Choosing a Pre-Primary: A Mom's Guide

As a parent of two young girls, (age 6 and 14 months) and having moved four provinces in 5 years, and double the amount of schools, I have had plenty of experience in choosing schools for my children. Here are a few points to consider when making this important decision.

You can send your child to a preschool from age four up to seven years of age. At the end of every year, you have hopefully already either chosen a school, or are in the process of making a shortlist.

By now you have narrowed your list down to a few top schools that LOOK good. Don’t be fooled by the first impression of a school.  Some schools are clean, but don’t have the best buildings or newest carpets, but they might have the most amazing care givers. 

Here are 10 things you need to check:

  1. Location and cost are two major decision makers. Is the school on your way to work or close to home? Is traffic is a major factor? It may be better to put your child in a school that is a little out of your way if you know that you will have absolute peace mind. My second daughter was in a school that was highly recommended and only two blocks away from where I live. I couldn’t have been happier. One day I collected her earlier than normal – let’s just say the school wasn’t all I expected, now she is in a school out of town and we all love it!
  2. Preschools are mainly private schools so they do not follow any zoning rules. You do need to make sure that you are on the short list for these schools – put you name on all the waiting lists – the earlier the better.  When an opening comes up, you can ask them to reserve the space for a few days while you make your final decision.
  3. Preschools are generally more expensive than your other levels of education. If cost is a deciding factor, find out if the fees are payable over 10, 11 or 12 months. Do discounts apply when making lump sum payments or if you have more than one child in the school?
  4. What is included in the fees? Most pre-schools provide meals and at least one cooked hot meal, find out if this is included in the fees. If you want your kids to participate in extra murals you will probably pay extra for these
  5. Some schools don’t charge registration fees and other might waiver the enrolment fee. I understand the reason why the schools charge this administration fee, but there is no harm in asking to pay these fees once you have had a month’s trial period. Parents are so excited to get their kids into their favourite school that they pay a lump sum and enrolment fees right away, only to find a week later the school is not what they expected.
  6. Some schools may insist on signing a contract right away, if you are not 100% certain of your decision ask for a 30 day trial period, how the school responds may help you making your decision. The normal contract period for a pre-school is a term or at minimum a calendar month. Always remember that you need to play fair and if the school isn’t for you – in good conscience give one months notice and pay one month’s school fees.
  7. As many households now have two working parents, school times and holidays are a major factor when choosing a pre-school. Some pre-schools may follow private schools holiday programmes and offer holiday care at an extra cost, while other schools only close on public holidays. Does the school offer reasonable opening and closing times to work around traffic in the early morning and late afternoons?
  8. Safety especially in the big cities is a huge consideration. Find out what security features they have in place. Ask collection procedures when a parent or other caregiver collects their child from school.
    I decided to test out the security measures when I found the front gate open and unattended at a pre-school a few years back. I sent a friend to collect my eldest daughter. My friend was not on the list of people allowed to collect her and in fact when I contacted the school they couldn’t even give me a name of the person who did collect her.
  9. If your child is injured or sick is there a qualified nurse or someone on site that is qualified in first aid?
  10. Make an appointment with the principal. Speak to the teachers and the kids if you have a chance. Ask other parents what they think of the school, but always remember that a school that works for me may not work for you. If you get negative feedback ask more questions – maybe the parent you are speaking to has a personality clash with the accounts lady.

Look around; listen to what’s going on – as a parent you will know if the school fits your needs. Pop in for a surprise visit – this will give you an excellent indication of how things normally work.  If after you have placed your child in the school and have an uncomfortable feeling – take notice and make the necessary decisions right away.

Public, Private or Model C: Which School is Best?
Types of schools: What are you options?