Many preschools will advertise themselves as being the best preschool, daycare, or child care center, 5 stars, or award winning. How can you really determine which programs truly are high quality? How do you know if it will meet the needs of your child and if it will be a worthwhile investment for your family? While there are a number of factors that go into this question, there are certain characteristics that differentiate high quality preschool and child care programs from the rest. When touring preschools, you will want to look for schools that demonstrate the characteristics listed below.
Signs of High Quality Preschool
1. Warm Environment - This should be apparent the moment you step into a preschool, daycare or child care center. Are you greeted by a smiling staff member? If you are able to see other office members, do they seem happy? Quality preschools should feel inviting to both parents and students.
What is the general feeling you get in the building? While I always recommend doing as much research as possible when selecting a preschool, it is also important to pay attention to your instincts. I have found when something does not seem right to a parent when they visit a preschool, that feeling is usual right.
2. Low Teacher Turnover - Unfortunately, teacher turnover is a major issue for many preschools. Widespread turnover could be a strong indicator that there are significant issues within the school. Research has consistently shown the importance of having a highly-qualified teacher in the classroom on student achievement. High teacher turnover is also very disruptive for the important relationship building which occurs between students and teachers.
3. Meaningful Student-Teacher Interactions - The evidence is clear that how teachers interact with students has a profound effect on student social and academic outcomes. Relationships matter, especially during the preschool years. When on school tours, watch how the teacher speaks to the students in the classroom. Are they actively engaging with students? Ideally they should be engaging in back and forth communication, asking open-ended questions, introducing vocabulary, and helping students make connections to their lives and prior learning. What forms of non-verbal communication do you see?
4. Effective Discipline Strategies - Learning self-regulation, conflict resolution strategies and how to use language to express feelings are all key skills that preschools should be helping children develop. Discipline should be used as a teaching tool rather than having a punitive focus. We want students to learn the skills that will prevent incidents from happening in the future, and how they can handle difficult emotions when they do occur. Look for evidence of how teachers speak with upset students and how any conflict is handled. Ask the school about their approach to discipline.
5. Clean and Healthy Environment - Your child's health and safety should be a preschool's top priority. The building and classrooms should have high standards for cleanliness, and furniture and equipment should be in good repair. With COVID-19, a healthy environment that should not only include cleaning/disinfecting, and hand washing, but schools should be taking additional steps such as daily student health screening, reduced class sizes, restricting building access. There should also be a focus on air quality which may include air purifiers and high quality filters (MERV 13 or higher if system allows).
6. Engaged Students - Learning should be active and learning should be relevant to the lives of students. This will usually include a large number of classroom centers with quality manipulatives that offer choice and build different skills. The curriculum should be relevant and make connections to the lives of students.Beware of programs that narrowly focus on academic skills, and do not have opportunities for students to play. There should be areas for building materials, art, music, dramatic play, and outside time. Lessons are most effective when they build off prior knowledge and student experiences.
7. Differentiated Instruction - Another important aspect of engagement is differentiation. Instruction and curriculum should be designed to meet the diverse learning needs of a classroom. Students are less likely to be engaged when the curriculum is either not developmentally appropriate for them, or if it does not provide sufficient challenge. Quality schools utilize small group and individual instruction to help meet specific student needs.
8. Open Ended Materials and Activities - Classroom materials should encourage children to think creativity and become problem solvers. Materials like blocks, sensory bins, boxes, recycle goods, and items collected from nature can be used in many different ways. A good way to see if a school encourages open-ended thinking is to examine the art on the walls. Does each piece look the same, or are students able to express themselves and be creative. Giving children the opportunity for self-expression, helps them make decisions and experiment.
9. Partnerships with Families - Quality program view families as partners and frequently communicate with them. Parents should feel that they are partners in their child's education. Ask on your tour what methods the school uses to communicate with families. How is a child's progress shared and how are concerns communicated? High quality programs also provide educational opportunities for parents which could include workshops, webinars, or resource libraries. There should also be opportunities for parents to participate in school activities and volunteer.
10. Values Cultural Diversity - Preschool is a great place for children to learn about the world around them and about people with different backgrounds and experiences. They are also forming their own self concept and should feel that their family's culture is valued and celebrated. Art work on the walls and materials should be diverse and families should have opportunities to share their traditions in classrooms. Books in classrooms should include diverse characters and families.
Discovery Child Development Center
11000 Lake Grove Blvd.
Morrisville, NC 27560