By Ben Mardell and Melissa Tonachel

Q: There are so many programs and options for kindergarten—how will I know which kindergarten is right for my child? Do you have any tips on what to look for or what to ask when visiting schools to make sure I get the right fit for my soon-to-be kindergartner?

A: If you are fortunate enough to have options, choosing among different programs is, in part, finding the right fit for your child (for example, some children will do better with more structure, others will thrive with more choice). It is also a matter of finding a program that aligns with your goals for your child and what you value in an educational experience. Look for classrooms where children learn to be creative, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. It is also important to seek out classrooms and schools where there is warmth and caring and children are valued members of a community.

With these goals in mind, during a classroom visit you would want to see children building in the block area, at play in the dramatic play area, exploring a variety of art materials, using open-ended materials outside, and engaged in small group activities. At a classroom meeting you would want to see the group having a real conversation (where ideas are built off one another and there is careful listening) and singing together. Throughout your visit, you would want to hear laughter and expressions of excitement and joy.

Learn as much as you can about the philosophy of the school, and ask: is this the right place for us? You will not find, or even want, 100% alignment, but do you feel welcomed and respected? Is this a place that might enrich your understanding of education? If it is not the right place for you and your family, it won’t be the right program for your child.


Ben Mardell is associate professor and program director of early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Melissa Tonachel is a kindergarten teacher in Boston, MA.

Source: Adapted from an online Q&A that took place in 2011.