What makes a good prekindergarten program? A study by University of South Dakota education professors Marlys Ann Boschee and Geralyn M. Jacobs reviewed research on early childhood classrooms and found several core components of high-quality programs. (See “Is Prekindergarten Right for Your Child?” for answers to some common questions about preK programs.)

Good provider: Your child’s teacher should be warm, caring, sensitive to your child’s needs, and accepting of different ethnic backgrounds and customs. She should know how to speak to young children to elicit response and how to use positive discipline. Watching how teachers speak to students and how students respond is one of the most powerful indicators of quality. Children should be engaged and eager to communicate with their teacher.

Adequate staffing: The recommended ratio is at least one adult for every 10 children in classrooms of children ages 3 to 5. Specialized training in early childhood education is a plus. Your state may have more specific guidelines or requirements.

Appropriate environment: Your child’s classroom should be neat and organized. Look for designated areas for small-group activities such as pretend-play, reading and arts and crafts as well as a place where kids gather together to listen to stories.

Commitment to safety: Teachers must be alert in their supervision of children. They should have plans for what to do in an emergency situation and know how to reach parents quickly. They should practice good hand-washing techniques and comply with sanitation measures required by the state.

Interaction with parents: The staff members at your child’s school should welcome involvement from parents and be eager to form relationships with their students’ family members.

Check your state’s licensing division for child-care and preK programs for more specific standards. Accreditation agencies such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children provide additional reassurance of high standards.

Signs a preK program is not high quality:

  • Teachers speak to children with language that is too advanced for them to understand.
  • Children don’t respond to teachers.
  • Teachers lose their temper with children and appear stressed out.
  • Activities are either too simple or too complex.
  • Children appear bored, restless, and stressed.
  • Toys and equipment are in poor condition.
  • Teachers have more children than they can supervise adequately.