For any parent, sending your child to school for the first time can be overwhelming and a little bit scary. But when your child has delays (speech, language, developmental), finding a preschool that is the right fit for your child and your family can seem even more daunting.
To make navigating the process of finding the best preschool feel less intimidating, I compiled a list of five important things to look for and ask about to ensure the best learning environment and support for your child.
- Parent/Teacher communication. Understanding how communication is handled and what to expect from the start will be of utmost importance. How will you find out about your child’s day? Will you have the opportunity to communicate with your child’s teacher at pick-up and/or drop-off, or will the teacher send home daily notes with information regarding what happened at school that day? Will you have the chance to ask questions regarding your child’s progress in person or does the teacher prefer email or scheduled phone calls? Will there be conferences to communicate how your child is progressing throughout the school year? All of these questions are important to have answers to prior to enrollment so that both the teacher and you as a parent have clear guidelines and expectations regarding communication. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount and means of communication promised by the preschool. This will set your family up for success, a positive parent/teacher relationship, and make sure you have clear, thorough information about what’s happening in your child’s classroom.
- Student to teacher ratio and classroom size. Making sure there are enough helping hands in the classroom is crucial to ensuring that each child in the classroom gets the support he/ she needs. The lead teacher can only be so many places at once, so knowing that there are other qualified adults in the room is important. A 3:1 child to adult ratio is ideal, especially if you feel your child will require more individualized attention. When thinking about student to teacher ratio, you also need to consider class size. Children with any sort of delay will likely benefit from being in a preschool classroom with smaller class sizes. Smaller classes allow for more one-on-one teacher instruction, provide a less overwhelming sensory environment, and create more opportunity for teachers to facilitate social/play interactions.
- Willingness to communicate with outside service providers. If your child has speech, language, and/or developmental delays, he or she is likely receiving outside services and working with a team of therapists. When looking for the best preschool for your child, don’t be afraid to ask if the classroom teacher is willing to communicate with outside service providers and join the team of professionals supporting your child. Your child’s teacher will have access to your child for the longest period of time of any of the therapists/professionals on the team. Making sure the teacher is willing to learn more about your child’s goals in therapy, what strategies are most effective/beneficial, and how he/she can incorporate and support generalization of your child’s treatment goals into their school day will be essential for a successful preschool experience.
- Visual supports and schedules. We all benefit from the use of visual supports throughout our day. Whether it is a “to do” list, a grocery list or a calendar, visuals make navigating our day more concrete and help to eliminate stress even as adults. For preschoolers, especially preschoolers with developmental delays, a classroom with strong visual supports and schedules is equally (if not more) beneficial. A classroom visual schedule creates routine, predictability, and comfort in what to expect and what is coming up next. Visuals help guide our thinking and make abstract concepts more concrete. This is vital when helping children understand and make sense of a new environment. Look for pictures labeling items in the classroom, photographs of peers for “checking in” or saying “hello,” social stories, and of course, the visual schedule.
- Movement breaks/play. Knowing how long your child will be expected to sit for a given time throughout the school day is important to know. Preschool-age children need to move their bodies to be accessible to learning and to soak in the important information being presented during structured activities. They need to “shake their sillies out.” Making sure that movement breaks are embedded in the classroom routine is imperative. This can be achieved by dancing, playing with equipment (e.g., scooters, balls, balance beams, slides, etc.), structured gross motor activities, and more. We also want to make sure that your child has the chance to play! Play unlocks language and builds social skills. Play helps create imagination and develops problem solving skills. Children need to play. Ask how much time in your child’s day will be dedicated to play. Make sure there will be the opportunity to explore new toys, engage in play, and develop foundational social skills that will serve your child forever.
So look for these important things as you explore options for your preschooler. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to go on visits, to observe, and to make sure you feel comfortable with what the program has to offer. Of course, a teacher who will love your child for exactly who he/she is and make learning fun is key to a positive first school experience as well.
If you have any questions or would like assistance on your journey to finding a preschool that will best fit your child’s unique needs, do not hesitate to reach out to the Beaumont Children’s Speech and Language Pathology department, we would love to help.
– Ali Pettit, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health