In addition to the general questions parents would ask about any school, there are special issues to consider when it comes to selecting a preschool.
Are the teachers engaged with the children, and does it seem like a caring environment? Do the children appear to be happy and busy, and involved in meaningful activity?
Is the physical environment bright and airy? Is there a playground? Are the toilet facilities clean and convenient? Do the adults practice proper hygiene?
In a typical preschool classroom, the age spread will be about a year; in some programs, such as Montessori programs, it could be up to two years. While the same is true of elementary school, a year’s difference at age 3 or 4 is a bigger spread developmentally than it is at age 9 or 10. Especially at younger ages, children can have widely varying rates of intellectual, social and physical development. It’s important therefore to ensure that a preschool classroom is meeting the needs of all the children, Leishman says.
“When you visit the classroom, you should see children playing at a variety of skills levels and with materials that meet a variety of developmental needs,” Leishman says. A preschool classroom also should include a spectrum of learning centers, such as a book corner and areas for creative play, Harrison says.
Particularly in preschool, many parents are seeking the opportunity to be involved in the classroom, so find out if that is an option, notes Jill Mitchell, director of Rehoboth Cooperative Preschool.
Some early childhood education programs meet for half days and sometimes for just a few days of the week, so parents need to consider their options for transportation and aftercare as well. “Parents need to take their own needs into consideration, too,” Mitchell says.
All child care and early education programs in Delaware are required to be licensed. Parents might also consider whether the program participates in Delaware Stars and what its rating is on a scale of one to five stars. Instituted in 2007, Delaware Stars sets higher standards for programs than those required for licensing, explains Rena Hallam, director of Delaware Stars for Early Success.
“Programs that participate in Stars document that they are implementing evidence-based standards and that they are committed to an ongoing process of quality improvement,” Hallam says. She also points out, however, that the Stars program is still in its early stages and that many high-quality programs do not yet participate. Preschools also can be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.