Select the right preschool that's right for your child

When Tara Long and her family moved to central Ohio last August, she needed to find a new preschool for her 4-year-old daughter, Taylor. Fast.

She quizzed neighbors. She searched online to locate preschools within 20 miles. She made phone calls and paid visits.

Long chose David Lutheran Christian Preschool in Canal Winchester. It's accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

"I was very impressed," said Long, of Lithopolis. "To me, a preschool should be somewhere that sparks a child's interest and lets them learn and explore. I feel like David Lutheran does."

Selecting a good preschool for your child is important to ensure school readiness, said Juanita Webb, an early learning specialist for Action for Children. The nonprofit organization is a local childcare resource and referral agency.

School readiness is about more than mastering skills like writing your name and knowing your colors, Webb said. It's also about being socially and emotionally ready.

When it comes to a preschool's ratio of students to teachers, lower is typically better. However, total class size is also important. Webb said having one teacher for every eight students is fabulous, but a class of 24 children with three adults might be a lot.

When you visit a preschool, Webb said, you should hear many conversations taking place. "Those conversations and the quality of those conversations are very important," she said.

In Ohio, preschool programs are licensed by either the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services or the Ohio Department of Education, according to Webb.

Preschools also may be accredited by NAEYC as well as rated through Step Up To Quality, Ohio's voluntary quality rating system. Webb called NAEYC accreditation "the gold standard."

"It is the highest standard that any preschool or childcare center can aspire to," she said. "It is proven that those centers generally are the highest quality."

David Lutheran Christian Preschool director Julie Benedict has a cabinet in her office filled with NAEYC documents.

She said NAEYC-accredited preschools are held to a much higher standard than the state's requirements in areas such as teacher education, student-to-teacher ratios and regular staff training.

Long's daughter is thriving at her new preschool.

"She loves it," Long said. "I know that as long as she has a good classroom, a good environment, a good teacher, she will absolutely be successful in the years following in her education."