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Choosing a Preschool

Choosing a preschool for your child can feel overwhelming. There are many choices available in our area including community-based programs and school-based programs. It can help to speak with the preschool director and to visit the program. Below are some considerations as you are looking at preschool options for your family. 


Most programs fill quickly and capacity is limited. Many programs start enrollment for the fall in winter or early spring (February/March) so it helps to plan ahead! 

If it is already late in the school year, you should still contact programs to be on the waiting list, but you may need to be flexible about your final choice. Remember though that all of the Universal PreK programs are prequalified as quality early childhood programs and so your child will likely thrive in any of these preschools!

Child and Family Considerations

When you are selecting a program, you will want to consider your individual family needs:


  • Location: Is the location of the preschool convenient to your home or work? Do you have other children who need care or who attend a school that makes one program more convenient for your family?

  • Schedule: What days and hours will you need or is your schedule flexible? Do you need full-time or part-time programming? Will you need care over the summer?


  • Cost: If you need child care beyond the ten hours of PreK, how much will it cost? Is your family eligible for financial assistance from the Child Care Financial Assistance Program? Does the preschool program offer scholarships or other help to families?

  • Your Child and Family: What kind of environment will work best for your child? Does he/she need special supports and are they available? Does the preschool offer meals/snacks? Would he/she benefit from extra movement or outdoors time? Would a large group or a smaller group work better for your child? 

Your family may select the Vermont prequalified PreK program that best meets your needs and they will help you with the PreK paperwork.

All of our PreK programs (school and community-based) meet certain prequalification criteria including:

  • Child care licensure through the Child Development Division and compliance with these health and safety regulations

  • 3 or more STARS in Vermont’s STep Ahead Recognition program

  • Curriculum aligned with the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS)

  • Child progress assessments conducted through teacher observation and compared to developmental norms

  • Twice yearly parent-teacher conferences

  • On-site teacher licensed in early childhood or early childhood special education

To check if a Vermont provider is prequalified, go to and use the advanced search to look for “Prequalified Providers”.

Philosophy and Quality Considerations

Here are some additional considerations related to philosophy and quality early education:

  • Staffing: Look for a program where there are small groups with a high ratio of teachers to children. Consider whether staffing is consistent and if teacher satisfaction is high or if turnover is a problem. Since relationships are so important in the preschool years, you want a program where teachers have the time and ability to form nurturing relationships with your child. Support for teachers (planning time, liveable wages, benefits) and paid professional development should be a priority for the program.


  • Caring Relationships: Preschool teachers should be positive and encouraging with children. They listen to children and respond to children’s needs. Teachers should be actively involved with the children in the classroom even during play: helping them solve problems, asking thoughtful questions, giving suggestions, having conversations, carefully observing, and providing new challenges. 


  • Play: Young children learn through play. There should be plenty of time built into the day for children to play freely. They should be busy and happy in the classroom. Teachers should talk with children as they play and provide new materials and opportunities to build their skills through hands-on experiences. This might look like building with blocks, exploring sand or water at a sensory table, using art materials, or playing “pretend” with friends. The key is that children have plenty of opportunity to choose their own activities and appear to be having fun. 


  • Curriculum: Preschool teachers should be able to describe the goals they have for children’s learning and how those are connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS). They plan large and small group activities and play experiences to meet children’s’ interests, skills, and knowledge. In the classroom, this might look like teacher-directed activities such as reading aloud, cooking, or crafts or it might be planning to introduce new play materials such as playdough, magnetic letters, or bubbles to expand children’s play experiences. 

  • Developmental Observations: Preschool programs should regularly observe, document, and reflect on children’s learning and development so that they can plan new challenges and experiences for children and communicate with families about child progress. This might look like creating portfolios of children’s artwork, taking notes or photos of children at play, or asking your family to share information about how your child plays at home.


  • Schedule and Routines: Preschool children should know what to expect and when. The classroom schedule should have a balance of large and small group activities with lots of opportunities for play and movement. In general, children should not be expected to sit for longer than 20 minutes at one time and getting outdoors for large movement play should be a priority. Transitions between activities should run fairly smoothly without a lot of waiting and children should seem to know what to do. Snacks and meals should be unhurried and used as time for conversations. Programs that run for a full day should build in opportunities for rest and napping.


  • Social-Emotional Supports: All preschool children are learning social-emotional and self-regulation skills. A high quality preschool teacher supports children learning about their feelings and how to share, take turns, and cooperate with friends. Classroom limits should be clear, consistent and communicated in calm and positive ways. Teachers should be able to redirect children’s inappropriate behaviors and provide them with help solving social problems and learning new skills such as coping with anger or frustration. 

  • Environment: Preschool classrooms should be safe, clean and organized. Children should appear as though they know where to find the materials they need. In the classroom, you should see lots of books, art materials, sensory table or materials, children’s artwork, and open-ended play materials such as blocks, manipulatives, dolls, and dress up clothing. Health and safety precautions such as adult supervision, handwashing, outlet covers, and safe storage of cleaning products should be obvious and easily identified by the teacher. 


  • Inclusive Child Supports: Preschool programs should provide inclusive supports so that all children can learn and play in the classroom. High quality teachers help children with disabilities or behavioral needs by changing activities, environments, and supports so all children can participate successfully. These supports might look like helping children solve a problem with a friend, helping a child in the bathroom or with diapers, having a child sit with the teacher at circle time, posting visuals or using timers in the classroom, helping with language, or individualizing reminders. A high quality program creates a sense of belonging for all families and children. Preschool programs may not discriminate against children who have identified or perceived disabilities.


  • Families and Cultures: Families should feel as though their preschool values their home life and input. Teachers should be interested in your individual child’s needs and interests and in your goals for your child. They should be able to talk about the ways that they will communicate with you and involve you in your child’s learning. In the classroom, you may see evidence such as pictures of children’s families, incorporation of a child’s home language or culture into the curriculum, books about different cultures or family structures, family volunteers, or newsletters home to families.

Once you have chosen the preschool program and enrolled, most local preschool programs will automatically provide you with the paperwork needed to access the Universal PreK tuition funds. If you need more information, please see the Enroll page.

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