Asking the right questions to choose the right preschool

When families are looking for the right preschool, what are the right questions to ask?

We took this question to Terri England, director of New Horizons Child Care in Evanston. Terri has years of early childhood education experience, not only as a community preschool provider but also as a home-based provider.

“Every center has its own culture and you’re not going to see the same thing in each place,” said Terri, who is also a Cincinnati Preschool Promise board member. “That’s why we want to make sure the parents understand what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. We want them to choose the best preschool for their child.”

Families are encouraged to visit preschool providers before enrolling to ensure it is the right fit, not only for their child, but also for the family’s needs overall.

Here are some questions and things to consider when choosing a preschool:

What are your family’s needs? 

  • What hours do you need childcare?
  • What location would work best for your daily schedule?
  • What days is the center open and closed?

“Those are the practical, grassroots things parents have to deal with,” Terri said. “We ask parents what they’re looking for first and then we figure out if what we have will meet their needs.”

How do the teachers interact with the students?

  • Are there enough teachers to give good care and learning experiences to every child?
  • How do the teachers treat the students?
  • Do you hear the adults or the children more?

“You need to hear the children more than you hear the adults,” Terri said. “If you hear the adults, you want to hear them praising the kids or giving some type of instruction for what they will be doing next.”

Do the students look happy?

  • Do they look excited to be learning?
  • Are they all engaged in the lesson?
  • If not, how are the teachers helping to support the children?

“Look at the children,” Terri said. “See if they’re happy, if they’re smiling, if they’re excited. You don’t want to see a child over in the corner looking sad, and no one is going over to comfort them.”

Is the preschool clean?

  • Is the facility well-organized?
  • Does it feel safe?

“You want to look at some practical things, like cleanliness,” Terri said.

Does the school have high expectations for family engagement?

  • How do they communicate with parents and families?
  • Does the school post information in the building that’s easy to see and read?
  • Do they send out newsletters and regular communication about what is happening at the school?

“We want you to know what’s going on here,” Terri said. “Parents need to come to meetings, come to open houses, to sign off on communication. We also want to be able to contact you when something is going on with your child.”

What do other parents think of the preschool?

  • How do other parents interact with the staff?
  • Are they satisfied with the preschool?
  • Do their children like going to school?

“I encourage new parents to talk to parents who are already here,” Terri said. “Because they’re going to tell you exactly how they feel about the center and how they feel about what’s going on with their children.”

Are the children moving onto kindergarten prepared to succeed?

  • Does the local neighborhood school have children from that preschool?
  • Were they prepared when they entered kindergarten?

“Talk to the schools,” Terri recommended, “because most of our children go to the neighborhood schools. Ask them if they have any children from the preschool and if they came in prepared. The proof is in the pudding and that word of mouth is so important.”

The Cincinnati Preschool Promise offers tuition assistance – or scholarship dollars – to support qualified families in enrolling their children in preschool. To see if you qualify, visit

To explore high-quality preschools in Cincinnati, visit If you need more help finding a preschool, please contact 4C for Children at 513-758-1330 or for friendly, free help.

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