Parents looking for a detailed guide can buy an entire book on “How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery” by Jenifer Wana, or the upcoming book ”Pre-K Home Companion” by Kaufman, Kaufman and Nelson.

Of course, ultimately parents have to spend time in any program they consider, asking questions, observing and thinking about whether it is “right” for your individual child. Below are a few quick tips from NIEER faculty.

1. Health and safety

A quality preschool is a place where children are safe and comfortable. Things to look for include covered electrical sockets, clear sight lines for teachers to see children throughout the classroom (e.g., low bookshelves separating work areas), safe storage of materials such as cleaning supplies, nutritious meals and snacks and a ratio of 1 adult to 10 children or fewer.

2. Home and culture 

A quality preschool welcomes parents and families into the school community and values them as a partner. Things to look for include regular communication with parents, many opportunities for families to participate in classroom activities and children’s cultures and home language represented in the classrooms.

3. Qualified teachers 

A quality preschool has teachers that are well-qualified to work with young children and do so in a caring and developmentally appropriate manner to support individual learning and development in all areas. Things to look for include a stable staff, teachers with degrees or training in early childhood education or child development, engagement with up-to-date practices or training and a curriculum that considers intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and language development.

4. Learning environment

A quality preschool provides an environment that offers opportunities for children to explore and learn through child-directed play. Things to look for include varied and organized materials that are accessible to children, teachers engaging in whole group, small group and individual work with children, learning connected to children’s interests and choices, a quiet area in the classroom with comfortable furnishings, a well-equipped outdoor play area and class rules clearly communicated and implemented fairly and consistently.

For parents interested in advocacy, read on the widespread agreement among researchers about the value of investing in quality early childhood education programs.