How to Find a Good Preschool: Questions, Observations, and Red Flags

It’s almost springtime here in Northern Virginia, and many folks are looking ahead to summer and then to the upcoming school year. If you have a two-and-a-half to three-year old you might have already started mulling over the big P-question. No, not the “pee” question — we’re not talking Potty Training —  the Preschool Dilemma. When to start? What kind of program? Can we afford it? The questions have begun! With so many options, it can feel overwhelming, so we’re giving you our recommendations on how to find a good preschool for your little one.

Before You Start: Research

Let’s start with the elephant in the room — to Montessori or not-to-Montessori, that is the question. Obviously, here at Children’s House MONTESSORI school, we are a little biased.  We believe that the Montessori educational philosophy is pretty darn great, but you should do your research and see if Montessori is a good fit for you and your family. There are tons of options out there and many different approaches to early childhood education. Do your research and see what’s available in your area. 

Step 1: Make a List — Location, location, location!

Sounds pretty obvious, but that’s probably just because it’s the obvious first step. Make a list. A quick Google search will tell you which schools are in your area or closest to the area you want to be in. Maybe you’re looking for a location close to work or somewhere midway between work and home. Map out your options and make a list of the schools that fit your location criteria.

You don’t want to get your heart set on a school only to realize later on that it’s 20 minutes out of your way or would put you (and your younger children, if you have them) in the car for an hour or more each day. Google Maps is your friend!

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Is it close to home or work? 
  2. How much time will it add to your commute?
  3. Is the location within a reasonable driving distance for other care-givers who might pick up on a regular basis (like a nanny, babysitter, or grandparent)?
  4. Drive by a few of your top choices on your way to work and see what it’s like to add that stop to your morning or evening commute.
  5. If your child will be attending a mornings-only program, how much time will you realistically be left with after drop-off and before pick-up? Are there shops and amenities nearby to make it easier to run errands or take younger siblings to classes or playgroups?
  6. How do you feel about the location? Is the area busy? Does it feel safe? 

Step 2: Read Reviews

You wouldn’t buy a pressure cooker without reading a bunch of reviews first, right? Do the same for your child’s school. Check out the schools’ Google listing, find them on Yelp.com, or check GreatSchools.org. Follow their Facebook page and read up on what people are saying about your child’s potential school. Ask for recommendations from friends and co-workers. Where do your neighbors take their kids? 

Keep in mind that reviews come from a place of emotion — good or bad — and remember that children and families can have vastly different experiences at the same school. Weigh the positives and negatives and keep an open mind.

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Gut check: what stands out when you read them? Is this a place you want your child to be?
  2. For negative reviews, how old are they? Do they seem very specific to one family or was there a larger issue that the school could have addressed by now?
  3. Look for recent reviews, as those reflect the current atmosphere, staffing, and curriculum of the school. 
  4. In general, are the reviews positive or negative?
  5. Check several websites and compare reviews, you’ll notice a theme or trend — time for another gut check.

Step 3: Call and Ask Questions

We spend SO MUCH TIME on our phones these days, and yet somehow we forget what they’re actually for: making phone calls! Pick up the phone and call your top three choices! Talk to a person! First impressions matter and your first impression should come from one of the people you’re likely to interact with on a daily basis, once your child is enrolled in a program: the office manager, school director, or other administrative personnel. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Are they friendly, professional, and courteous?
  2. Do they take the time to speak with you about your questions and concerns?
  3. Do they ask you questions about your child and seem interested in learning more about your family and your needs?
  4. Did they answer the phone or return calls promptly?
  5. Gut check: how do you feel after you hang up the phone? 

Step 4: Tour and Observe

It’s all well and good, if your number one top pick is in the perfect location, has great reviews, and a friendly phone manner, but nothing beats an on-site tour! This is your chance to see for yourself what makes this school a great fit or a “nope, next!”  Bring a list of questions and get them answered. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Gut check: How do you feel walking through the space?
  2. How would you describe it to a friend? 
  3. What are the three to five adjectives that come to mind?
  4. Is the staff friendly? Do you feel welcome?
  5. Are the children actively engaged in their activities?
  6. Are you touring and observing a typical school day?

Step 5: Visit with Your Child

Once you’ve done your research, narrowed the field, and picked your favorite, it’s time to take your child for a visit. This is such an important step and shouldn’t be dismissed. While you, as the parent, are going to make the final decision about where your child goes to school, your child’s opinion (and reaction) matters. If you’re looking to enroll and start in a short timeframe, it’s especially important that your child have a chance to visit, meet their teacher, and spend time in the classroom. If their start date is further out, this is just a chance to interact with the teachers and get a feel for how your child will adjust. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Do you feel good about how the teachers and staff interacted with your child? Were they respectful and compassionate?
  2. If relevant, how did the staff handle your child’s hesitation, confusion, or anxiety?
  3. Is your child happy at the end of the visit? 
  4. Will the school accommodate additional visits closer to the start date? This is especially important for children who struggle with transitions.
  5. Gut check: is this THE place? By now, you’ll know.

Your child’s preschool experience matters! Do some research, ask around, call, and visit! Depending on where you live, you might feel like you have a million options or none. There’s a great school out there, we promise — keep an open mind and do your homework.

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

Interested in visiting CHMS? What to Expect During Your Tour

Questions? Call us at 703-481-6678 or email us through the form below.

One thought on “How to Find a Good Preschool: Questions, Observations, and Red Flags

  • I like how you mentioned that the first step in finding a preschool is to ensure that it’s at a good location because you don’t want your child to be in a car an hour every day. My wife and I are thinking of putting our son in an academic course before kindergarten because we want him to get familiar with being in an academic setting. It might be a good idea for us to consider all of our options when choosing a reputable preschool to enroll our son in that can teach him well and that’s close to our jobs.

Leave a Reply