Kids & Parenting

How to choose a nursery school

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Even for a child who may have slept over at Aunt Sue's, had a regular babysitter and been part of a playgroup, going to school is a big job for your child
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Learn what to take into consideration when selecting a nursery school.

A nursery school can provide a nurturing atmosphere where your child can learn about playing with peers and exploring a wide variety of new activities. Especially for your first child the question of how to choose a nursery school can feel like a challenge. Here are some questions to ask that may help in choosing an appropriate school. 


What to Look for in a Nursery School


Your neighbors, local houses of worship and even your school system can help you locate nursery schools in your area. Your school system may offer a pre-kindergarten program that suits your needs. Many large municipalities and counties maintain offices and organizations focused on children's concerns.

If you do not find such a service during your search for a school, look for an countywide office or agency serving women or families. If you need longer-than-school-day care, these agencies are a good source of daycare information as well.


How to Know If Your Child Is Ready


Even for a child who may have slept over at Aunt Sue's, had a regular babysitter and been part of a playgroup, going to school is a big job for your child. It's the first foray into the outside world and home again. It's a big deal for parents, too. For you and your child this is most likely the first time you have been separated from each other away from home. You must both be ready to trust someone else to take care of your child over a relatively long period of time, namely the school year.

Recognizing this will lead you to more practical questions. If this is your first time apart, should it be full day or part-time? Full-time care is most likely 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., including lunch and naptime. Part-time care can be mornings or afternoons, usually for two-and-a-half to three hours. If separation during the day is a new experience for you and your child, ask how the school or center helps with this issue.


Staying in Touch


Being separated for the first time can lead to some concerns. For example, your child returns from school with a new band-aid and the announcement: Billy hit me and I cried. A three-year-old child is unlikely to be able to provide additional information like how the incident happened, what the teacher did and how frequently the issue occurs.

Schools offer a variety of assistance to parents in a situation like this, ranging from a note in your child's backpack to after-school hours when you can reach the teacher. A message tape, an observation window from which you can watch your child at play and a school webcam are other ways schools keep parents close and well-informed.

Types of Schools

Nursery schools come in a number of formats. The first major distinction is that some schools that require regular parent participation and might encourage parents to come at specific times and offer specific talents.

Cooperative nursery schools regard parents as members of the educational team providing critical assistance to paid staff. These parents are expected to work during regular class sessions. If your employment schedule does not allow you to do this, ask whether your child's sitter or a relative may substitute for you.


Other schools will be differentiated by their educational philosophies. The school's philosophy is usually featured in its printed materials, which allows you the opportunity to ask how it is applied to particular situations. At a school with a philosophy that stresses children's independence, for example, children may spend longer periods of time on self-care issues like putting on and zipping up their coats.

This is compared with a school that's based on a more cooperative, family-based philosophy. Some philosophies like Montessori stress a specific way to use materials over more informal education exploration. Some schools may draw students from widely-diverse populations; others may reflect a more homogenous group of interests and backgrounds. 


After Choosing Your School


Call and arrange to visit. You should make your first visit alone, unless the school specifically requests that you bring your child for possible observation or readiness-testing. Going alone enables you to get a feel for the school atmosphere and ask questions. This visit enables you to:

  • assess whether those you meet are suitable to care for your child
  • observe a class in progress
  • have time to talk with the director or other staff members
  • have time to get specific information about admission-schedules, admission criteria and fees

If the school seems like a good fit, your second visit will include your child and put you both on the path to wonderful new experiences.

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