Preschool Planning: Beyond the Basics

By Amy Williams, Owner of Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool Houses

In Portland, choosing a preschool for your child can be a process that celebrates both your family’s values and your family’s support of those values in the largely privatized business of Early Childhood Education. Deciding what matters to your family can not only ease the navigation of deciding which programs to visit, and ultimately choose, but also affect what matters to Early Childhood Education business owners! The questions you ask, your advocacy for what would work best for your family, and your choice in programs represents what matters to your family.



Each family can narrow their search with basic, logistical information. What needs of your family restrict criteria involving costs, hours, location, food options and accommodations for dietary restrictions, illness or vacation policies, discipline policies, vaccines, or accreditation? Most programs list this information on their website, and if not, you can email a request for all policies, which the Childcare Divisions requires to be available from any certified program (including In-home programs with more than four children or Centers).

For more specific criteria, families can email program owners/directors or bring questions to program tours.

Program Specialties

Every Preschool in Portland is unique, and your family can choose a program that supports or diversifies your child’s exposure to programs with passionate support for their area of specialty.

Does your family want to support a program with religious affiliation, a particular pedagogical approach, a specific focus such as arts or science or outdoors or mindfulness, or an emphasis on community events and project work?

Does your family want to consider the amount of time your child is choosing their own activities, receiving direct instruction, pretending with peers, playing outside, participating in democratic processes, looking at a screen, or building with tools?

Each program’s tour will offer detail on their specialties and also provide space for asking questions.

In addition to your family’s criteria involving basics and program specialties, you can find programs within those areas that are complimentary to your family’s values around shifts you’d like to support both for Early Childhood Education and also the world in general.

Institutionalized Values

Your questions at tours and your choice of a program serves as your family’s voice, advocating for choices in Early Childhood Education as a business, an educational system, and more. Questions that may help your family decide which programs align with your values might include:

  • In what ways are teachers supported as professionals (i.e. starting pay, wage increases, paid time for research and documentation, paid time off, benefits, choices and autonomy over classroom materials and curriculum development, on-going training and continued education, etc.)?
  • How are teachers and parents supported in promoting inclusive practices, the normalization of difference, and the need for each person to feel a sense of belonging and safety in the community?
  • How does the program increase awareness and acceptance of marginalized groups who may not be highly visible in the program itself?
  • What are current classroom struggles? What’s the action plan, and who was a part of noticing the need for action and creating ideas for the solution?
  • In what ways does the program use reasonable risks and struggle as tools for emotional intelligence, secure relationships, self-worth, and identity development of both children, teachers, families, and administration?

No single list of qualifiers can indicate the best preschool program for your family. The questions that matter to you matter. The questions you ask at a program tour have power—by asking questions that matter to you, you shift our gaze, you focus our intentions, and you inspire our efforts. To ask questions that matter to you and deserve to have power in the field of Early Childhood Education is to make the process of finding a preschool program meaningful both for your family and our community here in Portland.

Inspired by RIE, Gentle Parenting, Sex-Positive Parenting, Alfie Kohn,  Brene Brown, Paul Axtell, Sue Johnson, John Gottman, and more, Amy  supports each family finding sustainable pathways towards a life rich with connection, acceptance, attunement, authenticity, and choice. Amy has been working with children and families in Portland for over ten years.  She has been the director of a large center, a consultant for budding programs, a workshop presenter for teachers and parents, the proud owner of Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool Houses (since 2008), and mother to two young children (5 and 7 years old). You can find more information about the Tumbleweed programs, including how to get on their wait list, here. You can follow them on Facebook here.

Ali Wilkinson
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