Cindy Terebush, MS Early Childhood Studies, Certified Youth, Parent, Family Coach; Education & Parenting Consultant, Speaker and Author
I am so glad you asked this great question! I answer it often when working with parent groups. Whenever parents ask this question, I give them several pieces of advice. It is important to find a preschool that has a director and staff who understand developmentally appropriate practice. Every child learns at a different rate and that has to be respected. It is also detrimental to teach and push young children in a way that isn't appropriate for their development and abilities. Expectations need to be realistic and based on fact, not a desire to enroll and earn more money. Very basically, young children need the freedom to explore and make choices with an understanding that their individual developmental levels matter because they are not all alike. They need a lot of opportunities to try new skills without critique.
The most important goals of a preschool should relate to teaching socialization and behavior. Preschoolers need to learn how to function in a group of peers and how to negotiate the ins & outs of being part of a larger society. Discipline should be taught - there is no place for punishment. Ask a lot of questions about how they handle challenging behaviors.
Go to the preschools and listen carefully. Do you hear yelling? Are the children being guided respectfully? Are the teachers being helpful as the children learn life lessons about different places having different rules, how to get along with others, etc.?
You also want to look at the art on the walls. The best preschools have child-created art and not teacher created art. If all the art looks the same - all the pieces glued in all the right places, for example - it is not a good sign. We want young children to have the freedom of self-expression and to be developing critical thinking and decision making skills. Being able to paint whatever blob they want or gluing pieces where they see fit are some of the first experiences children have with making decisions. When preschools value their creations, they gain self-confidence.
As you can see, I could go on & on. Check out the articles I've written on this site and you are welcome to check out my website & blog by going to www.helpingkidsachieve.com.