Finding the right preschool for our Jewish children has become serious business! For some, the choice is simple, and children attend school at the synagogue where the family belongs. Others, however, do not have a preschool at their synagogue, do not belong to a synagogue, or just prefer to do their due diligence.
The pressure is strong to select the right school – the best school – and the competition is often excessive. The bottom line? Our children will flourish in a safe and nurturing environment. Here are a few things to consider when making your preschool decision:
Is denomination important to you? If you identify with a particular denomination and would like your child to attend a preschool from that movement, that may help limit the number of schools to visit. If you are flexible, you may have a little more work to do, but intuition will assist you in your decision-making. In addition to denomination, begin to consider what parts of “Jewish” you want your child to learn. Identify the reasons – and values – behind your decision to attend a Jewish preschool.
Visit the school. when I say visit the school, I don’t mean meet the director and take a tour. Ask to sit in on a classroom. Visit on a day when there is a special holiday activity and observe the energy at the school. Take note of the artwork decorating the hallways and the classrooms. Notice how you feel when you enter the building. Watch the interactions between teachers and children and also between teacher and teacher.
Meet the Rabbi In most synagogue preschools, you can expect rabbinical involvement to some degree. A rabbi may oversee the preschool, run Shabbat services and song singing every Friday, and/or be more involved on a daily basis. When meeting with the rabbi, it is important to get a feel for his or her philosophy for the school, Jewish education, and a feel for his or her personality.
Ask about the extras. This is the day and age of extra-curricular activities, and most preschools offer additional classes after class. These electives require additional expenses and typically take place in the afternoon. If these extra-curricular choices are important to you or if your child will be at preschool all day, you’ll want to have an idea about the types of activities offered and the fee for those extras.
Inquire about finances. Sending your child to a private, Jewish preschool can be costly. In addition, there may be additional fees incurred throughout the year. These extra fees may include field trip expenses, holiday gifts, or snack fees. It is important to know up front what is and is not included in your yearly tuition.
Find out about the curriculum. It might seem silly to ask to see the curriculum at a preschool, but the answers will give you great information about the school’s philosophy and educational approach. Some schools are more developmental and emphasize the learning and social skill development that takes place in a nurturing and play-centered approach. Others provide a more rigorous academic environment and may send work home, have more desk-time instruction, and focus less on developmental growth.
There is a lot to think about, and the task may feel overwhelming. Knowing what to ask when you “interview a school” will help you feel confident about the choice you are making. Your intuition will play a large role in determining what school is right for your child. If you walk into a school and feel excited and at home – you may have found the right place!