You shell out lots of hard-earned money to send your tot to preschool, so it's natural to seek a place that values safety as much as you do. Preschools should be committed to keeping all students out of harm's way. When you visit your child's prospective preschool, look around and ask questions about safety protocols. If you're not satisfied with the answers, move on.
When you enter the preschool, look around to make sure all exits are labeled. It doesn't matter if the school is large or small -- everyone needs to know which direction to go in case of a fire or other emergency. Having a detailed evacuation plan in place speeds up the process of all students and teachers exiting the building quickly. If you don't see one, ask about it. Also ask whether there are monthly fire drills. Don't think it's too forward to ask to visit at the time of a fire drill. This will give you a sense of how teachers handle the children during evacuations.
A preschool safeguards your child -- a serious task indeed. If you can walk into a preschool with no precautions in place to stop you, that's a red flag. While you don't pose a danger, the next person could. The preschool's doors should remain locked. This doesn't mean you will be kept from seeing your little one, though. For instance, you may have a code to operate the door. It will probably change periodically. Once you have the code, treat it like your bank account number: Don't share it with anyone. Most schools have an open-door policy so you can visit anytime, but the doors should be locked to strangers.
Preschools are required to have a fenced-in play area. Visit during playtime and examine the fence yourself. If there's a lock that falls apart in your hands, that's not a good sign -- you want a child-proof lock your tot can't unlatch when she decides it's time to go home. Also observe the teachers' actions while outside. (If that makes you uncomfortable, wear sunglasses. They won't know you're staring.) Are they roaming the play area, interacting with children, or are they involved in deep discussions or glued to their phones? If it's the latter, then it's time for you to have a discussion with the school's director.
As a parent, you know that accidents happen, even when you're watching the kids like a hawk. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with your child playing in the space. You want to see well-maintained play equipment during your visit. Beware of excessive wear or rust. Look at the swings' chains: They should be tangle-free and securely connected at the top. To keep kids from getting seriously hurt, a 12-inch layer of mulch or rubber matting should be under equipment to pad falls.
Based in North Carolina, Victoria Thompson has taught middle school for the past 15 years. She holds a Masters of Education in middle school instruction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She teaches English daily to English as a second language students.