Diversity is an important consideration when selecting a preschool, but it’s not the only consideration.
Step 1: Write down your educational values. Identify the criteria most important to you with the understanding that you will likely not find all of your “must-haves” in one pre-school program. Take your notes with as you tour different preschools. I always toured schools with pen and paper in hand. If you are looking at several options, it helps to make notes otherwise it will be hard to differentiate between options when it is time to make a decision.
Also, ask yourself: Are you interested in pre-school that is:
- Afrocentric, multi-cultural or multi-racial
- Montessori or Montessori-inspired
- Religious affiliation or no affiliation
- Small, locally owned or a large chain
Step 2: Decide what kind of learning philosophy you desire for your child. I want my MiniMocha to be intellectually challenged, but I had to learn that most kids excel in environments that emphasize learning through play with lots of hands-on experiences.
Ask yourself: Are you interested in a pre-school that emphasizes:
- A clearly, defined, structured curriculum
- Learning objectives that address the needs of the whole child
- Creativity and free play
These are not mutually exclusive criteria; I am just offering some different considerations to weigh.
Step 3: Visit the school. In my own search I visited schools at least two times. Once, where I interviewed the Director and toured classroom and once with my MiniMocha, where I talked with the teachers. You can certainly save time by reviewing the school’s website and conducting a short phone interview to determine if a tour is needed. A word about phone interviews, when posing questions about issues of race or diversity, often you can tell on the phone if inclusion is a practice. When I have posed specific questions about inclusion – racial and otherwise– I have heard dead silence, stuttering and stumbling over words, and even requests to repeat the question. If you do make calls, make them in the morning. Be prepared that some center staff will not always have time to talk.
Once you are at the school, look for:
- Security mechanisms (how easy is it to get inside – do you have to show ID)
- A well-kept play area (there does not have to be a lot to do, but different things to play with)
- Presence of staff up front to greet parents and children as they enter the building
- Look at the bulletin boards and walls (is the children’s art work displayed prominently)
- Does it feel racially diverse (what do you see in the wall décor or other displays)
- As you tour, are the children actively engaged in activities (what types of activities are you observing and do the teachers seem engaged with them)
In the classroom:
- Does it feel safe? Do you see your child playing in the space? Would you trust the teachers with the care of your child?
- Does it look visually stimulating and engaging?
- Does the teacher acknowledge your presence?
- Is there a posted schedule? What will your child’s day look like?
Look at the classroom’s library and toys (what kind of books do you see – diversity of lead characters (male and female and animal versus human characters)
- Are the books current?
- Do you recognize any of the titles?
- Look at the toys, and especially the dolls.
- Do you see an array of skin colors represented in the dolls, toys and puzzles?
Examine play areas
- Do they have stations established that enable children to choose different areas to play in?
- Do art materials reflect different skin colors?
Step 4: Ask lots of questions, but make your expectations clear as well. Also make clear what you are willing to do. The conversation should be bi-directional.
- Share a little about your child, their personality and your parenting style.
- Emphasize your concern about their education, and your willingness to be a part of your child’s educational preparation. Give examples of things you do at home.
- Ask them how different cultures are reflected in their approach to teaching and learning (this will differ for each classroom).
- Do they approach difference as the responsibility of the parent from that culture to share or do they make it their responsibility to incorporate different cultures into learning?
- How will they approach math, science, reading, social studies?
- Do they offer programs like arts, music, language or sports? And are there additional fees for this programming or is it included in the tuition?
Tour the classroom for your child’s current age as well as older classes. You’ll get a good sense of different teaching approaches that you will encounter as your child ages.
Step 5: Conduct a little more research and make a decision. I always check the state’s registry for child care centers to see if there are any major violations. Most centers have a slight ding or two related to paperwork compliance— I am talking about major things, like a child wondering away. Google their name to see if they have been connected to any major news stories. You could also ask for references by speaking to the parents of currently enrolled children.
It may come across that these tips are written for families with the financial means to pick and choose. But, there is choice even within a constrained budget. You are the parent, and you decide. Choose the areas that are most important and start from there.
Remember — you can always change your mind. If it’s not a good fit, then take the appropriate steps to shift gears. Lastly, always keep your eyes and ears open. As parents, we are our child’s first advocate. Don’t be afraid to raise concerns or make suggestions.
For a deeper dive, read Raising Black Children Who Love Reading and Writing by Dierdre Glenn Paul.
Good luck in your search.