What to look for when looking for a preschool
Are the "teachers" really teachers?
Because daycares are not classified as educational institutions they do not have to hire highly qualified teachers. This means that the teacher teaching your child may not even have their high school diploma yet. They should have experience and be certified. There are both associates and bachelors degrees in early childhood development, and while not all teachers in the classroom need to have these there should at lease be one educated teacher in every classroom. Also, daycares that care about the quality of education in their classrooms extend training and further education for their preschool teachers so that they remain polished and up to date on the newest and best teaching techniques, so ask about any training policies that they have for their staff.
Do the teachers stick around?
Some daycares hire summer help or are unable to keep long term employees for various reasons. This can be confusing to a child. Once a child attends elementary school they will have a teacher that will stay with them for an entire school year, so it is good for them to begin getting used to it early on.
Look for preschools that take care of their teachers by paying them well, offering benefits, and vacation time because a happy teacher is a teacher that has no need to look for employment elsewhere. Daycares that overwork and under pay their staff will have a high turn over rate. Daycares that have nothing to hide will tell you about their teachers who have been working there for many years.
How is discipline handled?
Watch out for timeouts. While there is a time and place to use timeouts, many preschool daycares over use this form of punishment. Teachers should get on the child's leave and teach them why what they are doing is wrong instead of turning to timeouts as a teaching tool. For example, if child 'A' hits child 'B' than instead of sending child 'A' directly to timeout the two children should be brought face to face so that child 'B' can tell child 'A' that they did not like like being hit. This will show child 'A' why its not alright to hit other children, and child 'B' will learn how to stand up for themselves.
How big are the classes?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends that in a preschool classroom (3-5 year olds) the teacher to student ratio should be 1:10 and there should only be a maximum of 20 children in a class at a time. Too many children will become hectic and overwhelming for the teacher and lead to an environment that is not conducive to learning. While on the topic of the NAEYC, make sure to ask and see if the daycare is NAEYC accredited.
How secure is the facility
Is the preschool in a locked facility? That means that nobody can enter the building without being let in by a member of that staff. This provides the peace of mind in knowing that your child is safe from strangers. Some daycares have no security policy in place at all. For example, while taking a class in college I had to observe a preschool classroom, I called the daycare to tell them I was coming and they did not even ask my name. When I got there I offered to show my school ID but the director said no thanks and and brought me to the preschool room with out asking me a single question. This raised huge red flags. You need to know who is around your child and why when you are not there.
What are the rules and how are the communicated?
The children should only have two basic rules:
1) Be nice to each other
2) Be nice to the property
There should also be a handbook explaining all daycare policies on things such as when to pick up and drop off, what your child can bring with them to the daycare, who can pick up your child, how long a sick child should stay home, and many other policies. This hand book should be provided to the parents on their first visit. Also, ask about how often the policies are updated and if the daycare sends out newsletters regularly regarding these policy changes.
Ask about the curriculum
A well rounded curriculum should have group activities, quiet time, free play time, individual activities, and minimal tv and video involvement. There should be a basic routine that is stuck to, but also time to explore new concepts and time to play. Group activities and story times are great, but should also be educational. Topics such as basic social studies, language arts, math, and science should be addressed in an age appropriate way. Ask the teachers what topics they are currently teaching the students, and if they cannot give you something that they have addressed with their class within the fast couple of days than that is a red flag that they are there as professional babysitters and not as early childhood educators.
What makes for a good learning environment?
When you look around the areas of the daycare available to your preschooler there are a few things to look for. First, make sure there are sensory toys like water and sand tables. These items are great to develop fine motor and problem solving skills, as well as allow your child to explore new things and use their creativity. Another thing to look for is a bookshelf full of books that is available to the children to read and enjoy. Other toys such as blocks, legos, and puzzles are great for practicing problem solving and fine motor skills. To help your child develop their social skills there should be plenty of items used for dramatic play such as dolls, dress up clothes, toy work benches, trucks and cars, a play house or kitchen area, and/or other toys that encourage dramatic play. When children pretend together they learn how to communicate with each other and develop great social skills. Another important place to check out is the play ground. A great playground will have a jungle-jim to climb on, open spaces to run in, toys such as balls and tricycles, as well as items to practice skills such as balance. All of these things will help your child develop their gross motor skills.