Selecting the right preschool for your child is a decision that won’t be taken lightly. When trying to choose the right preschool, you will want to visit a number of centres, look at what they offer, meet the staff and get a feel for the centre generally.

What you should expect from a quality preschool:

  • Valuable play and learning experiences.
  • A consistent and caring relationship between the staff and children.
  • The allowance of time for exploration and new activities for children.
  • Support for social, emotional, physical and cognitive aspects of your child’s development.
  • Clear and reasonable expectations of behaviour.
  • Active involvement with families of the children.
  • Open communication about your child.
  • An environment where you feel welcome.

When you visit a preschool, here are some things to look out for:

  • Adults are talking to children in nurturing and encouraging ways. They get down on their eye-level, address them by name, listen carefully, and seek to understand. Early childhood learning is built on trusting relationships, and that means that good teachers do not yell or roll their eyes at children. Positive relationships can be hard to define, but they are easy to see.
  • When children are behaving inappropriately, teachers are focused on helping them, rather than punishing them. All preschoolers are developing social and emotional skills and self-regulation, like how to share toys and express frustration in words. Good teachers build those skills with consistent routines and tools like timers for turn-taking, language children can use when they have a conflict, and songs and games for when a child needs to be physical.
  • The classroom is fun and joyful. Play is the vehicle through which young children learn everything from vocabulary to math to self-control. That doesn’t mean classrooms should be a free-for-all. Teachers should continually provide new activities and challenges, ask thought-provoking questions, and nudge children to think deeper.
  • Children are active. They are not expected to sit for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, and they get plenty of outdoor time. They are also active contributors to the classroom; they get to choose their activities and their work covers the walls.
  • Staff are supported — and seem happy. Working with young children is a tough job, and teachers are more successful when they receive regular professional development and planning time, not to mention a livable wage and benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Don’t be afraid to ask the director about these factors and about rates of teacher turnover.

Asking questions at the preschool is the best way to get information. We suggest asking the following:

  1. How are parents kept up to date with what’s going on at the centre?
  2. Is family participation welcomed in weekly activities?
  3. What are the philosophies and values of the centre and its staff members?
  4. What are the fees?
  5. Are extended hours of care available?
  6. How will food and drink be provided?
  7. How will medication be handled and administered?
  8. Are you allowed to visit at any time?
  9. What is the ratio of qualified staff to children?
  10. What policies and standards does the centre operate to?

In addition to the questions above, ask yourself these questions as you tour the centre:

  1. Does the environment look inviting?
  2. Do the staff seem professional?
  3. Are staff vigilantly looking after the children in their care?
  4. What are the other children like?
  5. Does it smell nice?
  6. Is it a place you would come back to?

Dr Paul Burgis

PhD (UNSW), MEd, BEd, Dip Tch (Eng/His-sec), Dip Div/Miss

Dr Paul Burgis is the current Principal of the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney. Paul is married and has three daughters and lives in Drummoyne, Sydney. In his leisure time he enjoys reading history, theology, philosophy and poetry, supporting the Cronulla Sharks and wild bird photography. He worships with his family at Drummoyne Presbyterian Church.