Knowing the types of preschools and day cares available can be advantageous for families.

According to Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, and Amanda Lincoln, junior kindergarten coordinator at University School in Shaker Heights, finding the right program begins with starting the search early.

“Parents should begin thinking about day care or preschool options between eight to 12 months before their target enrollment date to ensure enrollment at their choice facility,” Dessler said.

Lincoln said families should start even earlier.

“As soon as they know they are pregnant or expecting, I would strongly suggest parents start looking at day cares or preschools they are interested in and getting on those wait lists,” she said. “There are plenty of parents I talk to that can’t get into a program because they didn’t sign up soon enough. It is good to do this as soon as possible as it allows them to get familiar with what is out there and what is offered. If something is that important to families, they need to take a moment to research that as soon as possible.”

Both professionals mentioned various, more specific things parents should consider.

“It is great for parents to get an idea of the curriculum that a day care or preschool program offers,” Lincoln said. “They should be educated on what they feel would be best for their child. By looking into specific programming, they need to figure out what is best for their schedule. Not every program offers flexible hours for specific careers. A lot of parents also look for what is convenient for them.”

Dessler said, “Some important points to consider when researching quality early childhood programs include but are not limited to, a commitment to health and safety, a caring and nurturing staff, the encouraging of healthy interactions and relationships, a stimulating environment, a healthy student-teacher ratio and school readiness.”

And if religion is important to the family, Dessler said it should be considered as well.

“Jewish early childhood programs should also foster a love of Judaism and a tangible enthusiasm for Shabbos and Jewish festivals,” he said. “You should be able to feel it in the air.”

When it comes to who makes the final decision, both professionals said parents do know their children best.

“The decision of choice for an early childhood program is based upon parental experience and philosophy, research and/or the recommendations of friends but the decision is always parent-driven,” he said. “Parents can endorse the program to their child and the children should be comfortable in the learning environment.”

Lincoln said, “At an early age, children don’t have input on where they go. It’s the parents’ responsibility to find what is best for the child at such an early age, whether they are going to day care or preschool.”

But before making a choice, parents should visit several campuses to get a feel for each program.

“Schedule a visit of the program and tour its facilities,” Dessler said. “Capture the excitement and see firsthand why the program has earned its reputation.”

Lincoln said, “Go to an admissions event. Every school has these events, usually in the fall, winter and spring. It is great because parents get to attend those and get a feel for the types of families that go there, meet the teachers and see the school. Also, make a list of what is important to you. Take that list to whatever school you’re visiting to take notes and compare.”

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