How to Choose a Quality Early Childhood Program

Choosing an early childhood program can be both overwhelming and intimidating. The quality of instruction can vary considerably, so parents must become informed consumers. This requires investing time, energy, and research into making a decision that is best for your child and family.
When choosing a good-fit program, it’s important to remember that early childhood is built on trusting relationships. Successful relationships may be hard to define, but they are easy to see. When you walk into a high-quality classroom, a loving and collaborative environment should be evident and observable:

Teacher interactions are appropriate and positive.
The classroom should be a place of mutual respect between students and teachers. This includes teachers speaking to students at their eye level, addressing them by name, and listening attentively. Positive reinforcement should be evident through hugs, high fives, and words of constructive encouragement. When children feel respected and valued, they are empowered to be their best selves.

Children learn through play.
Research shows the most impactful early childhood programs implement a play-based curriculum. This includes hands-on learning experiences that allow students to experiment, create, explore, and investigate. Students are not expected to sit for long periods of time so outdoor play is, therefore, an important component of the daily schedule. Children should be regarded as active contributors to the classroom with the autonomy to choose activities and peer-work partners.

Social-emotional learning is at the forefront.
Social-emotional skills are directly related to a child’s personal and academic success. Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to the process by which a child understands and manages emotions, sets and achieves goals, feels and shows empathy, and establishes relationships. To put it simply, it is how a child interacts with others around him/her. It is paramount that early childhood classrooms focus on SEL to build self-esteem and foster positive relationships. When touring schools, families should look for indicators of an SEL curriculum, including teachers encouraging thoughtful working relationships, high student engagement, and effective conflict resolution strategies used within the classroom.

Families are well informed.
Communication between teachers and families is very important during the early childhood years because a child’s communication skills are typically still emerging. When researching programs, families should inquire about a  school’s communication policies, which may include weekly emails, newsletters, communication apps, and/or class websites. It is also important to ask how individual teachers communicate with families, including parent-teacher conferences, written progress reports, and informal check-ins. A strong partnership between teachers and families is crucial to the success of a child’s education.

A quality early childhood program sets the foundation for the transition to kindergarten and beyond, and a successful program should spark a love of learning and create excitement about school. When researching schools, I recommend looking for an environment where the children are actively engaged, stimulated, creative, and - above all else - they are happy.

Listen to the Dawson podcast episode on The Importance of Early Childhood Education for more information from our experts:

By Amanda Murray-Musgrave
Director of Early Childhood

The Alexander Dawson School

The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.