How to choose the right preschool for your child

There's no one, right answer, and there are no perfect preschools., but there are many great preschools out there that can be "just right" for your child.

How to choose the right preschool for your child

I've seen some amazing preschools… and getting in isn't always easy. Some require you to get on their registration page at midnight on January 1st to snag your spot. Others essentially require you to get on a waiting list upon your child's birth. Not kidding.

The preschool selection scene can get pretty intense. We know the early years matter, but will getting into the "right" preschool really determine the trajectory of your child's remaining decades?

Between my own personal and professional experience and a fantastic podcast conversation I had recently with my friend Deborah Stewart, a phenomenal teacher and mentor at Teach Preschool, I've found that considering a preschool is more about finding the best fit for your child than about finding the one "perfect" school.

For every neonatal waiting list, I've also seen amazing things happening in small preschools with no waiting list at all. There are certainly things to consider to gauge overall quality, but the biggest thing to remember is that it's more important to follow your child's lead than to follow the crowd.

In choosing a preschool for your child, I recommend paying attention to these five aspects:

1. Your child

First and foremost, spend some time thinking about your child. What kind of environment do they thrive in? What makes them nervous, excited, uncomfortable, or at ease?

Do they need more structure or more freedom? More opportunity for big body movement like climbing, jumping, and running, or for long spans of quiet creativity?

What will be most challenging about preschool? Will it be the separation from you? Will it be making friends? Will it be following directions? In what areas would you like to see the most growth in your child after a year of preschool?

Thinking about your child's personality and tendencies help you recognize when the school everyone else is raving about might not actually match up with what your child needs most.

2. The teachers

If you're able to observe the teachers at work, watch to see how they interact with the kids. Hopefully, you see a teacher who is warm and enthusiastic about teaching. Someone who doesn't just stand to the side and play lifeguard, but who gets low to make eye contact and connect with the children. Look for a teacher who is engaging and creates a language-rich environment, but not because they're the ones doing all the talking!

Consider your own child's personality, and observe how this teacher approaches them. Keep in mind that a teacher you may love to have as a friend yourself may not be the best connection for your child.

3. The environment

If you look around the classroom and school, they should obviously be clean and orderly. But I would bristle at an environment that looked TOO perfect.

It should look like small children actually play there. You want to see materials that children can access and put away themselves (even if that means the place doesn't look like a perfect magazine spread).

Find areas of the room where you can sit on the floor or low to the ground and see the environment from your child's perspective. Are items easy to reach? Is the furniture and the decoration of the room oriented to a child's view or an adult's?

You want to see signs that the children have taken some ownership of their environment by creating items displayed in the room and building. That art shouldn't look like it was mass-produced with every piece looking the same. They also shouldn't appear like they've been "fixed" by adults who made them look "right."

Above all, classrooms should look like one big invitation to play!

See whether there are spots for hands-on sensory exploration, block building, dress up, art, and an irresistible book area. There should ideally be a balance of quiet areas and louder areas as well as space for big movements (like a playspace outside) and times and spaces for calm stillness.

Further, check out the bathroom facilities. The preschool years run right along the same timeline for most children to be newly potty-trained and as a newbie, using a public toilet can present a whole new challenge. Are the bathrooms close to the classroom (or ideally IN it)? Can the sink and toilet be used independently by a small child? Are children able to use the bathroom whenever they need to?

Pay attention to your other senses beyond sight as well. Particularly, how does the environment sound? A room or building full of children shouldn't be silent—you should notice a happy, busy buzz of children interacting. At the same time, thinking back to what you considered about your child, make a note as to whether it's too loud or too quiet for your child's comfort level.

Again, there's no perfect answer here, but particularly if you have a child with sound sensitivities, that "ideal" play-based classroom everyone's lining up for may have the ideal "happy hum" for many children, but be a constant roar to your own child.

4. The other children

If you're able to observe a classroom in action, watch the children and observe how they interact with one another.

Mild conflict is normal (and how the teacher addresses that will be very helpful to observe) but generally, you would hope to see children who are building their social skills. They're practicing sharing and taking turns and inviting each other to play with them.

The way that the children interact (and the way they're supported when they struggle) can tell you a lot about how social skills are promoted. While the early academic skills gained in preschool are important, the number one, most important task for preschool is building solid social skills.

Additionally, see if other children seem to feel at ease or on edge. Do they avoid the teacher or comply out of fear? Do they have an active role in the classroom or are they expected to sit for long periods as passive listeners? Paying attention to these behaviors can shed light on discipline, expectations and the overall culture of the classroom.

5. The location

As parents, we would go to the end of the earth for our children, but you don't want that to be your commute twice a day for preschool drop off and pick up.

Choosing a location that is reasonable for you isn't a selfish consideration. Since practicing social skills and making friends is one of your child's top priorities in preschool, you'll want to find a school where you're more likely to be able to get together with those new friends and possibly continue those friendships on into kindergarten and elementary school.

There are many things to consider as you select a preschool, but it helps to brainstorm your own questions ahead of your school visits. The greatest tool you have in this process is your attunement with your own child and your willingness to choose a school that best fits those individual needs and unique goals.

There's no one, right answer, and there are no perfect preschools., but there are many great preschools out there that can be "just right" for your child.

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These are only the vitamins I give my children and here's why

It's hard to say who loves these more—my kids or me.

When I became a mama five years ago, I didn't put too much thought into whether my son was getting the right vitamins and minerals. From breastfeeding to steaming and pureeing his first bites of solid food, I was confident I was giving him everything to support his growth and development.

But then the toddler years—and the suddenly picky palate that accompanied them—came along. Between that challenge and two additional children in the mix… well, I knew my oldest son's eating plan was falling short in some vitamin and mineral categories.

I also knew how quickly he was growing, so I wanted to make sure he was getting the nutrients he needed (even on those days when he said "no, thank you" to any veggie I offered).

So when I discovered the new line of children's supplements from Nature's Way®, it felt like a serious weight off my chest. Thanks to supplements that support my children's musculoskeletal growth, their brain function, their immune systems, their eyes and more, I'm taken back to that simpler time when I was so confident my kids' vitamin needs were met.*

It wasn't just the variety of supplements offered by Nature's Way that won me over: As a vegetarian mama, I'm the picky one in the family when it comes to scanning labels and making sure they meet our standards. The trick is that most gummy vitamins are made with gelatin, which is not vegetarian friendly.

But just like the other offerings from Nature's Way that I've already come to know and love, the children's supplement line is held to a high standard. That means there's no high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin or common allergens to be found in the supplements. The best part? My two oldest kids ensure we never miss their daily vitamins—they are so in love with the gummy flavors, which include tropical fruit punch, lemonade and wild berry.

Nature's Way Kids Mulitvitamin

Meanwhile, my pharmacist husband has different criteria when evaluating supplements, especially when it comes to those for our kids. He appreciates the variety of options from Nature's Way, which gives us the ability to rotate the vitamins based on our kids' daily needs. By keeping various children's supplements from Nature's Way on hand, I can customize a regimen to suit my kids' individual requirements.

Of course, high-quality products often come at a higher price point. But (to my immense gratitude!) that isn't the case with Nature's Way, which retails for a competitive value when compared to the other items on the shelf.

Like all mamas, my chief concern is supporting my children's health in any way I can. While I see evidence of their growth every time I pack away clothes they've outgrown, I know there is much more growth that doesn't meet the eye. That's why, for my oldest son, I like stacking the Brain Builder gummy with the Growing Bones & Muscles gummy and the Happy & Healthy Multi. My 3-year-old also enjoys getting her own mix to include the Healthy Eyes gummy. And both of my older kids are quick to request the Tummy Soothe tablet when something isn't sitting right in their stomachs.* And I'll admit it: I've tried it myself and the berry blast flavor really is tasty!

Although my current phase of motherhood may not be as "simple" as it once was, there is so much to appreciate about it—like watching my kids play and sing and create with their incredible imaginations. Along the way, I've eased up on some of my need for control, but it does help to have this range of supplements in my motherhood tool kit. So while I may not be able to convince my son to try kale, having the Nature's Way supplements on hand means I do know he's right on track.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article was sponsored by Nature's Way. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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