They say that when a child is born, a mommy is born too; and with this new experience comes a slew of other new experiences such as baby taking their first steps, baby’s first word and so on.  And picking a new playschool or preschool for your child is no exception.

When my daughter was young and it came time to pick a new playschool and preschool for her, I was lost.  I didn’t know what I wanted, what I was looking for or what questions to ask so that I could enroll her in a school that suited our needs.  What was worse is I DIDN’T KNOW that I didn’t know what I wanted.  At the time, the only things I thought were relevant were location and price.    I assumed that most schools in Malaysia, more specifically Kuala Lumpur, were the same with a small exception:  some cost more than others.  Sure, I knew that some schools had Chinese curriculum, and Malay curriculum, and so on, but I also knew that there were a lot of English based schools.  In my mind, I figured that all of the English based schools were the same save for the fees. How wrong I turned out to be.  Five years and three schools later, I have become clearer on what to look for in a playschool and preschool, and the right questions to ask.

Without naming names, there was one school where almost every other week she had to stay home due to a fever, or flu, or some kind of illness.  As soon as she was well, it was only a matter of time before she was sent back home.  On top of that, this particular school had teachers that were excellent at scolding, demeaning and reprimanding children; sometimes with physical force.  After a few months we decided we were done with that educational facility.  After all, I am a strong believer that violence breeds violence.

Next we took a completely opposite route:  we found the most expensive school near our home we could find.  After all, if it is expensive it must be good!  It didn’t take long before I noticed that my daughter was starting to be ‘picky’ of the other children she played with.  At first I figured it was just a stage.  But one day, she refused to socialise with her usual friends that she played with after school.  Without going into details, my daughter was becoming a bit of a racist~ something she did not get from our household and upbringing (my husband is Nyonya, and I am an American mutt myself).

I don’t consider myself to be a picky parent at all.  I understand that children will be children; that they will get the odd bump or bruise, that there are ‘phases’ they go through that aren’t particularly anyone’s fault, and that she may pick up some behaviour from other children she plays with.  But by this point, enough was enough:  I felt torn between wanting a quality school, a school I could comfortably afford, and one that had children from all nationalities attending.  By the time we reached our third school we had found a nice equilibrium; basically because I knew what I wanted.  To save you the time and trouble of going about this by trial and error, here are 10 things to consider (in no particular order) when looking for a playschool or preschool:

  • First impression of the school

How do you feel when you walk through the doors?  Are the children there happy?  Does it look like a school or does it look like a prison?  How is the environment?  What do you think of the place when you first drive up and when you first walk in?  Does it feel safe?

Often we put aside our initial first feelings in exchange for what makes sense logically, or what is easiest; this was the mistake that I made with my daughter’s first school.  I would highly recommend noting your first impression and initial feelings of a school.

  • Are the staff happy?

This is an important question:  happy staff means a happy school… I don’t mean the fake smiles teachers often flash parents, secretly hoping they will leave sooner so they can get back to grading papers.  I mean the real authentic and genuine smiles and conversations that can only come from truly satisfied and happy teachers.

  • What are the teaching styles of the teachers?

In Malaysia, I have found that some schools rely heavily on memorisation; while this isn’t necessarily wrong, I have found that this can create a serious lack in the comprehension side of things, especially when it comes to literacy, reading and phonetics.  I noticed that my daughter’s first school relied heavily on memorisation, but when it came to comprehending the sounds of the letters and why the word sounded the way that it did, she didn’t understand.  This is why I opted for a school that had a teaching style which focused a bit more on comprehension.

I am also quite particularly in wanting teachers who are excited to teach, who participate with the children and engage them instead of standing at the front of the class and simply data-dumping.

  • What medium does the school use/ what is the syllabus?

Since my daughter is half American and half Chinese, we wanted her to have exposure to both a Mandarin and English syllabus.  Knowing what you want for your child can also support you in choosing a school that matches your needs.

  • Where is the school located?

Location! Location! Location!  Living in KL, many people regularly experience KL’s famous traffic jams.  Even a playschool or preschool that is normally a five minute drive can easily turn into

  • What is the teacher-to-student ratio?

How many students are there per teacher?  Keep in mind, the smaller the teacher-to-student ratio, the more quality time your child gets with their teacher.

  • What is the school’s disciplinary structure?

Some schools in Malaysia still beat students with rulers as a part of their disciplinary procedure.  As for me, I notice that children often mimic behaviour and I didn’t want my daughter coming home and beating me or her brother!  I prefer using a different technique, one where the children learn that there are consequences to certain behaviour, but without the physical abuse.  Finding a school that is alignment with your disciplinary structure would be something to look out for.

  • What additional services are offered?

Remember how I said that a school in Kuala Lumpur that is normally five minutes away, can turn into a forty five minute drive if during a traffic jam?  I had this experience for about a year and a half and I couldn’t stand it.  While the school offered transportation service, it didn’t drive near where I was staying…until I moved.  Now my daughter and son can happily hop on the bus in the mornings and I am free from the daily hour-and-a-half long commute that I was used to taking daily.  Keep in mind that this is just one additional service; there are many more available so long as you check with the schools!

  • Do they practice cleanliness and hygiene?

I am not too fond of my daughter coming home ill all the time.  If a school uses hand sanitizer regularly or at least has a strong culture of hand-washing a few times throughout the day (especially after restroom use and before eating), I am a fan.  But besides hygiene, notice the school itself.  Is it clean and tidy or do the floors parallel to those found at a food court? Keep in mind, your child may be treading those floors and halls, you might as well check to see if it is clean!

  • What is the fee structure?

At the end of the day, you may find the perfect school with everything you could ever ask for and more, but it all boils down to how much it is going to cost you.  Whatever you do, make sure the fees are something you can live with.


In summary, it may be good to take a few days off from your normal routine to visit as many schools as possible to see the wide variety of teaching styles, fee structures and additional services offered. Another good key would be to check the background of the school:  have there been any complaints or lawsuits against this particular school, and if so what was it for?  In the end, it may be good to cover all the angles to ensure your child is safe.

Wishing you an effortless and fulfilling school-finding adventure!

Jana Moreno