This comprehensive checklist should help you evaluate the quality of any preschool or childcare program that you are considering for your child. Some of these criteria will be obvious as you observe, and some of them you will need to ask the director or a teacher about. These are good guidelines to look for, but the most important criteria is your “gut feeling” about the program. Most children will do well in a variety of settings, but your comfort level with the environment and the staff will impact your child’s experience a great deal. With this basic information in mind, remember that if you feel good about what you see, your child will most likely do well.
-Does the classroom have a variety of developmental, age-appropriate play materials?
-Are shelves crowded, or can children clearly see and choose materials?
-Are there tables or rug space for playing with materials?
-Does the classroom look warm, inviting, clean and well-cared for?
-Is there adequate space and time for group and individual activities?
-Are the indoor and outdoor play areas big enough for the number of children enrolled?
-Is there a variety of outdoor play options (including activities such as gardening, biking, sand, pets, big blocks, painting and water play)? Is there shade?
-Are you and your child warmly welcomed?
-Do the children look happy, calm and engaged? Does the teacher appear to be as well?
-Is the environment calm enough that the teacher can observe or participate as needed?
-Do teachers respect and support children’s differing learning styles and temperaments?
-Do children feel safe with one another? How are peer conflicts handled?
-Are teachers using positive forms of redirection and discipline?
-Are the adults good models for behavior and healthy attitudes? Are there a lot of ‘no’s?
-Do staff members share the children’s daily experiences with parents? How?
-Is there a balance of indoor and outdoor play?
-Are children free to choose their activities?
-Is there a variety of basic visual art media and opportunities for dramatic play?
-Is musical play encouraged (including singing, dancing and instruments)?
-Is language stimulation varied (reading books, indoor/outdoor games)?
-Is there a quiet, cozy spot for calm play?
-Are age-appropriate self-help skills encouraged?
-Are children encouraged (not forced) to participate in circle time?
-Do teachers have time to read a story to the group and one-on-one daily?
-Do teachers adapt the schedule to meet children’s needs (more time for art if children are engaged; more outdoor time if needed to work off excess energy)?
-Are there long periods of time for uninterrupted play and free choice of activities?
-How are transitions between activities handled? Do teachers allow enough time to transition, and how do they support children who need extra help?
-Is there a high turnover of teachers? What motivates teachers to stay in this early care environment (ongoing professional development, a supportive administration, etc.)?
-Is the staff knowledgeable about early childhood development and the correlation between play and learning?
-How much experience, education and training are required to teach at the school?
Stephanie Barry Agnew is the Parent Education Coordinator at San Mateo Parents Place. She works with parents in groups and individually to help them through a wide variety of parenting issues. Learn more at www.parentsplaceonline.org.