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Finding the Best Preschool {Child Care Series}

As a Stay-at-Home and Work-from-Home Mom, I inwardly {okay, lie…outwardly} cheered when my twins reached the oh, so magical age of 18 months. Why? Because it meant I could begin the search for a great preschool/Mother’s Day Out program and give us a little vacation from each other. These part-time programs are ahhh-mazing for both mom and baby – providing a little time each week to run to the grocery child-free AND most importantly, allowing my children to learn socialization and developmental skills without mommy hovering over them. Houston has a plethora of awesome schools, so we’ve put together a little list to help you discover the best one for YOUR family.

Finding the Best Preschool{Click image above for more posts within the series.}

1. Research :: Talk to your friends. Find out what schools they initially looked into and why they ultimately chose their school. Use all resources at your disposal. For instance, I posted on my Facebook account, scoured all of our local community magazines, checked out neighborhood newsletters, and of course, turned to my trusty Google. I have to admit it was at first overwhelming due to the sheer number of programs out there, but eventually a pattern emerged of the “top schools.” From this research, I compiled a list of 8-10 that I wanted to investigate further.

2. Do Your Homework :: Check out both the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website and the NAEYC {National Accreditation of Programs for Young Children}. The TXDFPS will allow you to search by school to ensure they are licensed by the state – critical when you are entrusting your precious little ones into someone else’s care. The NAEYC is a voluntary accreditation that sets certain high standards for childhood education. This personally was a MUST for our family and allowed me to cross a couple of names off the list.

3. Determine Your Family Priorities :: What is it that you are searching for in a program? Does it need to be close to home or close to work? Do you want it to be faith-based or completely secular? Do you want them to go from toddler all the way through their Kinder prep program? {Side note :: this was also HUGE for me – after all this work, I didn’t want to have to change programs each year if I didn’t have to.} What learning philosophies are important to your family – ie :: learning through play; more structured activities; a Montessori-type approach? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can most likely whittle your list down a bit more.

Oooh, and we can’t forget the “B” word – BUDGET. We chose the middle-of-the-road cost – not the cheapest on the street, but not private school either. “Hey, we’ll be eating ramen noodles three times a week so you can go to preschool.”

4. Take a Tour :: Now that you hopefully are down to your top 3 or 4, make sure you schedule a visit! Go to their websites for visiting times and call to schedule. This is also a great opportunity to speak with the director for any questions you have in advance. Red Flag :: If they don’t offer tours during actual school hours, then cross it off! You want to see everything in action, how the kids move throughout their day, and how the teachers conduct their classrooms. Also important, check out child-to-teacher ratios. The state mandates certain ratios for each age bracket, and of course, they should adhere to that. But in my search, I much preferred the schools who stayed below the ratio, allowing for more one-on-one interaction with my children.

5. Ask Questions :: After your tour, don’t be afraid to ask questions! After all, your child may be spending up to 5 times a week under their care. My most FAQ’s…

  • What does a typical day look like for my child?
  • What do you expect them to learn by the time they have completed the year?
  • What are the policies on nap time?
  • Are lunches provided?
  • What are your security procedures and precautions? {*probably the most important question I could have asked in this day and age*}
  • What is the staff turnover rate?
  • How do the teachers communicate with you? Do they provide daily reports? Conferences?

I found school websites to be extremely helpful about answering many of these questions. But if you don’t see an answer or need more details, email or call!

6) Start Early :: The top schools fill up fast! Do your research in the fall for the year BEFORE you want to start school. Yes, REALLY.

Most programs have their fall registration in late January/early February which means you need to be prepared – Have all your info in order, top schools picked out, and have all the dates for registration marked down. I’m not going to lie, it can be overwhelming. Some conduct lotteries, some require you to camp out at ungodly hours on a first-come basis, and yet others allow you to drop off your papers with no stress about getting in. Most of the preschool/MDO programs offered through faith-based institutions offer a pre-registration period for their members, giving you a better chance of securing a spot.

My advice? Pick your top 3, follow the registration guidelines, and see how the chips fall.

Stressful? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

If you don’t get in to your top choice initially or you are starting a little late, don’t fret just yet! Most schools keep active waiting lists that you can jump on. With Houston being such a transient city, people come and go all the time. That means spots can open up at any time, so don’t lose hope. And according to directors I’ve spoken to, lots of movement happens over the summer as people make their final decisions as to where they want their child.

So the million dollar question – how do you KNOW which is the right school for your family? 

For me, it was kinda like trying on my wedding dress — I just KNEW it was the one. It fit me just right, I smiled when I thought about wearing it, and it was in my budget. <grin>

I recently asked the Directors at my kiddos’ preschool what advice they would give to parents who are looking into programs, and this is what long-time Co-Director Jann London had to say ::

After many years of registering students for Grace Preschool, the feedback from parents is that the “atmosphere” of the school sets the tone for their decision.  What kids learn with pleasure, they will never forget!  Listen and observe.  Ultimately, choosing a preschool is a personal decision.  If after visiting the school, you would love to go there – it’s probably the right place for your child!

She recommends applying the following philosophy ::

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  ~Carol Buchner

The preschool that is right for YOU is out there, I promise. Happy hunting and best wishes on your search. Before you know it, you’ll be posting precious pics like this to your Facebook and Instagram accounts…

ryan and quinn preschool

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4 Responses to Finding the Best Preschool {Child Care Series}

  1. Renee Majors April 15, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    There’s lots of good information here – another place that can help families locally Collaborative for Children. Families often want more flexible care, and that is when an au pair might be a good option for those who can afford it. I work with many families in Houston who value the cultural exchange this type of program offers their children.

    • Meagan C
      Meagan C April 16, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      That’s a great resource, Renee! Thanks for sharing with us 🙂 And be sure to check out the Nanny series today as well!

  2. Nicole martinez April 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Well written! After going through preschool registration for the first time just a couple months ago, I felt like I did when I had been applying to colleges (longer ago than I would like to admit)! I felt ill prepared for how stressful the registration process is in our area! Thankfully we did get into our first choice school, but I will be sharing this post with friends who are beginning their search!

    • Meagan C
      Meagan C April 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      Thanks so much, Nicole!!! It is definitely crazy and most overwhelming for “just” preschool. Thanks for commenting and sharing 🙂 And yay for y’all getting your first choice!!!

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