Sign up

Finding the best preschool for your child’s needs

Calgary is fortunate to have so many choices and approaches to Early Childhood Education. Preschools are primarily limited to four hours per day and can be in two-, three-, or five-day sessions. Anything longer than four hours falls under childcare and there are different regulations to reflect the longer time. 

Learning in an early childhood program should be through a play-based curriculum. What is play-based learning? Too many parents think play is somehow not academic, and that their children will not be prepared for school. Play is primarily the best way for a child to learn. It is the child’s “work.” A good preschool program utilizes physical play, social play, constructive play, fantasy play, and structured games. While outdoor play is excellent, keep in mind that dressing and undressing up to 24 preschoolers in our winter city will take up a huge chunk of the two and a half hours a regular preschool program uses. If your preschooler is already outside most days, don’t base your decision on just this one aspect. 

Here is a checklist to help you decide on the most suitable preschool program for your child.

Physical play. If you want your child outside every session, look for a facility with outdoor play space. However, a program that utilizes indoor space for movement, activity and music is certainly sufficient if your child is attending half-days.

Social play. Look for a well-equipped playroom that encourages interaction amongst their peers. There should be equipment that is well-maintained and a good variety of “activity centres” that spark conversations and excitement. There needs to be accessible books and places for children to enjoy those books as well as places for children to quietly read or decompress. Look for childsized couches, comfy chairs, etc.

Constructive play. Look for large and small building blocks, and space to build structures. It should include sand, water or rice tables, as well as magnetic and building blocks, to spark imagination and build gross and fine motor skills.

Fantasy play. Look for dress-up costumes and hats and well-equipped play kitchens. There should be space to accommodate groups of children to interact.

Structured games are usually teacher-directed and are a valuable tool to encourage cooperation in taking turns. 

If this is your child’s first experience in a preschool setting, you need to take your time to find the most suitable program based on your child’s personality and needs. This means that your choice should not be based solely on where everyone you know has their child placed, convenient location or hours, or because the program is a brand, etc.

Before you start your research, stop and really think about your child. Does your child become anxious with new environments, meeting new children or adults? While some anxiety is perfectly normal in preschoolers, if your child is frequently uncomfortable in certain new situations, you need to look for an environment and staff that will not overwhelm him/her. Is your child slightly behind in speech or other areas of development? The Government of Alberta provides funding for children with mild to moderate developmental deficits to qualifying preschool programs. Does your child need a morning or afternoon program? Don’t discount the program entirely if your schedule doesn’t fit with your job. If the program is perfect in every other aspect, think about how those ten months of difficulty for you will make the difference in your child’s life. Looking back, a ten-month sacrifice on your part might be a positive turning point for your child.

Open houses

All preschools are and must be licensed by the province. You can ask to see their latest inspection and health inspection reports.

Facility. Does it look clean? Does there appear to be enough space and equipment?

Staff. How long have the staff been teaching that program? Is there a high turnover of  staff? New staff every single year might indicate a problem. 

Communication. This is critical and should involve meaningful newsletters, Zoom meetings, and secure apps such as Homeroom to allow the staff to show daily activities and curriculum.

Parent volunteers. There may be requirements for parent volunteers in a program and this may not fit your work schedule, or you may not be comfortable volunteering.

Parent handbook. This should be available either in a hard copy or online. It will outline child guidance policies and valuable information for you and your child. 

Curriculum. There are many paths to take in early childhood education. There are familiar brand names such as Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf, etc. There are outdoor nature schools, parent co-ops, faith- and language-based programs as well. 

You, as a parent, are the ultimate authority on your child. Trust your instincts. Do your homework and watch your child thrive in the best environment tailored to your child’s needs.


Maureen is now, after 33 years as director of The Think Sun Preschool, enjoying retirement. She continues to write and share her experience in Early Childhood Education.


See our related articles:

Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2024 Calgary’s Child