Checklist to Identify and Choose A Quality Preschool Program

Child painting in a preschool classroom

Do you want to enroll your child in a quality preschool program, but aren’t sure how to evaluate one?

An article recently published by The National Institute for Early Education Research determined that the majority of all preschool programs were not high quality.

The study measured two dimensions of quality: process and structure. When evaluating each preschool’s process and structure less than half the programs measured scored a “good” to “excellent” rating.

This finding was significant because additional studies by the organization have found that early childhood education is only beneficial for children participating in programs that offer High-Quality instruction.

Traits of a High-Quality Preschool

First, it is important to realize that standards for early childhood learning are much different than those for children in grade school.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines early childhood as ages birth through eight years old.

Children developing in these early years require a curriculum that will prepare them for learning in and beyond their primary years. Thus, programs for early learning should look very different than later stage programs for education found in Grade School.

Decades of research by experts in the field conclude that Early Learning standards in a High-Quality program will be built on two dimensions – process and structure.

1. Quality Processes

Process covers the direct experiences of the child – e.g. interactions with teachers and peers, daily schedules, activities, health and safety routines, etc.

Standards related to structure involve the actual components of the program such as; class size and ratios, teacher and administrator qualifications, square footage and space planning, etc.

Process: ECERS

In Arizona’s Quality First program, First Things First, advocates rely on the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) to set standards for measuring process quality.

In this tool, there are 43 items organized into seven areas of care for children aged 2.5 through 5 years in early childcare centers.

These areas are titled:

  • personal care routines

  • space and furnishings

  • language-reasoning

  • interaction

  • activities

  • program structure

  • parents and staff

Each area can receive a rating from 1-7:

(1) inadequate, (3) minimal, (5) good and, (7) excellent.

Identify in centers with consistently high ratings, children develop more advanced language, pre-literacy and math comprehension abilities, as well as social skills.

Conversely, poorer process quality has been linked to increased behavior problems.

These experiences, good and bad, have been shown to impact Primary and Secondary performance in later years.

Following is an excerpt from the ECERS Rate Scale: Language and Reasoning: Item 16 (Must be scored yes on all indicators.)


3.1 Some activities are used by staff with children to encourage them to communicate.

3.2 Some materials are accessible to encourage children to communicate.

3.3 Communication activities are generally appropriate for the children in the group.


5.1 Communication activities take place during both free play and group times. (Ex.: Child dictates story about painting; small group discusses trip to store.)

5.2 Materials that encourage children to communicate are accessible in a variety of centers. (Ex.: Small figures and