Massachusetts Early Care and Education Study

Information for Parents

Indicators of quality full-time preschool programs

Indicators you can ask about:

  • How many children are in each classroom? What is the ratio of children to adults throughout the day? Higher quality classrooms tend to have fewer children per adult in the classroom. Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services licensing regulations limit preschool classrooms to 10 children per qualified adult, and no more than 20 children in the classroom.
  • How far did the classroom teachers go in their education? Do they have education or training in early childhood? NAEYC recommends that teachers have at least a CDA credential or Associate degree, preferably a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related field.
  • How much of the time are there teachers in the classroom, compared to assistant teachers? In the Massachusetts Cost and Quality Study, we found that higher quality classrooms used teachers, not assistants, for at least three-quarters of total classroom "staff time". In other words, assistants are used for only portions of the day, and children have more time from better-educated teachers.
  • Is the program NAEYC-accredited; that is, have they completed a rigorous self-study and review by the National Association for the Education of Young Children within the last three years? We found that higher quality programs were more likely to be accredited. Programs must be re-accredited every 3 years.

Indicators you can observe:

  • Can the teacher explain to you what the children are learning or getting out of a particular activity that you see in the classroom on your visit?
  • Do children appear to be engaged in what they are doing, curious, content, involved?
  • Do children get along with each other, cooperate, use their words to work things out?
  • Do adults listen to children, and respond positively to children's conversation?

Other indicators of quality programs:

  • Activities: Are there a variety of activities available to children, including building toys, art materials, "manipulatives" like beads for stringing, puzzles, musical instruments, sand or water toys, dramatic play (dress-up), and nature/science and math/number materials? Are the materials and activities organized or used in a way that allows children to be creative with the materials, to use their imagination and make their own decisions about how to use the materials? Do staff use everyday events as learning opportunities, talking about the seasons, counting while climbing the steps? Are materials stored on open shelves so that children can take the initiative in their play, rather than waiting for the teacher to suggest an activity? Are different activities integrated or linked together? - for example, the dress-up corner has clothes and props related to a recent field trip; the books in the classroom library are about autumn and the nature table has leaves and acorns collected on a recent walk; children's family experiences (food, family customs) are incorporated into snack time.
  • Language-Reasoning Does the classroom have a variety of books accessible to the children for a substantial portion of: the day? Do staff read books to children informally, not just at "story-time"? Do staff informally talk about patterns (bigger/littler, shorter, taller) in the materials as children play with them, incorporate sorting games or pattern games into children's play ("let's put all the hats in this box and all the shoes in this box")? Are children encouraged to talk through or explain their reasoning when solving problems? Do staff balance listening and talking with the children, make links between talking and writing (for example, write down what the child dictates to them and read it back to them)? Do staff use actual events or experiences to encourage children's reasoning or problem-solving, and introduce concepts in response to children's interests? Do staff encourage children to give longer or more complex answers by asking younger children "what" and "where" questions, and asking older children "why" and "how" questions?
  • Interactions: Do staff help children develop social skills, by encouraging sharing, helping children talk through conflicts and understand the feelings of others, modeling positive behaviors? Do staff show warmth and respect for children and respond sympathetically to an upset child? Is the program set up to reduce conflict among children (for example, enough materials for everyone, travel paths don't lead through activity areas)? Do staff use non-punitive discipline methods (for example, giving attention for positive behaviors, redirecting children from unacceptable to acceptable activities)? Do staff include activities that help children learn to get along with each other (for example, making soup with many ingredients, painting a mural together)? Do staff spend some time with children one-on-one, not just in groups? Is the program structured in such a way that children have activities that they do individually, others in small groups and some with the whole class?
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