2 years old

Choosing a Nursery School for Ethan


As a teacher (former teacher?  I'm never sure how it works when you're a stay at home Mom, either way, I still feel like a teacher) choosing a nursery, preschool and school for Ethan is a very difficult task!  My last job was as Deputy Headmistress and Manager at a wonderful nursery school in Chelsea, and it's proving impossible to find anything that compares to it (unfortunately we live too far away to make it possible for Ethan to go there).  
So since Ethan was born I've been looking for the perfect place for him to play and learn outside the home.  I was unsure about when I wanted him to start, as a stay at home Mom I'm in no hurry to get him out the door, but I do think it's important for him to develop his social skills and independence to further his Personal, Social and Emotional Development.  Now that we have another baby on the way I think it's time to find Ethan somewhere that's all his own, to keep him busy when I'm occupied by the new little bundle.

Before going to visit nurseries I started researching which ones we would like to see, by searching online (Google search and our local council website) and by asking other parents where they sent their children.  I came up with a list of things that are important to us in choosing a school (these will differ for everyone, but here's our list):

Choosing Schools to Visit
  • type of school 
    • nursery (takes children from babies, operates all year round during working hours)
    • preschool (takes children from 2 or 2 1/2, operates during term time during school hours)
    • Montessori, Steiner, Waldorf, other (different approaches to teaching, often more hands on, more nature based)
  • location - walking distance
    • it's very important to me that a nursery school is close by, I think that the walk to school is a vital part of the day and it just isn't the same when driving or taking public transport
  • premises - shared or own?
    • I prefer nursery schools that have their own permanent location, as they can then fully set up all the time and have the children's work displayed on the walls.  In this case I would consider a nursery with a shared location if I really liked other aspects of it, but I would prefer it not to.
  • schools that it feeds into
    • it would be ideal if the nursery school that we choose sends a lot of children to the primary school that we choose for Ethan, that way he will most likely have a few familiar faces when he goes on to school.

I've also compiled a list of questions that are important to me when looking for a nursery school for Ethan.  I have to say that the most important thing though, is the overall impression of the nursery.  I walked into one the other day, and didn't even take my list of questions out, as I knew from the second that we set foot in the door that it wasn't the place for Ethan.  It looked drab and dirty, the staff looked very unhappy and there was no evidence of the children's artwork on the walls.  It just did not have a warm and cosy feeling that I like to see in a nursery, after all my little boy is going to be spending a lot of time there and I want it to be a special place for him.  Here are my preliminary questions:

Questions for Nursery Schools
Upon starting
  • Do you have space for January or September 2014 or would we go on a waiting list?
  • When would we have to decide when we want to start and for how many days?
  • Do children have to be potty trained before starting?
  • What is the induction process like?  Do we have visits beforehand?  Do the parents stay for the first morning?
  • What happens if he has trouble settling in?

 Daily routine

  •  What is the daily routine like?
  • What systems do you use for teaching reading and numeracy (Jolly Phonics, etc) if any?
  • Are the children given snacks / meals or do they bring their own?
  •  How often do they play outside?
  •  How involved are parents?
  • Are the holidays the same / similar to local state or private schools?
  • Are there any future plans for the school?  Expansion of the premises? Extended to offer full / more days?

  •  What is the ratio of children to adults?
  • Are all of the teachers qualified?  Have they been at the school long?
  • What are the security measures like? Pick up procedures?
  • What is the accident procedure?  What is the sickness policy? (Are all of the staff trained in first aid?)
  • What is the discipline policy?
  • What schools do children go on to attend?
      A lot of these questions are answered on the nursery's website, in the prospectus and during the initial look around the nursery, so I don't always to pull my list out, I just ask the things that I think were missed off.  Some of them are also a bit 'teachery', so I try to ask them in a less obvious way.  
      I like to follow up with an email to thank them for showing us around and to ask any further questions that I may have forgotten.  (This is especially important for a nurseries that we like, and/or if there's a waiting list to get in, it helps to make a good first impression!) 

      Originally I was just looking for preschools, as Ethan doesn't need any of the baby facilities, but I just wasn't finding one that I liked.  We went to see a nursery today that does provide for babies, it's part of a large nursery chain (which I also thought that I wouldn't like) and takes children all year round for extended hours...what can I say, we actually liked it!  It was very unexpected, but the staff were really lovely, the facilities were excellent and everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there.  We are going to continue our search a little bit, just to ensure that we're making the right decision, but I'll be emailing tomorrow to put our name on the waiting list for this one :)

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