Preschool 101 for Houston Families

 

The preschool landscape in each city is as unique as the cities themselves, and Houston, Texas, is no exception. In Houston, there are a huge variety of preschools to choose from, and the programs vary from smaller, tight knit Christian schools to competitive STEM-based programs tailored for budding engineers. There are a lot of important things to consider when searching for the right program for your kids, but choosing a preschool doesn’t have to be a headache.

Here, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about the Houston preschool scene to help you choose the right school for your family.

First things first, what is “preschool,” and how is that different from daycare?

Preschool means kids are part of a structured early learning program with an emphasis on mastering new skills and eventual kindergarten readiness.

There are typically two different kinds of preschool programs:

  • Early preschool: programs for 2–3 year olds that focus on building social skills and comfort in a group setting. Potty training is not usually required at this age.
  • Preschool: programs for 3–4 year olds that are designed to graduate into kindergarten. These programs are generally more structured, follow a “school day” schedule, and help kids adjust to the classroom environment. Curricula can vary widely, but they all share a common goal: to prepare kids for success in grade school.

Once you know whether you’re looking for an early preschool or regular preschool program, it’s time to make some decisions about the learning environment. According to our data, Houston has over 400 different preschools with a wide variety of programs geared towards different educational styles, and there truly is something for everyone.

Many of Houston’s preschools have a religious affiliation and/or are connected to a church. You do not usually have to be a member of a church to get your child into an affiliated preschool program; however, it’s good to note that many church programs are smaller and have limited enrollment, which can make them more competitive. If you’re shopping around for a Christian preschool, it’s smart to start your search as early as possible to ensure your child gets a spot at the school you want.

For parents who aren’t looking for a Christian preschool program, play-based and Montessori programs are the second most popular option. While both play-based and Montessori approaches center play in the learning process, Montessori schools tend to be more child-focused, meaning the child sets the day’s activities based on what they’d like to do, while play-based classrooms give kids freedom to explore and experiment within teacher-directed activities.

A really cool thing about Houston that we found in our preschool data is the high number of schools with programs that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)-based learning. STEM education is important to parents in most major U.S. cities, but especially in Houston, where a high concentration of energy and fuel companies like (Royal Dutch Shell, Baker Hughes, Spectra Energy, and others) have created a booming industry based around science and technology.

The good news is, no matter what kind of program you choose, Houston preschools are more than likely set up to accommodate your schedule. According to our data, nearly a quarter of Houston preschools offer year-round, full-time care, meaning they’re open at least 8 hours per day and include care over the summer. And 83 schools also have accommodations in place for younger siblings who haven’t quite reached preschool age, so you don’t have to worry about splitting your morning drop-off time between two different schools.

Of course, the popular myth when it comes to preschool is that you have to start enrolling your kid at birth if you want to get a spot in a good program. But that’s just not the case.

Preschools often follow two distinct enrollment schedules:

  • The “school year” schedule: enrollment is opened during the winter or spring to fill classes for the coming fall.
  • Year-round preschool: the school enrolls kids throughout the year, though they may have more openings in the late summer or early fall, when some students are graduating to kindergarten.

That said, openings and enrollment depend largely on the type and size of the school. There are always exceptions to every rule.

If you have your heart set on getting into a specific school then, of course, you’ll want to start the enrollment process as early as possible.

You might also want to get a jump on the application process if you:

  • You plan to seek childcare assistance through a subsidized or needs-based program, as these often have wait lists.
  • You are interested in less common programs in Houston, like Reggio Emilia or foreign language immersion.
  • You know you’re going to absolutely need full-time, full-year care and/or care for your child’s younger siblings.

If those circumstances don’t apply, you can take it a bit slower. As we mentioned, a good rule of thumb is to start looking for a school in the winter or spring of the year BEFORE you want your child to start school. And, since some schools have specific enrollment windows, you should also contact any school you’re interested in to make sure you don’t miss the deadlines.

Finally, and this is the part we all dread, it’s important to factor in cost when you’re choosing the right school for your family. Houston is one of the more affordable major U.S. cities, but preschool is a big expense no matter where you live, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Luckily, Houston’s average preschool tuition falls within the national average. There are, of course, schools that charge well above this range, but for most schools, this is what parents can expect to pay. Tuition can also vary depending on the age of your child and the length of care.

There are a few circumstances that could make childcare more expensive. You’ll usually pay more for full-time care, as well home-based care, since in-home preschools usually have a lower enrollment capacity and a lower ratio of kids to caregivers.

You can also expect to pay more if:

  • The preschool is an in-demand, prestigious program.
  • Your child is younger than 4 or has a sibling younger than 4 who also needs care.
  • Your child is not fully potty-trained.

If paying for preschool presents a hardship, the Texas Workforce Commission does offer subsidized childcare for qualifying families. There are also programs, like Workforce Solutions and Texas Rising Star, that offer financial assistance.

So, now that you’ve learned more about the kinds of preschools Houston has to offer, it’s time to begin your search. But how do you narrow down your choices from 403 different schools?! That’s easy:

At winnie.com/houston/childcare, we’ve gathered data on every licensed daycare and preschool in the Houston area, so everything you need to get started is literally at your fingertips. Winnie is free to use, and the childcare directory can be accessed with or without a sign-up. And if you do sign up, you also have the ability to post questions to local parents and get answers in real time.

You can narrow down your childcare search by entering a zip code. People generally look for places that are close to their home or near work to make drop-offs and pick-ups easier. When you reach the search results page, you’ll have the option to drag the map around, search for programs by age, and filter by type of facility and schedule.

The Winnie listing for each school is designed to give you a starting point in your search. It has descriptions of each school, hours of operation, photos, and sometimes tuition and enrollment information. And you can bookmark or pin the ones you‘re interested in for later reference.

Once you have your list all set, it’s time to start scheduling tours. You can reach out to schools via their listed email or phone number and give a brief intro: your child’s age, what program you’re interested in, and your desired start date.

Most schools offer either one-on-one or group tours. The tour is your chance to ask questions and get as much information as you need to make your decision, so it’s a good idea to come prepped with a list of things to ask.

It’s important to consider how your childcare fits into your life and parenting philosophy as a whole. Some good things to think about (and ask the provider about!) are:

  • What do they do to keep parents involved? Find out how teachers communicate with the parents day-to-day, as well as longterm. Ask how you will get feedback about your child’s behavior and progress, and if there’s a standard procedure in place to get parent feedback and address parental concerns.
  • Is the school set up to accommodate your child’s unique needs? Are meals and snacks provided? Do they have systems in place to make drop-off easier on kids who need some extra encouragement? What is their policy on tardiness or absences?
  • What is the classroom environment like and how do they handle behavioral issues? Ask if the school will allow you to observe a class, as well as what measures they have in place to allow you to check in throughout the day (email updates, a designated app, etc.). Does the day-to-day routine reinforce the school’s overall curriculum? Does it seem like a safe and nurturing environment?
  • Finally, many people aren’t aware that information pertaining to the schools’ license is publicly available. Make sure you check this out!

You can find a link to the school’s license on their Winnie page, under “Contact Information.” All licensed preschools are inspected regularly and these inspections are public information. You can also see if complaints have been filed against the school and even subscribe to updates in case their licensing status changes.

Check out Winnie’s full directory of daycares and preschools at winnie.com/childcare.

Posted in Preschool ∙ Updated April 2019