Picking the Right Preschool for Your Child

By Kate Kelly
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At a Glance

  • Generally, kids with learning and thinking differences benefit from preschool.

  • Visit potential preschools and ask if you can observe teachers in action.

  • A good preschool teacher will pick up on learning and thinking differences.

Do you suspect or know that your child has learning or thinking differences? If so, you may wonder what type of preschool would be best for him, or whether he should even go to preschool. If you’re on the fence, it may help to know that most early education experts say your child will benefit from a good program.

Starting school as soon as possible may help reveal issues early on. It may also help determine the extra support your child will need to succeed in grade school. Plus, preschool can help him learn some of the key skills for kindergarten.

Here’s what you need to know about choosing a preschool.

Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a good idea to find out what skills the preschool expects your child to be developing. If you know your child’s areas of weakness, you can assess whether the school is willing to work with your child to build strengths. Skills your child will be working on include:

  • Sitting still for short periods of time

  • Taking turns talking and playing

  • Controlling emotions and actions

  • Following simple directions

  • Recognizing letters and numbers

  • Using a crayon or pencil

Visit the school.

It’s important to visit schools in person. Observe all the teachers who might work with your child. You should be able pop in and out of several classrooms in a 30-minute visit and see each teacher in action. Here are some things to watch for:

  • How does she redirect kids? If a child is losing control, does she gently lead him to another area? That’s a better response than yelling or giving a time-out.

  • How does the teacher praise the kids? Specific praise (“I like how Johnny picked up the blocks and put them away”) is better than general praise (“Johnny is helpful today!”).

  • What does she do when kids are overstimulated? Does she lead them to a quieter, less busy area?

  • Does the teacher encourage self-expression and language development? For instance, does she read a book aloud and ask the class questions about the characters or story?

  • Does she seem to enjoy what she’s doing, and is she engaging with the students in a positive way?

  • If there is an aide in the room, do they work well together in an organized way?

Assess the environment.

In general, kids with learning and thinking differences do better with a lot of structure. In preschool, this means that the day unfolds in a particular order. An example: First there’s free play, followed by circle time, a classroom activity, outside time, then back inside for a final wrap up. Of course, you may think this is too much structure for your child. If this is the case, you might look for a program with more free play and fewer routines and teacher-guided activities.

Talk to the program director.

The director’s willingness to meet with you and let you observe teachers is important. It gives you an idea of how much access you’ll have during the year to discuss your concerns. Ask if teachers are prepared to look for kids who may have learning and thinking differences and what they do if they suspect a problem. A great answer might include: “We provide extra skills practice in school and strategies to try with your child at home.”

If those steps don’t work, a good preschool will suggest the parents contact early intervention services and request a screening.

Knowing what to look for and ask about can make it easier to find the right fit for your child. You can also connect with other parents in your area and get their feedback. They may give you the best insight of all!

Key Takeaways

  • Preschool may help prepare your child for the demands of kindergarten.

  • Kids with learning and thinking differences typically do best in preschool programs that are structured.

  • You can tell a lot about a teacher’s style in just a few minutes of observing.

About the Author

About the Author

Kate Kelly 

has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD 

is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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