Evaluating Nursery Schools

Visiting schools, talking with parents and the director, and observing classes in action will help you gain an understanding of each school setting to determine the “best” nursery schools for your child. Your family values, philosophy, and priorities however will provide you with a critical lens as you consider whether your child will thrive in a particular educational environment.

The following is a list of things to keep in mind as you consider and tour nursery schools.

Location and Program Hours

  • Are you looking for a school in your neighborhood? Near your job? Within easy commuting distance? Near a caregiver or relative?
  • How does distance affect the quality of life for you as a family? Will you be able to participate in school activities? Attend school events that occur in the middle of the day?
  • How will location affect your ability to organize or host play-dates for your child?
  • Will inclement weather hinder your ability to get to and from school? Or add unnecessary stress?
  • Are you seeking a school for the nursery school years only? Or are you interested in a school that continues through lower school? Middle school or even high school?
  • Are you interested in a morning program? Afternoon program? A school day program?
  • Are you seeking to enroll your child in a program five days a week? Or only a few days during the week? Do you need an extended day program?

School Philosophy and Parent Involvement

  • What is the school’s guiding education philosophy? Does it meet your sensibilities and expectations? Are you excited by it?
  • What are the daily routines and schedules? How are these routines articulated to the children? Are they posted in the classroom in a child-friendly way?
  • Do all classrooms follow a set curriculum? What is a typical curriculum? Are community field trips a part of the curriculum?
  • Is structure and pre-academic focus important to you? Or are you more comfortable with a school that focuses on socialization and hands-on learning?
  • How involved are parents in the school? Does the program require that parents dedicate time or service? Do you have the time and ability to volunteer at the required level of commitment?
  • Are there occasions or events where parents can interact with one another?
  • How do teachers maintain contact with parents? What opportunities are there for parents and teachers to discuss their child’s development, engagement in classroom activities, and their successes and challenges?

Classroom Interactions and Physical Environment

  • How many children are in each classroom? How many teachers?
  • Do the children seem engaged and happy? Do the teachers seem engaged in the curriculum?
  • Are the teachers interacting with the children? When they speak with children do they speak warmly and with respect? Do they seem to know the children?
  • How often do children go outside for outdoor play? Is the outdoor space on the school’s premises, adjacent to the school, or nearby?
  • Is there indoor play space for rainy or other challenging weather?
  • How comfortable are you with the way the space is structured?
  • Does the nursery school look clean, well-cared for, and safe?
  • Is children’s original work displayed? Is it at children’s eye level?
  • Are the available activities and materials varied and developmentally appropriate?
  • Do the materials, decorations, and books support diversity?

Director and Teaching Staff

  • Do you feel at ease with the Director? Is she approachable? Is she accessible within the building or tucked away in a hidden spot?
  • Is the Director you will be able to talk with as your child settles into and grows with the program?
  • Do you understand the Director’s role?
  • Does s/he clearly articulate the school’s guiding philosophy?
  • How long have the Director and teaching staff worked with the school? How does the program select new teachers?
  • What kind of professional development opportunities are there for the teaching staff?