When the girls in my NCT group started to go back to work at the end of their maternity leave, our meet ups were suddenly aflame with the talk of daycare. Who was going where? The benefits of one over another? It got, dare I say, a tad competitive and it was the topic of conversation for weeks. God, it was boring. For me. For no other reason that I couldn’t join in. I wasn’t going back to work. I was one of the “lucky ones” apparently. Not that it felt like it at the time. It wasn’t my first plan to give up work after having my son and it left me feeling thoroughly isolated. For a couple of weeks, then I got over myself!
However, the experience left it’s mark. Despite shocked mothers telling me I needed to get Oscar’s name down for preschool immediately (but what I felt was years in advance) I point blank refused. I’d been given the opportunity not to have to worry about ‘all that’ and I resented now being told I had to. I was such a fool. I had no idea how much he’d need preschool when the time came. Or how much I would.
Eventually I capitulated and began to think about where he might go. There are so many nurseries/preschools in and around Haslemere, we really are spoilt for choice. As he was about 20 months old at the time and wouldn’t be able to start until at least the term after he turned 2 and a half (January 2015) I thought we had bags of time. I was wrong. The wide eyed mothers who’d looked at me in shock had been right. Others did put their children down for preschool during (or even before!) their earliest days. Meaning I was somewhat late to the party with my near two year old and it was something of a kick in the teeth to discover that the school we’d chosen didn’t have any places available until September 2015! So my first tip for finding a preschool, is not to be complacent about getting your child’s name down, particularly if you have somewhere in mind.
Despite the long wait, we went ahead and put his name down. It was suggested we could have him go elsewhere until his place became available. It was a valid suggestion, just not one we felt would work for us. As it happened, several families ‘ahead’ of us on the list, declined their places meaning he was able to start in January 2015. So my second tip is don’t be put off by long waiting lists.
So how do you chose the preschool thats right for you and your child? Everyone’s criteria is different, and that’s good. What was important for us might not be for you and vice versa. Thats why I loved having such a large choice locally. For me, the most important criteria was location. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of being a driver. I could fall in love with a nursery, but if I simply couldn’t get there, what would be the point? That narrowed the field fairly dramatically.
After location, the school’s ethos really had to be one we agreed with. Everyone assumed Oscar would go to our geographically closest nursery, which happened to be a church run one. We were adamant that as atheists this would be unfair to both Oscar (to be taught one thing at school and another at home) and to another child who might miss out on a place we’d only half heartedly taken. So, close as it was, and lovely as it is, that one was off the list.
So once the short list was drawn up, the best thing I did was visit them. I personally feel there is little of value to be learnt from online research where preschools are concerned. I would highly recommend leaving the ofsted reports and reviews at home and getting yourself into the place you’re interested in. Don’t get me wrong, having a gander online is useful. I wouldn’t have found ours without it, but in my opinion nothing can replace the experience of visiting the school itself. I wanted to be able to see where and how my son would spend his time and (let’s not beat about the bush) our money. I tried looking at preschools with children in and without and would highly recommend visiting when other students are present, if at all possible. It’s hard to see the dynamic of an empty classroom and for me this was really important.
As it turned out the preschool I fell in love with and knew I wanted him to go to as soon as I walked through the door, was the one I felt most calm in. It wasn’t the newest or the most snazzy but I just knew it was ‘the one’. Kind of like your wedding dress, I guess. You may want to make your judgement based on more than just a gut instinct and that’s no bad thing. But for me, I just knew.
He’s been going there for five months now and I’ve yet to question that gut instinct. The staff have been as proactive and supportive as I could have hoped for and Oscar has already shown huge improvement in language, communication and socialisation. But mostly he’s happy to go. And Dylan’s Ice Cream are happy for the business they get out of me every Monday morning when I drop Oscar off and head there to drink coffee and use the excellent free WiFi to write my posts.
Yes, when the time came, I really did need preschool, as much as he did.
A truncated version of this article first appeared in the January 2015 Haslemere and Midhurst NCT Magazine.