What to look for in classrooms that serve preschool students.
All parents want healthy and safe care for their children. But how can you know if a program offers a good environment for your preschooler? Just looking around your care provider’s learning spaces can give you great insight. You can tell if your child will be safe and nurtured. You can assess your child’s caregivers, the quality of the space, and the toys and supplies in it. You can also see how a provider engages families.
Where is the teacher, and what are they doing?
For preschoolers, playing is learning. And that includes lots of conversations with their classmates and teachers. You should see teachers encouraging kids to talk — about their feelings, what they like, and what they do — by asking them questions. Then, they should give them the time and space to really think about their answers. The teachers shouldn’t be looking for “right” answers. Teachers should give children something to consider and then allow them to respond in their own voices.
Other signs of quality care to look for in teacher and student interactions:
- Routines are predictable and are posted in a place where all children can clearly see what will be happening throughout the day.
- The room is set up with activity options, but not too many. Too many choices can be overstimulating for children.
- Positive corrections and redirection: instead of saying “No,” teachers redirect the child’s attention to other activities.
- Teachers should point out children’s accomplishments, and encourage the children to share them.
- Don’t just listen, look around! You might see charts of likes/ dislikes, favorite food surveys, and more on the walls.
- You should see teachers allowing upset children to move away from the group, asking them to use words to describe their feelings, and supporting them when they return to the group.
- Teachers supporting behaviors like sharing and taking turns. For example, children may be asked to take turns. Or they will be encouraged to be a line leader, decide on a game or choose a book to read.
Are the classroom supplies good quality and age-appropriate for your child?
The objects in your child’s environment impact how they play and develop their curiosity. Observe and take note: Does your kid’s teacher help the children to use their imaginations to do things in new ways? For example, notice if your child uses familiar objects to create new things. Or do they get to explore different ways of doing things — like painting with mud and sand, or using colored paper scraps to construct pictures of animals.
Play items to look for in a classroom with preschoolers:
- Items for sorting, like colored bears, rocks or beads
- A “calm space” or area where children can be quiet
- Magnetic building block systems
- Pattern blocks
- Building blocks
- Lots of books
Need help with asking the right questions for finding quality child care? Read this: Child Care Provider Checklist – asking all the right questions.
Looking for tools for improving communication with your child care provider? Read this: Building a Relationship with My Child’s Teacher.
Are there chances for solo play and are activities age-appropriate?
A fun, creativity-boosting program for preschoolers includes examples of children’s work. You should see drawings, paintings and writing that children have created. And those examples should be where the kids can see them. Look for a reading center where children can make up their own stories through writing, or by using photos, art materials, and even objects from nature like leaves or feathers.
Other activities taking place in a quality preschool setting:
- Teachers should be reading aloud to children.
- You should see children playing at a water or sand table, or weighing small items on a scale.
- Preschool-aged children should have an opportunity to go on “nature walks” outdoors, where kids can see, touch and collect items like rocks, leaves, grass and flowers.
- Children should have the chance to set up play grocery stores or talk about different jobs in the community.
- You should see children doing full-body exercises and activities. Outdoors, this could mean running, playing tag, and riding bikes. Indoors, it could mean skipping and jumping — even racing each other down the hallway on a rainy day!
- Children should be creating patterns with paper cutouts or blocks of different colors, shapes, and sizes, or even blocks with numbers on them.
- Children are playing counting games, such as counting chairs at lunchtime, or counting classmates when they line up to go outdoors (as well as noting who’s first and last in line).
- You should see teachers leading children in songs and singing games.
- Teachers encouraging children to act out stories and ideas using props and costumes.
Are families well represented?
Each child’s family should be represented in the space through photos, favorite books, songs and culture. Photos might be in photo books, on the floor, on walls or shelves — anywhere that children might be able to see the photo. Family members should be welcome to stop by anytime or stay for a few minutes at drop off or pick up.
Although families can observe and seek out many signs of quality care, this is a good start to feeling comfortable with your child’s care provider. If any of these things are missing in a preschool space, talk to a teacher and express your concerns.
Search online or call us to find child care that fits your needs.
Indiana families have two easy, free services to help them find care. Visit Child Care Finder online or call the Brighter Futures Indiana staff at 1-800-299-1627 Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. or Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. You can also start a conversation in the chat window right on this page during those times.
Vicci Rydzinski is the subject matter expert for the Statewide Support team at Early Learning Indiana. She has a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with an emphasis in reading and has held various positions in the education field. During her free time you can find Vicci, her son Preston and husband Rob exploring the local farmer’s markets, cheering on Notre Dame or trying new recipes.
With so many different options for your child, how do you find the best fit for you? Start with Paths to QUALITY™, Indiana’s quality rating improvement rating system for child care. It is a free resource that helps families make informed decisions — and helps early education providers improve program quality.
Build Your Child’s Brighter Future!
Want to learn about more resources to support your search for child care? Check out the following links: