You obviously can’t ask each of these questions at every school you go to. But read over the list and keep some of these issues in mind as you watch and observe. You will learn more by watching and hanging back than you will by posing question after question to the teacher. You want to observe. You want to see the classroom and the teacher and the children in action. Then you will have real questions to ask. “I notice how you handled that. Is that typical?” “What about if that boy went further than he did and hit the other boy...what would you have done?” “Do you always give activities to the children or do they sometimes get to choose their own?”
Activities and Materials
Are there a wide variety of interesting activities that engage the children? Are the activities and toys in good shape, clean and orderly in their presentation? Is there a mixture of open-ended activities and task-focused materials? Is the classroom bright and cheerful without being busy and overwhelming? Do children have sufficient independent time each morning? If there is a schedule, notice how many transitions. The less, the better.
Are they happy? Are they connected to the children? Do they feel well taken care of by their boss? How long have they been teaching? Is this a chosen profession? Are they parents?
Do they have one? What is it?
Are they happy and engaged with activities and each other? Do they respond to the teachers easily? Find a child who looks like yours and watch that child for a while. How do other children treat her? How about teachers?
Ask if this is a typical day. There are always days more hectic or calm than others.
Do not ask about individual children or expect the teacher to discuss children’s difficulties or temperaments with you. But you can ask how the teacher deals with behavior problems especially those you know your child to have.
Be forthcoming about your son or daughter and describe them the best you know how. You don’t want them to come in as a surprise. You want a teacher who can embrace each child’s differences.
Look carefully at the environment.
Does it seem large enough for the amount of children present? How about outside time? Do teachers continue to engage the children? Are there places to be quiet and cozy? Loud and active? Busy and concentrated? Places to be alone?
How does it feel?
Remember your child’s temperament. Are there animals? Chores and responsibilities? Do the teachers allow the children to carry some responsibilities? Are there opportunities to take risks? To work out social issues?
What about parent involvement?
Do they welcome parents into the classroom? Do they require it? Are there ways to be involved? Are there opportunities for the parents to get together? How does the teacher keep in touch with you about your child’s day? Are there opportunities for conferences?
Is it safe?
Do they have a radon abatement system? Are there enough fire exits?
Most important—keep in mind your child and who she is. Does this feel like a place she will love coming?
Is this a place you can leave your child happily?