Choosing a Preschool

There is an old German proverb that reads: “Who takes the child by the hand, takes the mother by the heart.” From the minute a slimy, closed-eyed, squalling little baby is laid across its mother’s chest, the mother begins to look at the world differently. (Check out FBP founder Erin Weed’s latest blog about natural childbirth and her journey into motherhood.) What used to look like a fun, predictable place now looks like a cesspool of predators, electrical outlets, and sharp-cornered coffee tables.

I have successfully guided my daughter through this dangerous world for almost 17 months now and despite her share of falls (off the bed, down a short flight of stairs, off the couch, etc. etc.) she is today a strong willed and independent toddler.

Today was her first day of preschool.

Of course, that sounds dramatic. Really today was her first day of ever being cared for by someone other than a family member. She is attending two half days a week at a local church preschool which amounts to a whopping 6 hours a week in the care of someone else. Still, it is a big step for us.

When we were looking for a preschool, I thought we were doing everything right. We grilled our friends for recommendations; we toured a few options; we asked questions and finally made a decision. The final decision was really made by Cassie. Like most toddlers, she has separation anxiety. Every place we toured she was clingy and unwilling for us to set her down for even one moment. But this one preschool, she really opened up and dove right in. She played with toys and smiled at teachers. We thought she was making her choice known. So we went with it.

A month after filing out my registration form and signing over that first tuition check, I was reading Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker and realized…maybe my (then) 13 month old wasn’t the best person to rely on to choose a safe preschool. I was reading the chapter about choosing a preschool and feeling so stupid. I had asked questions, but they hadn’t been the real questions on my mind. I had let others convince me what a great place this was, but didn’t even ask if they background checked their employees! What had I done?!

I decided to make an appointment to see the director and ask all the right questions this time. I knew that this place was such a great school that her answers would put me at ease. I was shocked to find out that while the school does background check employees, it doesn’t background check volunteers or follow the Department of Justice Guidelines for the Screening of Persons Working with Children. I tried hard not to let my disappointment show as I received honest, yet somewhat scary answers to my child safety questions. I was beginning to realize that I had a hard decision to make. My child could not attend this school.

As I was about to wrap things up, the director of the preschool shared a particularly candid story with me about a time that she had suspected a parent of abusing their child. Hearing about her quick and decisive action gave me a glimmer of hope. We began to have a simple and honest dialogue about safety. No more questions with pass or fail answers, just a few adults talking about how to make their community safer for children.

In the course of this dialogue, I shared my connection to Fight Back Productions and talked about the book Protecting the Gift. I shared with the director and her assistant director everything that I was learning. She said, “Then maybe you can help us.”

Later that afternoon, we were exchanging emails about fingerprint based background checks and video camera security systems. My suggestions were treated with respect and just recently, the director shared with me that the church had approved the installation of a new security system!

I was amazed by what could happen when just one person asks the tough questions. So today was Cassie’s first day at that same school. I’m confident that as long as I keep speaking up and the administration keeps listening and working with me, we can create an environment where the kids can not only be safe, but can grow and thrive.

For more information about what you can do to be sure your child is safe at school check out this article.

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