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Switching Preschools – I wish I’d Thought About….

on Thu, 09/06/2012 - 15:29

My daughter went to a neighborhood preschool when she was 3.  It was right around the corner from where we lived.  She had warm and loving teachers and made some great 3-year-old friends.  There was just one issue – the outdoor space.  It wasn’t just small.  It was tiny - a sliver of space along side the building.  There was barely space to run.

The school was being renovated, and when I asked about plans for how the outdoor play area might be expanded, I learned it was to be made even smaller during the renovations.

We looked for a program with a great outdoor space

So my husband and I started to look at alternative programs and naturally focused on the outdoor space.  We found a wonderful school that centered the curriculum on the outdoors and had multiple outdoor spaces. Each outdoor area was different.  In one children climbed and played on a large wooden train. Another had trees to climb.  Another had large building blocks.  The school’s philosophy appealed to us. The children spent most of their time outdoors.  They had snack outdoors. They read books outdoors. They even did art projects outdoors.

Sounds wonderful, right?

We made the switch but something was missing

We made the switch, and for her second year of preschool my daughter went to the school with the fabulous outdoor space and the wonderful outdoor focused curriculum. But something was missing. She wasn’t exactly unhappy going to the new school but she didn't quite seem at ease either.

Every day when I picked her up she told me that she had played a game called “invisible witch” with other children. But when I talked to her teachers, and asked who she played this game with they described how she stood on the sidelines by herself and watched other children play. My husband and I pieced together that she made up a story about playing with other kids to make us and maybe herself feel better.

I eventually put my finger on what was missing from her new school: the warm relationships so present in her first school.   At her new school, the teachers stood back and let her find her own way, and the other families and children were already connected. There didn’t seem to be any mechanisms in place to welcome a new child.

We talked to the teachers about how to help her feel more connected

We talked to the teachers about ways to help our daughter feel more connected to the new program. To encourage new friendships we made play dates with children in her class. Eventually my daughter felt more connected to the teachers and children at her new school. By January she had a best friend and had a great second half of the year.

Was it the right decision to switch my daughter’s preschool? It might have been in the long run, but in making the decision my husband and I focused only on the outdoor space - the one thing missing from her first preschool - and the outdoor focused curriculum in the new preschool - which we loved. We probably could have given more weight to my daughter’s relationships with the teachers and children in her first preschool and the way the new school and the teachers welcomed new families and children.

Since preschool, my daughter has made many friends and now faces another school transition, this time to middle school.  When she heard I was writing about the time we switch her preschool she wanted to look around the website I was writing for.  After reading an article about preparing for preschool she shared that we might want to add that even if teachers say to bring a toy to school, they’ll probably encourage children leave it in their cubby anyhow She also mentioned that shopping together for new clothes might get a preschooler excited about going to school - and she added that it would certainly be a good thing to do with a kid her age.

Editor's note:

The NAEYC Program Standards

I would recommend to anyone comparing preschools to think about the programs you are considering across all the 10 NAEYC Program Standards.  You might be focused on one aspect (like we were with the outdoor space) when all aspects - (like relationships and family engagement) are just as important.


Thanks for sharing your story.  Although it doesn't feel great when we look back and realize we could have done better these are the moments we learn from.

Don't mean this as a critiscism just a comment. it's hard to pay attention to what our children need when we're focused on what jumps out at us. Your story describes that well.

Susan, I had a very similiar experience when one of my kiddos was in preschool.  It is amazing how much you value those relationships until you go somewhere and find they are missing.  Thanks for this thoughtful piece!

I am a pre-school teacher and while we try to provide wonderful environmental experiences, the real richness of our program does come from relationships! Loved this piece.  

I am a preschool teacher at a local church and I make it a point to create a meaningful relationship with my preschoolers as well as their parents. I also allow my preschoolers to bring toys from home every day and gave parents guidelines to follow so they know what is and is not allowed and the children are allowed to play with them every day. I have seen and heard of places where children don't get to take their share toys out and I refuse to be one of them. I have been allowing children to bring toys from home for years and have no problems, it has really helped develop their sharing abilities. I had a parent tell me last week they were considering other preschools just to make sure their children's needs were being met and in the end decided to stay with us because of the relationship I have with them and their children, so it does make a difference and made me feel good as a teacher. I don't just teach children, I love them.

Very good point! We should pay more attention to our children's education. Hopefully I will be able to make the right choice for my son. Wayne Ensrud