What are the hallmarks of high-quality programs?
Small class size and low child-teacher ratios are very important. "This allows teachers to meet children's individual needs," says Parents adviser Kathleen McCartney, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It also helps kids make friends more easily. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends classes of no more than 14 for 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds and 20 for 3- to 5-year-olds. And there should be at least one adult looking after every seven 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds or ten 3- to 5-year-olds. The classroom should also be well equipped with play materials that the children can reach easily. Of course, safety and cleanliness are crucial too. Make sure the staff is trained in first aid and that there are fenced outdoor play spaces. Ask how often toys and equipment are cleaned, and if kids are encouraged to wash their hands during the day.