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 National Association for the Education of Young Children

10 signs of a great preschool

How to spot a top-notch program for your child.

If your child is between the ages of 3 and 6 and attends a childcare center, preschool, or kindergarten program, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests you look for these 10 signs to make sure your child is in a good classroom:

  1. Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials or other children. They do not wander aimlessly and are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.
  2. Children have access to various activities throughout the day. Look for assorted building blocks and other construction materials; props for pretend play; picture books; paints and other art materials; and table toys such as matching games, pegboards, and puzzles. Children should not all be doing the same thing at the same time.
  3. Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend all their time with the whole group.
  4. The classroom is decorated with children's original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and stories dictated by children to teachers.
  5. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snack provide the basis for learning activities.
  6. Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Worksheets are used little if at all.
  7. Children have an opportunity to play outside every day. Outdoor play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
  8. Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.
  9. Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Teachers recognize that children's different background and experiences mean that they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
  10. Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel secure about sending their child to the program. Children are happy to attend; they do not cry regularly or complain of feeling sick.

Also ask if the program is accredited by NAEYC. NAEYC-accredited programs complete a rigorous self-study and external review to prove that they meet standards of excellence in early childhood education.

Want more information?

Send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to:

1313 L Street NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005-4101

You'll receive a complimentary brochure titled "A Good Preschool for Your Child."

Comments from readers

"Wow Speechless I believe my daughter school offers all of the above, but now my concern is the 10th sign they do complain of feeling sick all the time and do want to cry when it comes time to drop them off. They being at this preschool for over 3 months, I sure don't feel comfortable any more when I go to drop them off, I believe I need to look for a new preschool. "
"Gained a lot of knowledge through your articles! "
" "Hi i am a moroccan having a 3 yrs old child. i am looking for good preschool in washington dc. can anybody name me some good schools in washington dc ." "
"I realy think this is what a pre- school is all about great job u guys "
"To the fisrt parent who commented on 10/27/11.......most if not all schools are suppose to have cameras that the parents are able to view by request and if u think something has happened different from what they say, u have the right to view it. I actually just found out about the NEAYC yesterday because my son's school was having their review done again and had passed again. And i do see all these things at his school. Monarch Academy for Little Learners Buffalo (actually Lackawanna), NY "
"I will live in New Jersey, West New YOrk. I have a chaild for tree years... I am Looking a public preschool. but I not faund de address and de request... some help me.. thaks... too much.. "
"My town has free preschool for children when they turn three. Today was my daughters third day at preschool and I received a phone call she has a scratch on her cheek that happened when her teacher pulled her hand away from her mouth that she was spitting her food into her hand. When I received the phone call the director gave me a different story than the teacher did. Her story was that my daughter was trying to stick her fingers down her throat. The one thing I do not like is preschool is from 9 to 3 is too long of a day. In the student booklet I received nap time is two hours and fifteen minutes so when I asked the teacher she stated it was only for one hour and fifteen minutes. I have scratched my daughters face in the past by accident myself so I hope that is just what happened between my daughter and her teacher. I would like to find out if there are any other incidents in this school that have been reported. I had to sign a incident report. "
"It seems that all the kindergartens in the pubhlic schools I know in PA will fail this test. Children are actively taught & expected to pass the state tests. They use work worksheets & recess is less than an hour. "
"I own a in home daycare and I'm consistently checking myself to make sure that I'm meeting the needs of the children and their needs. Its great for me to check off everything on this list as approved i'm in line with the NAEYC. "
" I am Nepali and I am looking for a good pre school for my son in arlington tx near by my house. zip 76006.Could you pls help me to find out good schools? not far than 2 miles. "
"Hi i am an Indian having a 4 yrs old child. i am looking for good preschool in chicago. i will reach there in end of July 2011. can anybody name me some good schools in north Chicago."
"I really like this article I found It very helpfull in my search for a preschool."
"these tips are really helping to decide if i have chosen the right school for my kids"
"I think it was very helpful ,for teachers and as well as parents. Being a preschool teacher it is hard for the teachers to explain, how children learn through different activities."
"I love this checklist. I had my toddler in preschool for socialization. It was not the right fit. In fact, the promote that they are Montessori when in fact they are not and cannot even meet most of the items on this list. I will use this list for my journey finding a new school."
"Hello: We have a little boy that has down syndrome and who is going to be 3 years old in August. We live in Mexico but we are going to move to San Antonio, Texas for the next school period (August). I would appreciate if you could be so kind to recommend us a kindergarden that will provide special education for our son. We also have other 4 children (13, 11, 9, 7) with no special needs. We are going to live in the northeast area of San Antonio, and we woul rather attend to a public school but we are open to another suggestion. I thank you in advance for the help or orientation that you could give us. "
"I would like to thank you, I recently had a bad experience with my kindergartner's teacher. These are very helpful tips, as a parent we may think we have an idea of what we are looking for in finding a suitable learning environment for our children, but it is always great to have an expert opinon."
"Thank you for the info my son in preschool and this help me make the right choice of schools."
"When looking a private schools be aware that even though some may suggest that they offer a very relaxed calms environment and are looking to get your child acclimated with the environment this may not be the case. In fact they are watching you and the child. If you speak up and disagree at all with anything you'll be out. Eldorado in orange is one of those wolves under sheep's skin. A child was crying when this was brought up....they did not remedy the situation instead sent the 'informant' out the door. So if your child is crying because of the school that's a sign the environment is not the right place for you baby. "
"Excellent list! If you are trying to choose a preschool or day care program for your young child, please pay attention!"
"I am a single parent of a brilliant 2 and a half year old. I have been at home with her and it is time for me to go to work. So I thank you for this article very much."
"I thing this information is wonderful, Im actually going to print it out and take it with me to make sure the schools I will be visiting this comming quarter are complaing with most if not all the guidelines propose on the article."
"i want the best shool for my son he has only 5 years and i want to know more about shools"
"I am a canadian, my daughter will be 5 on the 1st of august 09. she speaks only french. What to do? bring her to # Preschool or # Kindergarten. I am living in arizona, what will be the cost per year for that. I am working here as resident of Arizona, do I have to pay fee as foreigner or domestic cost like americans.. thanks"
"I like it vary much"
"My grandson Aidan will be 2 yrs. of age in July 09. He loves books, writing, and music. Due to his mom not being able to pay for day care, he goes to his grandmothers' where his female cousin goes also. He has little stimulation there other than the 2 children fighting over toys. I work a full time job and provide care for him on weekends only. His mom and I would like to see Aidan get a good head start in life and be able to attend an educational, yet fun environment she can afford. They live in South Buffalo, NY. His mom is said that she makes a few dollars too much to qualify for help in paying for day care from social services. Please guide us on what we can do to remedy the situation. Thank you for your help. It is greatly appreciated. Grandma Sandy "
"Depending on the age, each child adjusts to preschool differently. If your child is having separation anxiety be very positive about the school, staff and other children. Assure your child that you will be back to pick her up at the end of the day. Get involved!! Children feel better when their parents help with school projects, events etc."
"I am concerned that my preschooler does not like to attend school. She cries every morning when it is time to go. Should I be concerned with the school?"