Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Picking Preschools: Invest in quality from the start

Posted January 9, 2012

Editor's Note: Louise Bannon of Wake County SmartStart will offer tips on picking preschools this week. Check our preschool database for a list of preschools in the region.

Quality child care makes an enormous difference in the life of your child! The early years of life matter because early experiences affect the architecture of the maturing brain. As the brain develops, the quality of that architecture establishes either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the development and behavior that follows -- and getting things right the first time is easier than trying to fix them later.

This is a great time of the year to explore your early care and education options. Wake County SmartStart, working to ensure that young children grow up to be successful in school and life, has listed six areas of importance when selecting quality care for your child. Be sure to take note of these easy things to look for when you’re on the hunt!

1. Check quality standards. When selecting a quality preschool, it’s important to make sure you’re interviewing facilities that are licensed by the state of North Carolina. Also, be sure to check the facility’s star rating, which is one indication of quality. One star is the lowest rating a facility can obtain; five stars is the highest.

2. Look for low child to staff ratios. The fewer children a teacher cares for, the more attention a child can receive. Child care providers that strive for lower child to staff ratios are working to provide high quality care for your child.

3. Do the teachers and staff have education and experience? The education and experience of the teacher is the most important aspect to quality care for your child. A qualified teacher can help you understand how your child is growing physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. A qualified teacher also knows how to talk with your child and help your child learn, grow and be successful later in life. Also ask questions about teacher retention. When your child loses multiple teachers, it can affect how your child relates to other adults.

4. Are the activities developmentally appropriate? Developmentally appropriate practices are activities that meet the developmental level of your child. You wouldn’t ask a two-year-old to sit at a desk all day, would you? Quality child care programs have classrooms and activities that meet the needs of your child at each developmental stage. Also, when you visit a facility, be sure to take note of staff interactions with children. Are there playtime and interesting activities for children to participate in? There should be places for children to play outside, build blocks, have quiet time, etc.

5. Health and safety is an important aspect of selecting a quality child care facility. During your visit, take note of the amount of physical activity the children receive, the menu and food options and the amount of “screen” time the children are getting. Any child older than two should only get 30 minutes of screen time per week. Also, be sure to ask how the teachers in the facility handle emergencies.

6. The furnishings at a child care facility can vary, depending on the nature of the facility. Furnishings in an infant room will be different from those in a pre-kindergarten room or family child care home. Items such as tables and chairs, high chairs, cribs, cots and sleeping mats are all part of the furnishings. Activity areas in the classroom should be clearly defined and organized so that children have opportunities to learn through exploration and play. Be sure to ask: Do cribs meet current safety standards? What type of equipment is available and why is it arranged the way it is? How does the equipment help to develop the children’s learning capabilities?

Studies reveal that a high quality child care program helps children become more ready for school which increases their chances to succeed. Research also indicates that employers benefit when their employees' children are in quality child care arrangements. It is important that you choose a child care provider that will partner with you to provide what’s best for your family. It’s time to invest in quality from the start!

For more information about quality child care and education, visit the Wake County SmartStart Web site at or call 919-851-9550 to learn more. An additional resource for families is the Child Care Services Association Child Care Resource and Referral program at or call 919-779-2220.


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  • YipesStripes Jan 10, 2012

    The points for #6/Furnishings sound geared more toward daycare, not your typical half-day preschools. I think it's extremely important to evaluate what your child needs from preschool. Do they need superior academics or is it more important for them to learn basic social skills and how to follow instructions from an adult in charge, stand in line, etc? Each child is different.

  • Starlight Lady Jan 10, 2012

    Pre school is important, but those stars=$$$ what if you can't spend $1500-$2000 dollars a month per child on daycare...

  • shall6 Jan 10, 2012

    Good points ... thank you!


  • Amomoftwo Jan 10, 2012

    Lilypony, that's a great point about the lack of stars! The star rating reflects how that particular preschool was performing on one certain day in a three year period. I would suggest parents visit multiple times before placing their child in any program. Experienced teachers without a college degree don't rate as high on the scales as a new college graduate with zero experience with children.....which is a concern of mine.

  • lilypony Jan 9, 2012

    Don't forget that there are tons of high quality preschools that are not part of the rating system. Half day programs which provide care for no more than 4 hours per day don't fall under those requirements for the star ratings. Nearly all church and independent morning preschool programs won't have a star rating yet still provide excellent care and education.

    In those cases you want to use the same care and diligence that you use in seeking a full-day program. You just need to be aware that lack of stars in these situations has nothing to do with quality.