The second most vital decision you will make as a parent — apart from deciding to have kids in the first place — is deciding which school to enrol them into.

Make the right decision and you could put them on a path toward lifelong learning, a prominent university education and ultimately a successful career.

In theory the most important things to consider is the relationship between teacher and student, their connection is more important than the curriculum.

However in practicality there are other things to consider, namely:

Practical considerations

• Proximity A crèche or playschool close to home is usually ideal, as you cut down on travelling time. Friends that you or your child make will likely live nearby, so playdates are easy. Parents who work far from home sometimes prefer a creche closer to work, so that they’re able to get to the school quickly if their child is sick or hurt, or even if they want to nip out for a birthday ring or other event. Travel time can be quality time too!

• Hours Suburban preschools generally have short school days, say from 7:30am to 12:30pm. Some offer aftercare, but not always for the full afternoon. Daycares and preschools that are geared for working parents, may take children for the whole day, so you’ll need to enquire about issues like snacks and lunch, and how they deal with nap times.

• Holidays School holidays can be tricky for full- time working parents. Some crèche, daycare or preschool facilities offer year-round care, rather than sticking to the school holidays. They usually close briefly over Christmas and Easter.

• Nappies and potties Some preschools will only take children who are potty or toilet-trained. Crèches and preschools are usually experienced in dealing with nappies and potty training when it becomes necessary.

Checking out the facilities

Once you have a list of schools that meet your practical requirements, it’s time to physically check them out. Schools prefer that you phone ahead to make an appointment, rather than just showing up.

You should be given the opportunity to meet with the principal or another staff member, and to see the school in action. Watch the children at play and in the classroom. Look for teachers who show love, good humour and dedication to the children, who gently guide and encourage them, and who interact with them in stimulating ways. Look for kids who seem happy, enthusiastic, engaged and co-operative (bearing in mind that even the best set-ups have their tricky moments).

Things to look for: Play equipment Toys should be clean, safe and age- appropriate. They don’t need to be complicated or fancy – young kids are often happiest with quite basic toys that offer scope for open-ended play. So don’t be too impressed by iPads for three-year-olds!

Outdoor area equipment

This might include slides, jungle gyms and ride-ons, should be well-maintained and safe to use. Sand pits should be clean and covered at night.

Security The school should be securely fenced, so that children do not have access to roads, driveways, swimming pools, dogs, kitchen areas, or other potential hazards. Access gates should be kept locked at all times to ensure that outsiders can’t wander in and children can’t wander out.

Ask about…

The curriculum What do the children do in a typical day? “Preschools don’t usually follow a formal curriculum, but they should have some structure in their programme,” say Natalie. “They might have a different theme each week, and ring time every morning. Their activities will be broadly directed at the developmental milestones of the age group, so that the children exercise their gross motor and fine motor skills, and work on different skill sets.”

Discipline policies How do they deal with conflict or behaviour that is not conducive to a happy, stimulating environment? Is there time out? Does the child sit with a teacher or helper?

Safety Are teachers trained in first aid and CPR? Is there a plan in case of fire or emergencies?

Believe it or not, now is the time to consider primary school! In many urban areas, access to schools is a serious problem. Popular private schools are heavily over-subscribed and you really do need to put your child’s name down when she’s still a baby, to secure a place. Good government schools are, if anything, even more over-burdened and it’s not unheard of for families to move house to ensure that their children are in the primary catchment area for a top school.