Finding a preschool

This wasn’t a topic that I originally planned on blogging about, but I’ve gotten quite a few requests for a post about finding a preschool. Livi started preschool last fall in Tucson -if you’re in Tucson and need recommendations, shoot me an email!- as a way to get some extra help two mornings each week as I worked on the book. When I first started looking, I was really overwhelmed with all of the options especially since I only needed her to go two half days. (Many schools or day cares will require payment of set hours, whether or not you intend to use them. This why was we didn’t end up using the CDC on base; it’s awesome, but you have to pay for full-time care.) The funny thing is that finding a school in Tucson was a piece of cake compared to San Diego. It’s even more competitive here, there are a ton of options, and they’re all insanely expensive.

Here are some of the things that helped me decide on a good spot:

-Go for word of mouth recommendations. I emailed pretty much all of the moms I knew here in San Diego to see if they could recommend a preschool, which helped to narrow down our search. I also had no problem asking locals for recommendations. I talked to some of the moms at Livi’s yoga class and they were able to suggest some more options. For all of the referrals, I Googled the area and read reviews online from other parents.

-Book tours. We had quite a few tours when we first moved here, and it was important for me to bring Liv with us, let her see the space, and also get a feel for it myself.

Some things I looked for:

Cleanliness. This is high on the list. I’ll take a nice deep inhale as we walk in and make sure it smells fresh. I also ask how often the school and toys are cleaned, and how often the kids wash their hands during the day.

How Livi responded. At a couple of schools, she just wanted me to hold her, which was a borderline red flag. At two schools we visited, she kept asking to go play with the kids, and the school directors let her play while we chatted about the programs. This was how we narrowed down our search. If Liv wanted to be there and play with the other kids, I knew she felt comfortable and that we’d found a good place.

I watch the instructors interact with the kids. It was surprising, but at some of my tours, I noticed teachers on their cell phones (!), ignoring the kids (gazing off into space blankly while a small toddler tried to tell them something), and off-putting tones. It was a huge turnoff for me.

Check out the supplies and the curriculum, even though they aren’t the most important factor. We wanted Liv to go to school for the socialization aspect and to be able to interact with other kids, instead of a mini-kindergarten-which-is-now-really-first-grade and being drilled on facts. Something I liked to check out when we visited various schools: the book shelf, and whether they facilitated creative play (like music, dancing, crafts, fun kid stuff). 

The warm fuzzies. I really feel like when you know, you know. With Livi’s school in Tucson, we knew immediately that we’d found the right spot. We found a great school here in San Diego, and the driving distance was a little far, but something felt “off” about it to Tom and myself. So, we decided to wait until we found something that felt right to us. The following week, we got a call from one of our top choices that they had a spot for Liv. I feel like when it’s meant to be, it works out. She adapted really well to her new school, and I think she was so happy to be able to play with kids again.

Mamas: I’d love to hear any tips you have about finding a school for your kiddo(s)!



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  1. Alisha @ Alisha's Appetite on May 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Love the warm fuzzies tip- I feel like it’s like anything. When you know, you know!

  2. Sara @ LovingOnTheRun on May 14, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    I don’t have any kiddos yet but think these are some GREAT recommendations! I can’t believe she is in preschool already – oh how the time flies!

  3. Kaitlyn on May 14, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Ugh as a preschool teacher, it makes me cringe that there are teachers in a preschool somewhere on their cell phones…yikes!!! I think the most important thing is to find a place that is going to support your child’s overall development, and socialization is definitely one of (argueably THE) most important part of preschool. Just my professional opinion 🙂

  4. Sarah on May 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    We’ve been really happy with our son’s “preschool”/daycare. He’s in the younger preschool class and I have been thrilled with his teachers. Watching your kid smile and be loved on by a teacher is a wonderful thing.

  5. Hayley on May 14, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Curriculum is incredibly important. Any preschool (or daycare, for that matter) worth it’s expensive program should have a progressive, intensive curriculum that INCORPORATES music, fun, exploratory play, etc. No preschool will “drill” a kid on facts — they will teach them in a fun way. It’s important to expose kids to letters, numbers, and other content from a young age, especially as American education shifts towards having kids conceptually understand everything.

    Make sure your daycare is doing that. That should NOT be underestimated.

    • Fitnessista on May 15, 2014 at 2:49 am

      I totally agree that curriculum is important, and livs school has a fantastic structure and curriculum that we appreciate. I was saying that academics are not the highest on the totem pole for us right now. Young kids are being pushed academically to the extreme and at this age, it doesn’t offer much benefit to them. liv can count objects and knows her shapes, but that’s from fun games we’ve played at home. School for now is to boost her confidence, socialize with other kids, and enrich her childhood experience with play-based learning

  6. Lauren on May 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    As a pre-school teacher I completely understand your concerns!! I am glad you found a place you feel comfortable with. I always tell parents who are looking for a program to spend time observing, if teachers were willing to act like that with people watching imagine how it is when nobody is watching. Holy moly I can’t believe they even let teachers have their phones out! HUGE red flag for sure. I am a big believer in learning through play when children are young, as you said it is more the learning to be social, a part of a group, then all the academic stuff!

  7. Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome on May 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    I definitely agree with all of these! I taught preschool for 4 years while in college to get my teaching credential so I had some very specific things in mind when I toured schools. Mainly I wanted there to be a good balance between structure and play. There are so many play based schools these days which are great but my son definitely needs some structure. I found one that is was just that as well as so many other wonderful things and he’ll be starting in the fall! I was hoping to find somewhere that served organic snacks and juice to the kids but I’ll be packing his own 🙁 Can’t have it all!

  8. April on May 14, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    So glad you found a place, I can imagine how overwhelming it is in a new City! We are thankful Jack has transitioned from his daycare to Preschool in the Bright Horizons Center, I cannot recommend them enough, Bright Horizons is fabulous, and yeah no one is on their cell phones;). I agree, go with your gut…:)

  9. Lara on May 15, 2014 at 12:11 am

    These are great. I am starting the search as well and definitely understand that warm and fuzzy thing. I also really want it to be play-based, or at least child-led, because everything I’ve read tells me that children learn best through play.

  10. Gretchen on May 15, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I worked with toddlers in a Montessori setting and also taught preschool in a corporate center, so it was interesting to read about your experiences in finding a preschool! I kind of can’t believe that some of the teachers you observed were on their cell phones…eeek. I’m glad you guys found a good fit.

  11. Sabrina on May 15, 2014 at 10:31 am

    My biggest tip for where I live is to save up a lot of money. I had no idea how expensive PRESCHOOL could be!

    And I agree about the academic thing. For now my biggest interest in preschool is having R with a bunch of other kids without the 1:1 adult/kid ratio like when we have playdates or do classes. We do the academic stuff at home in a fun way – for example we just started tracing letters using water and a paintbrush on construction paper. There’s time for all of that at school – for now I just want him to have that social setting.

  12. Cassie Vaughn on May 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Glad you ended up with one you’re really happy about!

  13. Kelly on June 4, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I am curious if you would be willing to share some of your top preschool picks? I am a San Diego Mom to a 1-year-old, and from what I’ve heard it’s never too early to start looking.

    PS – I am a fellow Wildcat, and I loved reading your blog and hearing the familiar Tucson places that I loved during school. I was so excited to see you were moving to SD!

    • Fitnessista on June 4, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      yay, bear down 🙂 always fun to see a fellow wildcat!
      let me know when you’re planning to start and which area and i can email you my research

      • Kelly on June 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm

        We wouldn’t be starting until early 2016, so I haven’t done much research. We live in Serra Mesa (just north of mission valley), so we would consider any place within central SD. Thank you so much!!

  14. Valerie on September 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    What yoga does your daughter go to? What is the studio called? Was looking for one in Point Loma / Liberty Station:)

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