Finding the best fit

Published 10:27 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019

I had a chance earlier this week to tour a pair of pre-kindergarten programs, following Virginia First Lady Pam Northam around as she visited The Children’s Center and Elephant’s Fork Elementary School and read to children at both places.

This age group is of particular interest to me, as I have a 3-year old in preschool now and have had more experience than I would have liked in trying to navigate finding a quality preschool and childcare program.

The Children’s Center — I visited the location at 300 Executive Court — has eight locations across the region. Suffolk Public Schools offers Early Start, a Virginia Preschool Initiative program that serves 422 students and designed to provide a high-quality preschool experience for children.

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As I’ve discovered the hard way, a preschool or daycare that’s good for one child may not be good for another, but not everyone is fortunate to be able to simply move their children from one location to another in search of the best fit, and many places have waiting lists on top of that.

The best advice I can give is that parents and guardians have to find the best fit possible up front, and then work in partnership with the preschool or daycare to ensure that it is meeting their child’s needs.

And even then, it may not be a guarantee, but at least then, you’ll know if a location turns out not to be the right fit and can begin looking for other options.

While my daughter wasn’t a good fit at the preschool and daycare she attended last year, I wouldn’t outright not recommend them to other people. As busy parents, my wife and I did our best due diligence on each place, visiting them and talking with staff at both places.

The regret for us with the preschool is that we were not able to observe preschool classes, as they were not in session in the summer, and the regret when we were forced out of the preschool and went to find another place is that we only had about two weeks to do it and had to make a rushed choice.

That meant calling and emailing preschools and daycares within about a 20- to 30-mile radius of where we live, scheduling visits and gathering information, and then determining, in the short timeframe, the best and most affordable option to us.

Our top choice once we learned about the preschool was the one where our daughter is in now, and she is thriving at that one, thankfully. We were also fortunate that the preschool provided some financial assistance to make it affordable for us.

But because our daughter was not old enough, that choice wasn’t available in late December and January when we needed to quickly find our daughter a new preschool/daycare home.  Others did not have space available, several were out of our price range, and yet more had schedules that wouldn’t work for one of the three of us. A few places did not feel anywhere close to a good fit. Thus, we ended up with the least objectionable and most affordable option, and in that one, our daughter picked up bad behaviors, which fortunately have all but dissipated in the first few days at her new preschool.

I say I wouldn’t outright not recommend a preschool or daycare, but knowing our child the way we do, and having seen now dozens of preschools and daycares in action, we have a much better idea of what would be a good fit for our daughter.

To find that right fit, I would recommend visiting and spending time at a location when children are present so you can observe what is happening, talk to staff at the school, and talk to other parents, and even visit the Virginia Department of Social Services website to read the inspection reports. If possible, see if your child can give the preschool or daycare a test drive.

In my so-far limited observations, Suffolk appears to have positive childcare and preschool choices for children that will prepare them well for school, but there appears to be a demonstrated need for more.

It’s hard work to find a good fit for a child, but it’s worth it when you see your child thriving having fun. I wish that for everyone.