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Pitfalls of picking a preschool

Want to find the right school for your soon-to-be preschooler? Avoid the three top mistakes parents make when choosing their child's first educational experience.

By GreatSchools Staff

When it comes to deciding on a school for your child, the more choices you have, the better, right?

Sure, except that having more choices makes the school-choosing process all the more difficult as you wrestle over questions like: Where will my child be happiest? Is the hard-to-get-into school across town or the unknown one near my house a better bet? Is this school really as great as it seems?

To help parents avoid common pitfalls when choosing a school, we checked in with Liz Perelstein, president of School Choice International. Perelstein, who has worked as an admissions officer, now advises parents on that often crazy-making, but all-important, question: Which school will be best for my child?

1. Selecting a school based on its reputation or the word on the street.

Maybe your best friend's daughter loved her preschool, but that has little bearing on how your child will do there; a dream school for one child can turn out to be a disaster for another.

What's more, parents tend to defend the choices they made — so keep in mind that the recommendation you're getting may be biased. By all means, ask around for recommendations. But in the end, judge a school on how it will work for your child. (Check here and here for more tips on what to look for, and what questions to ask when looking at a preschool.)

2. Choosing a school because of its academic rigor. 

Yes, you want your child to be up to academic speed in kindergarten. But much of the focus in a strong preschool program should be on social skills and imaginative play, all essential for learning independence from parents, being able to follow directions, playing well with others, and being a creative thinker. (Learn how to spot the 10 signs of a great preschool.)

A well-rounded preschool will offer all of the above and build a solid foundation for your child to learn to read, write, and do math when she’s ready.

3. Letting the child decide which school to attend.

If your child had an observational play date at a school and became enchanted with the Duplo table or fell in love with the well-stocked costume corner, it's tempting to give in when you hear, "Mommy, I want to go here!" 

But with children this young, parents would do well to set aside the need to please their soon-to-be preschooler and make an educated decision, one that takes into account what they know about their child and what they've learned about the school. (e.g. "My child gets overwhelmed in large groups and this school has a nice, small program.") After examining both, decide if the school and your child will make a good match.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/14/2011:
"I made a HUGE mistake picking my preschool. I will admit that I was overwhelmed by my move to a new town and my young twins. So I picked the nice lutheran church in town thinking what could go wrong? WOW what a mistake. The lady's who ran this boot camp were seriously mentally ill but I did not know this. One kept punishing my daughter by placing her in a dark room to sit until she behaved better..... Problem with this are many but what the nasty, religious acting, loosers did not know is that my daughter was almost blind (+7 farsited) and could not see what was being presented during class; so my daughter would try to tell said teacher but the loosers did not care to hear anything nor did she and her partner in crime ever pick up that my daughter may have had a problem with her eyes. I still want to cry and sometimes do over this experience, for my poor lovely daughter because no one realized she needed glasses and no one cared enough to recommend that she see an eye doctor. A good teacher would have seen something was wrong. My daughter hid her poor eye site so well by memorized everything at preschool by listening to what was being said but was never able to see the board or what was written. OMG........ With farsightedness a blackboard seems super far away as in down the hall with my daughters eyes. And words on paper equally as far away. Well at least we knew one thing by the time her first grade teacher noticed a problem, she could memorize and today she is straight A+ student with a mind of her own but will always remain somewhat angry due to her experience in preschool. We are all angry still about preschool and will never forget our nightmare. If I were to do this again I would either skip preschool all together since she did not learn anything there other than to socialize with a bunch of bratty kids or I would scrutinize like crazy although this lady was so sweet initially and kind, very talkative, and seemed normal. WOW was I wrong. There was an edge to her though that I did not like and should have gone with that. Plus all her friends were shallow & mean as it gets....hint. "
02/14/2011:
"Most of the time I really enjoy reading the articles here. They provide very insightful information. This article is good but one thing your article does not really talk about is that most of the time unless your child is going to provide school your choices are slim if you do not receive an intradistrict transfer. It has been in the news lately parents using other peoples address just to get into the better schools. Well that is the only choice if you can not obtain a transfer. So please do us a favor and mention that in the real world articles. Otherwise parents who are new to children and school will be so disillusioned. Because in most school districts there really is no choice if you don't have a permision to transfer."
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