This is a printable list of questions you should ask a preschool teacher when you meet or over the phone when considering their service.
Each item on the list can be clicked for a more in depth explanation. (You will not be taken away from this page.)
The teacher should be able to discuss the ethos – you don’t have to understand every detail but seeing that the teacher understands is important, and that he/she is enthusiastic about the principles and knows how they relate to the child’s learning and development.
The maximum class is likely to be 22 and the smaller classes range from 5 to 11. According to the Childcare Regulations the child to teacher ratio is 1 teacher to 11 children. A lower ratio is a bonus for your child as they will get more attention/direction from the teacher. What size you prefer will depend on your child’s temperament. There are pros and cons to both large and small classes so it’s not something to be overly concerned about – as long as the legal requirements are being adhered to. Don’t be afraid to question the management if you see that they are understaffed.
The best answer to this is no answer. Each child should have freedom to play with who and what they like at any given time (as long as the toy they want is not in another child’s hand!). Some structure is created by small routines like hanging up coats and putting lunch in the fridge, but aside from this the best services will have no strict routine. It should be flexible – to adapt to the child’s personality and mood at the time.
You don’t have to understand the answer perfectly but the teacher should be able to discuss Aistear as it is the National Curriculum Framework for children in Ireland from the age of 0 to 6. If the school takes part in Learning Story Awards, or has staff at Fetac Level 8 you can be confident that they understand Aistear in depth.
Bear in mind that preschools are not yet paid by the DCYA for hours outside the times when children attend. This puts a strain on schools when creating documentation of your child’s development and having the time to share this with parents. This work is usually unpaid and so quantity will vary from school to school. Informal chats at drop-off and pick-up time are usually the main form of feedback (and quite often the most important form) but you may also be given observations and reports at the end of terms/year.
Some schools will provide snacks at an additional charge and some schools may have an area where clothes can be stored. This might mean a school bag is not needed. Be conscious of the size of the area available for school bags and try not to choose a bag/lunch box that is too big. Bags on wheels are not a good idea as children do trip over them.
It can be good for children to go on school trips. It builds a sense of community and strengthens friendships when they visit places together. They should be optional so alternative care should be arranged if – for whatever reason – you prefer your child did not attend.
Time out is not a good method of behaviour management. Children should be treated with respect and with understanding of their cognitive processes. The best method of dealing with conflicts is anticipating them and gently directing behaviour or giving children the language they need to express their wishes before things escalate to conflict. Negative behaviour should be addressed but swiftness and consistency is key. Language used should be positive and simple so that rules are easy for children to understand. “Nice hands” is a better phrase to use than “no hitting”. Teachers should all use the same method and should return to play and positive feelings quickly.
Schools can involve families in many ways - from helping on event days, on school trips, playing an instrument, reading stories or coming in to discuss their job or interests. Don’t be afraid to offer to do something as children are usually chuffed when their family members come to school. You could help make a bird feeder, bring oranges and make orange juice, bring a box and decorate it… you don’t have to be a pilot or a vet to come to school and discuss your job.