So many different types of preschools – especially in Portland!  Should you go with Montessori? Waldorf? “Child-centered”? “Teacher-led”?

It can help a great deal to research these various approaches and philosophies. But even more importantly, you need to determine what your specific needs are and visit your candidate preschools.

Begin with basics. Realistically, what can you spend? A well-appointed preschool with a small child-to-adult ratio and an inspiring progressive philosophy may be your ideal, but if the “tuition” exceeds $10,000 a year …. well, you might ultimately do better by your child by not adding quite so much stress to your family’s budget.

Also, how far are you willing to travel each day, to drive your child to school? If your perfect preschool is a 30-minute drive away, can you realistically work that into your day each day, without exhausting yourself? Or can you find a carpool, if the school is really that good? If not, location may be a critical factor for you. You may simply need to find a preschool that is reasonably close to your home or work. If you determine the maximum amount of daily to-and-from-preschool driving you can do, this will narrow your choices nicely.

A similar consideration is what hours of the day you require childcare. A great school that closes two hours before you (and your partner) get off from work will obviously not meet your needs, unless you can somehow arrange additional childcare (and school pickup) each day.

Once you’ve figured out your basic personal requirements, the next step is to actually go to the schools. Meet staff. Get a feeling for the environment. Do you like what’s on the walls? Do the kids who are there already seem happy and friendly? Is the atmosphere clean and bright and inviting? Would you like to spend hours here each day if you were a child? Do the teachers seem genuinely friendly and welcoming? Do they answer your questions clearly? When they explain what they do each day, does that feel good to you, and could you imagine your child thriving here?

Try to talk to a few of the children. Do you like them? Do they seem smart and stimulated? Can you imagine them being your child’s friend?

If the answer to all of the above questions is yes, then get references. Make sure the school staff is properly accredited. Look online for reviews of the preschool. Above all, trust your gut. This place is where your child is going to form many foundational impressions of school and life and friendship.  Be sure you feel solidly good about that.