Tips for School Tours
It’s always funny to consider that while we are pulling out our boots and long sleeves in anticipation of fall weather, someone out there is shooting the cover of a spring/summer catalogue. Likewise, when I feel like I’ve just established our family “back to school” routine I begin to see notices for open houses at schools and admission directors begin showing up at PTA meetings to discuss plans for next year. As a school director, I feel the same wave of early planning begin about this time each year at The Children’s Center as well. I’ve only just begun our new year when I turn my focus to plans for next year. Our calendar is booked almost daily with tours for prospective families.
Providing school tours is one of my favorite things to do, after greeting each child during morning arrival. The reason tours are so important to me is because they provides an opportunity to share a bit of insight into the “why” and “how” we teach young children. I find so often that parents feel overwhelmed with school choices and are unsure of the questions to ask or what to look for while walking the halls of prospective schools. We are so lucky in Dallas to have so many wonderful school choices. There is no one school that is a perfect fit for each family, or even each child within a family. Regardless of the differences in cost, location, ages served, or teaching method (play-based, Montessori, classical Christian,…), there are signs that all parents should look for when asking questions and touring. Here’s a SCHOOL “cheat sheet” of sorts to use as a guide when touring schools.
Safe – Ask about procedures for visitors, safety drills, how food allergies are handled, and illness policy. There should be a routine in place for drop-off and pick-up. Do a quick scan of the rooms to be sure there are no chemicals, broken toys, uncovered outlets or other signs of an unsafe environment. Class sizes should allow for safe supervision in addition to providing an optimal learning environment which meets the needs of the group as well as each individual child. There should be written school policies should be provided and reviewed prior to enrollment.
Cheerful – Does the environment FEEL warm and welcoming? Pay attention to the children in each classroom. They have no reason to put on a “show” for tours. Are they engaged, joyful, active, and happy? Quite often parents will refer to a "feeling" they get in each school. Does it feel free of stress? Are the rooms clean, well organized and inviting? Bring your child along for a visit before registration. Is the school a place they are excited to attend?
Home/School connection – You are your child’s first teacher. It is important that you feel welcomed at your child’s school. Ask about opportunities to help in class, by reading or assisting with cooking projects for example. Your child should feel there is a connection between home and school. Communication is key to developing the connection for families. There should be a routine in place for communication from the school as well as the teacher. Ideally, the school will offer home visits and/or playdates before the first day, parent meetings, family gatherings, and individual conferences .
Open-ended activities – While touring, look for art and work samples that are child-created and not “cookie cutter”. The art should embrace the value of the process to create it over the final product. There should be obvious signs of child-guided play and exploration, with various activities provided throughout the day. Teachers act as guides, balancing whole group instruction with small group activities. Remember, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” (Fred Rogers) The children should be actively engaged in child-centered activities.
Outside activities – Children need daily opportunities to play outside. They should have opportunities to move their bodies, whether outside or through movement and music classes. They thrive in environments that provide activities which stimulate their large muscles (core strength, balance, spatial awareness in relation to learning), as well as small muscles (holding small objects, eye-hand coordination, strength to hold writing utensils), and that allows for creativity and socialization with their peers.
Licensed and Accredited – ALL early childhood programs must be licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. You can gain familiarity with child care minimum standards (all early childhood programs are considered “child care”) on their website. Some schools have elected to seek additional accreditation from private organizations, such as NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). Accreditation requires that schools adhere to a higher level of standards than those set by the State. The NAEYC also provides wonderful resources for parents who would like to seek more information about child development and what to look for in programs for young children.
I hope the SCHOOL acronym helps you as you visit various programs for your child. Certainly if you'd like, I’d be happy to help field any additional questions that you may have. This is one of my favorite topics to talk about. 😊