Finding a high quality early childhood program for your child is worth the work it takes to do research. There are at least seven questions to ask to find a good match for your child and you.
1. Is the program accredited?
The National Association of Early Childhood Education (NAEYC) has an accreditation system. This is something to look for when shopping around, because if the program is accredited by NAEYC it means they uphold professional standards. You could do a search for NAEYC accredited programs in your area. Regulations must be followed in order to acquire and maintain NAEYC accreditation.
State accreditation is another feature to look for when researching early childhood programs. Accreditation systems are different state to state. Many states have evaluation or a star rating similar to hotel or restaurant. In the state I currently live in we have a star rating where 5 stars is the best (scale = 1-5). Several quality indicators must be present in order to earn stars which include but is not limited to: level of education and training of staff, facility, and operating procedures.
2. What do you learn from a tour of the site?
Visit the early childhood program. Meet the director, teachers, and other staff. Avoid relying only on an electronic search, but take the time to go in person. You can learn a lot about a program from being there.
3. What can you learn from others?
Current parents are good sources of referral. Find parents who have older children who attended in the past and ask them their opinions about the program. Your family pediatrician and health care provider might also be able to give you a referral. Referrals or testimonials from others can give you important information.
4. What is the program philosophy on play?
Play is an important part of learning. Children learn when they play. Determine if the early childhood program has time and resources to facilitate engaged play.
5. Is the physical and social environment safe/healthy?
Look for a clean atmosphere. Observe professional behavior of adults. What are adult interactions with children like? Are the children being properly supervised? How do the children interact with peers? Early childhood programs have environmental ratings that provide a useful measure of the quality of the environment.
6. Do the staff and children follow established routines?
Find out what the daily schedule is for children. Notice what routines are followed. Predictable routines are important for children and can provide a strong foundation for learning.
7. Are health and safety practices evident?
Early childhood programs should demonstrate health and safety practices. Everything from hand washing to procedures for sick children should be planned. Ask if you can have a parent handbook where you can learn more about the program. Be sure to review it thoroughly before making a decision.
Program quality varies greatly across early childhood settings. Ask these questions prior to enrolling your child to ensure a great start.