credentials and staff training levels?
  • How often do the teachers go on vacation, and who steps in to care for the kids when they do?


Some of the questions you can ask are:

  • What exactly will the kids learn? Will they know their ABCs, numbers, colors, and more?
  • Will they be ready for kindergarten at the end of the program?
  • Do they use age-appropriate toys and activities?
  • What are the toys made of? Does the school verify that every toy is made from toxin-free materials?
  • How large is the play area? Is it safe? Can it accommodate all the children?
  • What extracurricular activities are offered?
  • Do the kids go on field trips?
  • If the schedule includes nap time, where do the children sleep? You can ask to see the room and bedding used.

Parent Participation

When parents work hand-in-hand with the teachers, it’s the child that benefits. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Are the parents required to participate in the curriculum?
  • Are you allowed to visit the school? If so, at what time?
  • What means of communication does the school use to relay information to parents? Text messages, emails, or newsletters?
  • How should you communicate with the teachers or school administration?

Teacher-Children Interaction

Research shows that while the quality of a learning program is important, how a teacher responds to a child matters too.

Teachers who are sensitive, who foster positive relationships and respect a child’s autonomy greatly influence their progress and development (17). Teacher-child interaction is absolutely critical. Here’s what you can ask about:

  • How are teachers supposed to speak to the children?
  • How are children disciplined?
  • How do they comfort children?
  • How do teachers handle bullying and other inappropriate behavior and language?

Health, Hygiene, and Safety

A preschool is supposed to provide a healthy and safe environment for your child to learn, grow, and thrive. As a parent, you shouldn’t assume that every preschool adheres to health and safety regulations.

Pay special attention to the following:

The Preschool’s Immunization Policy

Vaccinations help lower the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. Some of the vaccines required before joining include polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis(DTaP) (18).

Does the school have an immunization policy?

Sick Child Policy

A study shows that teachers generally expect children who vomited or had fever or diarrhea to stay at home, to prevent these symptoms from spreading (19).

If the preschool doesn’t follow state-recommended regulations on immunization and sick children, you should reconsider enrolling your child.

Other questions you should ask include:

  • Are children taught the importance of washing their hands after using the restroom or potty?
  • How often are the toys cleaned?
  • Does the school use disinfectants when cleaning the toys?
  • What is the replacement policy for toys?
  • How old is the play equipment? If it’s too old, it might break down and injure your child.
  • What safety measures are in place to handle fires or injuries or to keep out intruders?
  • Are the children supervised at all times?
  • Is there a sign-in or sign-out policy?


Here is one thing we never ask for. It’s easy for the preschool to assure you of their services, but can this information be backed up by someone else?

Ask if the school can provide references. You can also ask for contacts who can confirm the school’s status.

If Preschool Is Not for You

There are several reasons why preschool may not work for some families, including:

  • Difficult schedules: The preschool may have rigid hours or require children to attend school for a certain number of days. This may not work for you if you have other commitments or if you have to work long hours.
  • A child who is sick a lot: When children get around others, they may get sick regularly. This may see them miss school often, which is not practical healthwise or economically.
  • The high cost of preschool: If the total cost digs too deep of a hole in your pocket, you may opt to keep your child at home.

Skipping preschool doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should miss out on the beauty of learning, exploring, and having fun. Here are some ways you can ensure your child gets the start they need:

  • Schedule days and time at home for preschool activities. You can decide to have classes two or three days a week for two hours. Try as much as possible to stick to your chosen days and times to create a routine for your child.
  • Find out if your local library or community center offers child activities such as storybook reading and attend them.
  • Invest in toys that stimulate their senses and bring out creativity. Kinetic coolsand, sand mold kits, and jigsaw puzzles can help.
  • Use a preschool workbook to guide your lessons.
  • Read out loud to your child.
  • Use picture books to help your child recognize objects, shapes, and colors.
  • Teach them how to spell their name.
  • Spend time outside playing and in nature as well.
  • Join a mom’s club to create an environment for your child to socialize with other kids. If there are none in your community, start one.
  • Allow your child to participate in safe community projects that will expose them to people with diverse backgrounds.

If you change your mind, you can enroll your child in a preschool at any time, providing the school you choose doesn’t have a waiting list.

Start off the Right Way

As an early childhood education tool, preschool offers benefits for your child. It expands their knowledge, feeds their curiosity, and encourages creativity and imagination. Preschool paves the way for kindergarten and further education.

As parents, we are naturally inclined to make the right choice for our kids. Whether you choose to take your child to preschool or not, we know you’ll do right by your child.

Do you have any questions or comments? We would love to hear from you, and remember to hit the share button.

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Medically Reviewed by

Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC

Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC is a cardiology nurse and freelance medical writer. Katelyn has 8 years of nursing experience inpatient and outpatient, primarily medical-surgical and cardiac. After having two children she has a passion for Women’s Health and Lactation teaching and support.