The research into what leads to great early childhood experiences is mixed; lower child-to-teacher ratios, stringent teacher credentials, and beautiful environments don't necessarily equal a high-quality program. Asking about and looking at the basic logistics doesn't necessarily mean the program is high-quality. The best measure of quality in early childhood programs is the teacher-child interactions. In high-quality programs, the teachers have the skills, resources, and desire to engage with the children as they learn. High-quality teachers help to stretch children's thinking and delve deeper into the children's ideas. When you're touring a program play close attention to how the teachers interact with the children, how they are supported, and what goals the program has for children.
The person who is giving you a tour should speak openly about the school. You should get insight into the program philosophy, daily life at center, and how problems are handled. Be mindful that you are only getting a small peek into this program so you want to be aware of little things.
Teacher-Child Interactions are Key
Look for teachers playing with, attending to, and showing love towards the children. Teachers’ language should be positive and encouraging. The highest quality programs are those in which teachers help to scaffold children's learning by offering just enough help. Children should be able to freely explore their classroom, and be allowed to use toys and materials they choose. Children may be thrown off by visitors but should seem genuinely happy and free to explore, not fearful of their teachers. You may see children crying or upset, look at how the teachers handle their upset. Children build emotional intelligence by working though problems not being hushed, appeased, or distracted. Look for presence and empathy with emotions.
Questions to Ask
- How children are moved up to an older classroom? - Continuity of care is best for children under three, wherein a child moves with a group of their friends and a teacher based on their development and growth. Attention should be given to keep children's classroom, classmates, and teachers as consistent as possible.
- How are teachers trained in child development, behavior guidance, and curriculum? Ask about how teachers are supported and how much staff turnover is typical.
- What is the program’s philosophy and how does center handle differing parent philosophies? How are problems handled between children, teachers, and families?
- What level of parent involvement is expected or typical? - High quality programs listen to parents but do no change based on each parent's whim. Systems should be in place to support parent involvement.