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.