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Choosing a Preschool: 4 Questions to Ask

Choosing a Preschool: 4 Questions to Ask

Today’s post is courtesy of Elizabeth Patterson, a working parent and mom of two.

When deciding on the best place to send our daughter — to preschool in an elementary school or to a preschool in a child care center, I wish I would have asked more questions.

Our son was starting kindergarten and, for several reasons having to do with school systems and real estate, we ended up sending him to a small private school that runs PK3 to fifth grade. Our daughter is starting PK3, so we started the admissions process for her, too. She had to pass some interviews and she had to be potty trained. The PK3 program runs from 8:00 am until late morning, with the option to extend to mid-day and after-school programs. During the admissions process, all seemed well. This would be a great school — our children could still be together, have same schedules, smoother drop-off and pick-up, etc.


On the first day of orientation, I grew nervous when the teacher spoke to me about potty training. Our daughter, who isn’t yet 3 years old, but meets the birthday cut-off, is trained, though she still needs help with her clothes, cleaning herself, etc. The term potty-trained is a spectrum, in my book, and I assumed that anyone working with this age group agreed. Not so­ — she was expected to go to the potty all on her own, and this, I was informed, is the difference between “preschool” and “daycare”. Then I learned that as she moved rooms, through the mid-day program and on to “after school”, no one would be willing or even allowed to even accompany her to the bathroom. I would receive a phone call and would have to come to school if she had an accident.

Clearly, the school setting wasn’t the right all-day choice for her. Looking back, there are some questions I wished I would have asked during the admissions process such as:

  • What are the expectations in regard to potty training?
  • Are age groups separated during the after-school program? (Don’t assume they are, as I did.)
  • Does after-school have structured activities or are the children expected to entertain themselves?
  • Is after school managed by the same teacher/leader every afternoon?

Had I known that our little girl would have to make her own way to the big kid bathroom and entertain herself in a room with fifth graders for several hours, I would have realized that I was asking too much of a child just turning three years old. Though my son is thriving at the new school (the class size is just right, he is challenged by the work, and he finds a balance between independence and support), we lasted a week and a half with my daughter. She was just terrific, to try so hard. It makes me cry every time I think how confused she must have been. The support she needed, potty or not, just wasn’t there.

The preschool in my child’s child care center was able to accommodate our return to the school and the teachers we loved. My daughter couldn’t be happier and, even though my children are in completely different schools with all the logistical challenges that entails, I couldn’t be more relieved that they are each in a spot that’s right for them.

P.S. I think it’s important to note that Bright Horizons ended up being the perfect choice for my daughter but it is not my intent in this post to promote its services. I encourage parents facing this important decision to choose the provider, child care provider, facility, and educator that meets your family’s needs.

Elizabeth Patterson Bright Horizons BloggerI’m Elizabeth Patterson. At 47, my life has completely turned around in a few short years. I was single, but now am married with two children. I used to live a simple, organized city life, but am now in the suburbs, trying to find my car keys and finally understanding years of TV commercials about serving dinner in under 30 minutes. There are ups and downs, but I think I’m the luckiest person in the world.


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