A quality preschool can strongly impact your child’s education. A quality learning environment provides a gentle transition from home or playschool to a formal educational environment. Children who get enrolled in quality preschools benefit from social interaction and developmental support. And they can tiptoe into the formal learning world.

However, not all preschools are created equal. A weak preschool environment can have the opposite effects of a quality one. The ill consequences of a weak preschool mean that children might regress or develop negative associations with school. The list below provides signs that a parent should watch out for when choosing the right preschool.

The Student-Teacher Ratio

Preschool-aged children require a lot of attention.  Children in this age group mostly engage in parallel play, and they’re still learning a lot about boundaries and acceptable behavior.

In order to foster a safe environment, the student-teacher ratio should be less than fifteen students per one teacher. Furthermore, this ratio is crucial for learning opportunities.

A good preschool teacher should know their students. Additionally, a good teacher should spend some quality one-on-one time with each student to develop skills and identify shortfalls.

If you visit a preschool with a higher student-teacher ratio (or a classroom where it seems like the teacher is unable to properly manage the number of students), you should likely seek a better preschool. These signs indicate a weak preschool environment.

Expired Certificates, Licenses, or Clearances (or Refusing to Provide Them)

States regulate the people who can be around children in a classroom environment, as well as who can teach. Many states require exams that teachers much pass to obtain a certificate or license.

Additionally, states require child-abuse clearances. This term means that the teacher does not have a criminal record (especially crimes against or involving children). The requirements for certificates, licenses, and clearances change, depending on the state of residence.

Nevertheless, states make this information public, and it can be located on the state’s department of education websites—or by contacting the state regulatory agency.

If a preschool allows uncertified, unlicensed, or non-cleared teachers to be around students, that’s a huge red flag that you should avoid that preschool. But it’s also dangerous, and it makes profits more of a priority than your child’s safety and best interests.

Quality preschools do not have the same difficulties that poor preschools have, including attracting and retaining quality teachers. So if you encounter a preschool that doesn’t comply with your state's laws regarding certificates, licenses, and clearances, you should avoid that preschool.

Lack of Engaging Programs

Children attend preschool to learn and socialize. And parents enroll their children in preschool so they can get a head start in their educational endeavors. A quality preschool gently introduces students into many facets of learning.

The areas of learning at a quality preschool include art, music, and physical education—in addition to learning their letters and numbers, and starting to learn to read and write. A poor quality preschool operates more like a playschool, where children don’t get introduced into specific subject areas. And they self-govern while playing with toys or (even worse) television.

Additionally, quality preschools retain educational professionals who take their careers seriously. With regard to engaging programs, your child’s preschool teacher should develop a curriculum and set goals to achieve the milestones in that school’s curricula. While styles may vary, you should see educational development in your child as the school year progresses.

An Unclean Learning Environment

A quality preschool should have updated learning toys and educational areas. And they should have policies that promote a healthy, safe learning environment. Broken toys are not only unsafe, they’re indicators that the preschool does not invest money into its programs.

Furthermore, dirty, unkempt playing and learning areas harbor germs. They send the message to your children that cleanliness and organizational skills don’t matter. Up-to-date learning toys and disinfected, clean playing and learning areas are essential for quality preschools. When a preschool is not concerned with its outward appearance, the chances are that it’s not concerned about its students.

Furthermore, good preschools have policies about student health and illnesses. When you visit a preschool, you should not see sick children there. Quality preschools have policies that are designed to prevent the spread of sickness, especially because young children’s immune systems are still developing. And they are very prone to illnesses.

All students should get vaccinated, and they should provide proof of vaccinations before enrolling in school. If an outbreak of something serious should occur (such as lice or chickenpox) then parents should be immediately notified.

Implementing quality health policies indicates that’s it’s a good preschool—with administration that cares about the well-being of students.

Lack of Parent-Teacher Dialogue

An open dialogue is an essential trait of a high-performing preschool. Trained preschool teachers know that parents require information to judge progress or identify shortcomings.

A good preschool should promote an open-door policy, which allows parents to ask questions and receive answers about their child’s education. Sometimes, preschools will send this information via email, since pickups can get hectic at preschools.

A good preschool will host parent-teacher conferences. At these meetings, quality preschool teachers will have student rubrics, which grade their students on a performance scale to measure growth. Some common areas that should get measured in preschool include a student’s ability to raise their hand, cooperate with classmates, share, and work independently.

A sign of a high-performing preschool is the educator’s desire to involve parents in a student’s education and invite dialogue. If an open discussion or parent-teacher conferences are lacking, there’s a good chance that it’s a poor preschool.

What to Look for Overall

Each of the above-listed factors should be considered in conjunction with the others. Often, poorly performing preschools exhibit all of the listed traits. However, many poor preschools might be strong in one of the areas above, but still underperform in other areas.

Truly quality preschools that provide the best learning environments for children are usually strong in all of the areas above. While no school will be perfect all of the time, when it comes to children and preschool, they should strive for perfection.

Overall, a parent should advocate for their child’s education. They should take an active role in evaluating preschools and teachers. Parents should view each preschool with a lens of the total circumstances. And they should identify traits that point to either a high-quality learning environment or an environment that should be avoided.