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Checklist to Identify and Choose A Quality Preschool Program

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

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 animals in block area; toys for dramatic play — outdoors or indoors.)


7.1 Staff balance listening and talking appropriately for age and abilities of children during communication activities. (Ex.: Leave time for children to respond; verbalize for children with limited communication skills.)

7.2 Staff link children's spoken communication with written language. (Ex.: Write down what children dictate and read it back to them; help them write note to parents.)


Observable Indications of Process Quality:

Here are 6 things to look for when evaluating the quality of a Preschool's processes.

  1. There are positive relationships between teachers and children and cooperation between children

  2. The room is well-furnished and equipped with sufficient materials and toys

  3. Communication occurs throughout the day, with mutual listening, talking/responding, and encouragement to use reasoning and problem-solving

  4. There are plenty of child-directed opportunities for art, music, movement, science, math, blocks and building and dramatic play daily

  5. There are materials and activities to promote understanding and acceptance of diversity

  6. Parents are encouraged to be involved in the classroom as often as they are able

2. The Preschool Structure

The second way to measure quality is to review the structural aspects of the center such as:

  • teacher-child ratios

  • class size

  • qualifications of teachers and staff

  • square footage.

Often, the structural features of a program are regulated through state licensing requirements and these aspects are thought to contribute to quality in more indirect ways than process features.

However, researchers have consistently found that process and structure dimensions are related and influence the quality of the educational experiences for children. For example, smaller class sizes allow teachers to have more positive and stimulating interactions with children. Warm and nurturing interactions are directly linked to children's social competence and future academic success, and such interactions are essential to high quality.

Early childhood teachers who are more highly qualified and have smaller groups can more effectively provide individualized, responsive learning opportunities.

Additionally, programs that practice with low ratios tend to score better on their ECERS evaluations.

Observable Indications of Structure Quality:

  • Adult-child ratios meet or exceed NAEYC recommendations

  • Group sizes are small

  • Teachers and staff are qualified

  • All staff are supervised and evaluated and have opportunities for professional growth

Children playing with cars on a city carpet at a preschool

26 Aspects of a Quality Preschool

In this section, we’ll discuss quality as it relates to

  • Children

  • Families

  • Teachers

9 Aspects of Preschool Quality for CHILDREN:

  1. Children are respected, nurtured, and challenged. They enjoy close, warm relationships with the adults and other children in their classroom. They frequently interact and communicate with peers and adults; they do not spend long periods of time waiting, being ignored, or isolated. Children enjoy and look forward to school.

  2. Children have ongoing opportunities to learn important skills, knowledge, and dispositions. Classrooms are busy with conversations, projects, experiments, reading, and building activities. The materials and activities are individualized and challenge children's intellectual development. Children do not wander aimlessly and they are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.

  3. Children are able to make meaningful decisions throughout the day. They can choose from a variety of activities, decide what type of products they want to create, engage in important conversations with friends and exercise their curiosity.

  4. The children's home language and culture are respected, appreciated, and incorporated into the curriculum and the classroom.

  5. Children participate in individual, small-group, and large-group activities. They learn important social and self-regulation skills through adult guidance and appropriate discipline. All children are not expected to develop at the same rate; individual needs and abilities are accommodated in all learning activities.

  6. Children learn the skills necessary for future academic success. Language and literacy activities include frequent interactive book reading, expanded conversations with adults, opportunities to read and write throughout the day, and a positive, joyful climate for learning. They have opportunities to learn the language of school — how to listen, follow directions, respond to teacher questions, and initiate problem-solving.

  7. Children have the opportunity to learn basic school readiness skills. They learn expanded vocabulary, alphabetic principles, phonological awareness; concepts of numbers, shapes, measurement and spatial relations; task persistence; early scientific thinking; and information about the world and how it works.

  8. Children's natural curiosity is used as a powerful motivator. Their interest in everything in their environment as well as ideas and concepts contribute to the design of activities and curriculum.

  9. Children are given variety in their daily schedule. A child's day should allow for active and quiet time, indoor and outdoor time, short activities and longer ones to increase attention spans, and careful planning to address all aspects of development for all children.

7 Aspects of Preschool Quality for FAMILIES:

  1. Family members are included as partners in all aspects of the educational program. Families are routinely consulted about the interests, abilities, and preferences of their children.

  2. Family members are welcomed into the program and allowed to observe and participate in the activities.

  3. Parents have opportunities to improve their educational and/or parenting skills.

  4. Information about each child's progress is routinely shared with parents.

  5. Parents have opportunities to contribute to the policies and programs of the preschool. They also actively contribute to the educational goals of their children.

  6. The family's home culture and language are respected, appreciated, and incorporated into all communications. The program understands the values, beliefs, and customs of the families in order to design meaningful curricula.

  7. All families are viewed as having strengths. The strong bond of care between parents and children is supported.

10 Aspects of Quality for TEACHERS, CURRICULUM and CLASSROOMS

  1. Teachers have a deep understanding of child development, teaching methods, and curriculum, allowing them to skillfully promote children's social and cognitive development.

  2. Teachers have frequent, meaningful interactions with children. They frequently engage children in meaningful conversations, expand their knowledge and vocabulary, use open-ended questioning, and encourage problem-solving skills.

  3. Teachers teach important concepts such as mathematics and early literacy through projects, everyday experiences, collaborative activities, and active curriculum.

  4. Teachers regularly assess each child's progress and make adjustments as necessary. They carefully document the emerging abilities of each child and plan activities that promote increased achievement. They also collaborate with other staff and parents about the meaning of the assessments.

  5. Teachers refer children who may have special learning needs for comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis.

  6. Teachers and other staff are provided with ongoing professional development. There is active supervision, mentoring and feedback for all staff. There is a climate of trust, respect and cooperation among all the employees.

  7. Teachers communicate respect for the families and warmth for the children. They are knowledgeable about the languages and cultures of the children and families.

  8. Teachers are able to have respectful, collaborative relationships with other staff, parents, and other professionals. Each classroom has at least one teacher and a second adult who work as a team throughout the day. Standards should reflect, at a minimum, the recommended ratios from the National Association of Education for Young Children for program accreditation. (One staff member to 10 children and group size of no more than 20 for children ages 3-5.)

  9. Teachers use a curriculum with specified goals, approaches toward learning, expected outcomes and assessment procedures. Teachers should be able to describe their curriculum, why it was chosen and what they are accomplishing with it.

  10. Children have opportunities to learn in spacious, well-equipped classrooms that have a variety of age-appropriate materials including art, music, science, language, mathematics, puzzles, dramatic play and building materials.


Early Childhood Education can be beneficial for your child, but only if experienced in an environment where Process and Structural Quality Standards are practiced.

When evaluating a new program for your child, try using the above observable quality aspects as a checklist and be sure to interview the Director with these guidelines in mind. In a High-Quality center, the Director will be familiar with these concepts and be able to speak at length about them and how they are applied in the classroom. If not, you probably want to continue your search.

If you use this checklist as a reference as you interview preschools. You’ll easily discover whether the Processes and Structure are designed to produce a quality educational experience for your child.

If we do not have a center in your area, let us know and we can contact your church about opportunities with The Preschool Group.

Contact The Preschool at Discovery today to learn more about our High-Quality program delivered to your family in a Christian environment where we incorporate throughout our curriculum the concepts of God, Jesus and the Bible.

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