If there is anything I learned through my preschool hunt, it is this – preschool hunt is very subjective. How I assess a school is going to be very different from how another person assesses a school. What is important to me may not be important to you. Preschool hunt is largely influenced by how we want to bring up our children, and this is one thing no two parents are alike.
The very first mistake I made was to rely entirely on other people’s recommendation. Due to the lack of experience and plain laziness, what I did was to simply see where a family member put her children and follow suit. It turned out to be a complete disaster, through no fault of that family member. I should have done my homework and been more involved in the process.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should not ask around, see where other parents are sending their kids and what they say about the schools. In fact, it is important that you do so. What I am saying is that you should not rely solely on such information to make your decision. There are so many other things to consider!
After making the mistake that I made, I found myself in a situation where I had to do my own hunt from scratch within a month. That was only shortly after my son started school. I sent in the notice of termination and had only 1 month to find another school for him.
I decided to sit down and think through what I wanted in a school. If you do an internet search and visit websites like ParentCentre, you will find articles and checklists relating to the subject of hunting for schools. Of course, these are overseas sites and some of the factors for consideration are not relevant to us. It would be good for you to sit down, think through what exactly you want out of your ideal preschool, what are your needs, your child’s needs, and come up with a checklist for yourself. As I said, such things are very subjective. Your list will not be same as my list, even though there will be some common factors.
There were a few factors that were very important to me :
1.It must be a childcare centre.
I have written about the different types of preschools in my other article Preschools – What Are They. For me, one of the main reason for sending Dominic to school was so that I would have some time to take care of the baby. In other words, I needed a child-minding service for half a day. Hence, the school has to meet this need of taking Dominic off my hands for half a day, as well as not having school holidays for me to deal with. Based on this crucial need, all kindergartens and enrichment centres were struck off my list.
If your need to to find a childcare service to take care of your child while you are at work, you should not be looking at a kindergarten or enrichment centre just because it is very well known for producing good students. Unless you have alternative childcare arrangement for the rest of the time when your child is not in school and during school holidays, these schools will not be suitable for you.
What I am trying to say here is that you have to know what you need. A good education is definitely a relevant and important need. However, you have to prioritise your needs and if you can’t have both, then you will know which is more important.
2.Must Not be at HDB Flat Void Decks or in Commercial Buildings
It is very important to me that Dominic gets enough outdoor time. I am under the impression that schools situated at the void decks of HDB flats usually lack this. I could be wrong. In fact, I think MCYS may stipulate a certain amount of outdoor time. Nevertheless, I was betting on the fact that a school having its own grounds will provide more outdoor opportunity for the kids.
As for schools situated in a commercial building, I viewed them unfavourably because I didn’t like the fact that the kids are in enclosed, air-conditioned space the whole day. Bugs and germs spread easily within the ventilation system. On top of that, the children may not even get to be in the sun at all.
3.Must have strict sick child policy
I have visited a number of schools and almost every single one will warn me that my child will fall sick frequently at least during the first 6 months. The explanation is that children mingle and germs get passed around, so it takes a while for a new child to build up his resistance.
Although there is a grain of truth in this explanation, I am of the opinion that the school cannot use this as an easy cop out for their lack of vigilance in handling sick children and hygiene in school. I know some schools are pretty lax in their sick child policy, and they tend to succumb to pressures from working parents to take in a sick child. I have personally witness this in one of the childcare centres near my home. A boy was coughing very badly – a very chesty cough and I could hear a lot of thick phlegm – and he was also having a runny nose. Mucous was flowing down his nose and he was actually licking it up! He was playing with his classmates in the playground while coughing and licking up mucous. When I alerted the teachers about his condition, all I was told was that the parents were aware of his condition and had already given him medication. The teachers didn’t even bother to go and clean up the boy! This is the kind of school that I will never send my kids to.
You may argue that the school must also be considerate and accomodating to working parents who may not be able to stay home and take care of their children for every minor ailment. But as a parent, I am also sure that you don’t want your healthy child to be sick all the time just because of other sick kids in school. This is a matter of social responsibility and I would rather a school be strict than lax. Besides, if your child is not well, he should be resting at home so that he can recover faster and better.
4.Must have school bus service
I don’t have a car and can’t ferry my child around. On top of that, I need to consider the fact that I would be having a baby. To me, it would be more convenient for me to just go and pick Dominic up from the school bus, which will send him to his doorstep, than to have to bring the baby along, rain or shine, to send his brother to school and bring him home.
One thing I found out was that not all schools have school bus service. I figure most parents must be well-to-do enough to own a car and ferry their kids to school everyday. This posed a problem for me. Some of the schools had to be struck off the list because they didn’t have school bus service.
Since I am on the topic of school bus, it is important to find out whether the school bus also has an attendant to take care of the children. It is a requirement by law that school bus ferrying preschoolers have an attendant with the children at all times.
5.Must have half day service
This may not seem obvious. It certainly did not occur to me in the beginning that some childcare centres might not have half day service. Well, I soon found out about this and again, since my intention was to send Dominic for half day care only, schools with full day service only had to be struck off the list. It’s a waste of money to pay full day fee for half day’s service.
6.Must not be too far away from home
If the school is too far away, the child will have to wake up early in the morning, travel over a long distance to and fro, and reach home late everyday. This is very tiring for the child and a waste of time. My threshold is 30 minutes from leaving the house to reaching school. This is the time for taking a school bus, since I have to take into consideration the bus going to other places to pick up other children. If I were to send Dominic there myself, the time taken would be much shorter.
Furthermore, there are bound to be days when we have to pick Dominic up ourselves (e.g. Sick days) or we have to visit the school for various other reasons. Having a school too far away from home will be extremely inconvenient.