Finding a high quality preschool in Massachusetts can be a challenge. Ask these questions of preschool teachers and administrators to insure you are making the right choice. Dr. Ellen Frede of the National Institute for Early Education Research has developed one of the best 10 questions to ask any preschool you interview. Here is a summary of the top 10 preschool questions or visit the NIEER website to see their detailed Top Ten Preschool Question You Must Ask any Preschool.

For advice on ten questions you should ask every preschool teacher read our post: 10 Questions to Help You Find the Best Preschool Teachers

1. Can I make an appointment to visit your program and spend time in a classroom?

What to look for: safe spaces with children comfortable and engaged in what they are doing, not easily distracted or wandering aimlessly; children seem happy, not distressed, bored or crying; adults are caring, sensitive (not harsh), responsive to children’s needs and requests, and involved in what the children are doing by helping children solve problems, accomplish projects and learn; time and space for active outdoor and indoor play as well as quiet time. Children’s voices dominate.

Editor's Note: If the school balks at you visiting during normal hours – really think about why – and insist that you are able to see the preschool in operation. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it – you should not entrust your child to a school that won’t let you see it in operation.

2. Is there a curriculum and how well do teachers implement it?

What to look for: a proven curriculum model aligned with early learning standards that cover physical well-being and motor development, social/emotional development, approaches toward learning, language development, and cognition and general knowledge. Teachers plan for each day and individualize for each child; play with teachers involved is a big part of the day.

Editor's Note: This is a big issue in Massachusetts. Massachusetts holds daycare centers and private preschools to a much lower standard than public preschools. Massachusetts also doesn’t distinguish between the preschools and daycare. This does not mean that private preschools are inferior – many are of extraordinary quality and far exceed public preschools particularly considering the horrible funding of most public preschools. The problem is that any hack with a building and babysitters can call themselves a preschool in Massachusetts. You need to find the genuine preschools – not hyped daycare. All of the research on the benefits of preschool indicate that it is the curriculum that makes the difference. If a preschool can’t document and discuss their curriculum with you – chance are they a just a daycare. Find a preschool!

3. What are the qualifications of the teachers?

What to look for: Four-year college degrees with specialized training in early childhood education and child development. Your child should be assigned a teacher with these qualifications who is always responsible for your child. Teachers should have annual in-service training requirements and continuing training in such areas as safety practices, first aid, and emergency preparedness.

Editor's Note: This is another important point. The benefits of teachers that have dedicated their careers to early childhood education are immeasurable. In Massachusetts, many, many preschools – even those that have a curriculum are often staffed with individuals that have minimal training. These programs believe that anyone can teach a child. If you witness this, its a signal that the program director just doesn’t get it and thus can’t attract the best and brightest teachers .

4. How much are your teachers paid?

What to look for: Salaries that are comparable to what private or public school teachers earn for teaching Kindergarten or First grade.

Editor's Note: This is related to the previous question and a big problem with Massachusetts preschool. Many low quality preschool programs will hire the cheapest possible employee they can find. Often minimum wage employees are hired to allow the preschool to keep its 10 to 1 teacher to student ratio in line. In other words, you can bring in ten more students for every minimum wage adult you hire. Run, don’t walk, run from these preschools.

5. What is the turnover rate for your teachers and assistant teachers?

What to look for: low turnover rates, teachers and assistants who have been there for years.

This is the reason you need to run from the low paying preschools. The turn over rate is sky high in these preschool programs and your child will feel the unhappiness of the employees and will be heart-broken when every time they get attached to an adult, they vanish for the next program that will pay them $0.25 more per hour

6. What are the qualifications of the assistant teachers?

What to look for: some required training, the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or college course work in a prekindergarten area are good indicators.

Editor's Note: This is also a big issue in Massachusetts because training for assistant teachers is minimal and not enforced. It is up to you to measure the quality and qualifications of the teaching assistants. Don’t ignore them – they will spend a lot of time with your child. If you would be nervous living your child with them alone – find another program.

7. How large are the classes and what are the staff-child ratios?

What to look for: Classes no larger than 20 and preferably smaller (15-18), especially if your child is more comfortable and will receive more personal attention in a smaller class. Classes must have at least one teacher per 10 children.

Editor's Note: The law allows Massachusetts preschool classes to be up to 20 children. Unfortunately enforcement is difficult. So be sure to ask this question. Many preschools will push this number as high as possible knowing that the chances of getting caught are low and the penalty is practically non-existent.

8. Are children assessed for learning difficulties and other problems (hearing, vision), do teachers know how to work with children who have special problems and are parents involved in the program?

What to look for: formal and informal health, sensory, and cognitive screenings, access to consultants on children’s health and other special learning needs, teachers who keep ongoing records on how children are doing and develop individual plans for working with each child, opportunities for parent conferences and family involvement.

Editor's Note: This is a great tell tale sign of a high quality Massachusetts preschool. Strong high quality programs will have a person on staff responsible for identifying learning difficulties or at least have a relationship with a specialist that visits regularly. Early intervention is key to the long term success of children with learning difficulties and the high quality preschool know it. If you get the “deer in the head lights” look when you ask this question – even if your child doesn’t have learning difficulties – think long and hard about placing your child in the school. If they miss this resource, chances are they miss many others too.

9. Does the program provide healthy meals and/or snacks?

What to look for: programs that show a concern about children’s nutrition and developing healthy eating habits, and provide nutritious food.

Editor's Note: This may seem like a non-brainer right. Well you’d be surprised what some our our community members have found their children eating at “preschool”. While asking this question – consider asking how they handle special diets, allergies and religious observances.

10. Does routine monitoring for program quality take place?

What to look for: Is there a monitoring system in to ensure that quality standards are in place (such as site visits in publicly funded programs)? Is the program accredited by a national early childhood organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children? Does the program continuously ensure program quality through updating accreditation, conducting staff evaluation, and other program quality assessments?

Editor's Note: This final point reminds me of one of my college professors. His lecture notes were so old that they literally broke apart when he picked them up. He actually relied on student to update him on what the new edition of the text book added to the field. Having a strong foundation in the tried and true is of extraordinary value – but rigidly holding to it is a sign of a program that lacks the flexibility to educate your child and stimulate his or her appetite for the future. More so, truly great teachers never stop learning, so the good teachers will leave preschools that don’t improve over time. The end result is a program in decline.