Shopping for a nursery or preschool program that is right for your child sometimes feels like an impossible task. It’s hard to know what kind of learner they are at 2, let alone as an infant. Lighten your study load by asking these five questions when touring a program, says Eleanor Toliver, owner of First Ward Child Development Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
How do they teach?
When making the rounds, you’ll learn how schools follow methods and philosophies like Montessori, Reggio Emilia, traditional, and progressive. While that is important to know, good teachers are what make the grade. When touring a classroom, don’t hesitate to ask teachers how they differentiate children who learn better visually, through hearing, or by touch. “Parents should also ask how does the teacher motivate the child who excels at learning or the child who may be behind,” says the Charlotte child care business owner. “You want to know that the teacher is qualified to identify any problems should they arise.” In North Carolina, for example, a program like First Ward Child Development Center obtains the top rating, five stars, because 75% of the lead teachers have a two-year degree or higher in early childhood education. “They are highly qualified and meet national standards,” she adds.
What is the staff to child ratio?
Just as important as qualified teachers is the teacher to student ratio. Too many children and the teacher may not be able to meet the individualized needs of the kids in the room. First Ward Child Development Center charts a middle course on what North Carolina allows, ranging from 1 teacher to 4 infants to 1 teacher to 9 Pre-K children. “You never know when you will have an emergency so I want to make sure all our children are well cared for with the appropriate number of teachers,” explains the Charlotte preschool expert. “We also have floating teachers to fill in case of emergency.”
Are parents welcomed?
Some programs like to keep parents at arms’ length; some prefer to make them full partners. If your time is limited and this program expects you to volunteer at all school functions, then think hard before you sign that contract. If it’s important that the program have an open door policy, where you can enter your child’s classroom whenever you want, then seek one out. First Ward Child Development Center has an open door policy because “we want the parents and staff to get to know each other so that the parents feel comfortable with who is taking care of their children,” says Toliver, who started the Charlotte child care business in 1999. “And in case of an emergency, if I have to move a staffer into that room, that person is not a stranger.”
What enrichment programs are there?
Music, art, dance, and gym should not be taken for granted. Ask whether they offer these enrichment programs and how often. Do the children go on field trips? Where and how often? First Ward Child Care Development Center offers enrichment programs such as music, ballet and tae kwon do so that “the parents don’t have to take the extra time to do that,” explains the Charlotte day care pro. “Working parents don’t have extra time to spend with their children. This helps provide more time for parents to spend with their children.”
What are the school policies?
When sitting down with a school administrator, don’t be afraid to get as much information as possible about payment schedule, how medicine is administered, and about menus and how it addresses food allergies. Find out about dismissal procedures and who is authorized to pick up your child. Ask what happens when the child becomes ill while the program is in session.
Eleanor Toliver is the founder of
First Ward Child Development Center
600 East 7th Street Charlotte, NC 28202