Choosing a pre-kindergarten requires lots of research. We’ve produced a video as well as these tips to help you.

First, consider whether you prefer a pre-kindergarten in a public school—typically open from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm—or one housed in a community organization or childcare center. Some of these are open from 8 am to 6 pm.

We found that public schools that are solid overall tend to have good pre-k classes. But we also found that some schools have terrific pre-k classes, even if the rest of the school isn't great. Many have bathrooms right in the classroom, playgrounds just for the little kids and experienced teachers.

Some parents prefer pre-k in a community organization because the hours and focus are friendly for working parents. Whatever you decide, we suggest you visit.

When you visit, consider the following:

Close to home or far away?

Little kids tire easily, and a long commute to school will be difficult, particularly in the winter. Who will take them home if they get sick during the day? Will weekend or after school play dates be possible?

Are the children safe?

Is the class clean and orderly or does it have an air of neglect—dusty shelves, torn books and dying plants? Is there a fenced-in playground? Is there a bathroom in the room or no more than three doors away? Are there exposed extension cords? You can find information on safety and cleanliness by checking out the inspection history of a pre-k site online.

Is the teacher effective?

A good pre-k teacher should be talking to kids and listening to them, repeating back words and full sentences—upping the ante when it comes to language. They should also be able to maintain an orderly and predictable routine to help kids feel safe and secure.

Are parents welcome?

You can tell a lot from the moment you step inside a building. Does someone greet you in a welcoming manner? Is there information for parents on display and is there a place to sit and wait? Parents should feel welcome to take part in the life of the school, whether it’s attending a fun event, taking care of the class pet over the holiday or volunteering to read a book to the kids.

A strong leader brings out the best in each member of the school community, and whoever is in charge should either know something about early childhood or listen to the advice of an expert in the building. You want someone who is approachable and easy-to-find, not hidden behind a door, or strict.

Are there examples of children's work?

Look for children's work on display, not decorations made by the teacher. Ideally, the work should show individual creativity. You don’t want to see lots of fill-in-the-blank worksheets, but kids may be beginning to draw and write letters, or to sound out words to label their pictures. Are there science explorations, like drawings of leaves or a graph to show how many seeds are in an apple?

Look for an exciting, orderly classroom

Kids like to explore in a well-organized classroom. Good pre-k’s have fun-to-read books and objects organized in baskets on shelves to help them investigate patterns, numbers and shapes. Instead of tracing names or filling in identical worksheets, kids strengthen their hand muscles for writing by squeezing clay, cutting paper and stretching small hands around big blocks. Look for classrooms with live animals, Legos, water tables, plants and fish tanks to spark curiosity. Tables and rugs give them a variety of ways to work. It’s great to see a mini kitchen, hospital or wood shop area where kids can dress-up and say new words like “construction” and “stethoscope.”

A well-balanced day

Often you will see a schedule of the day posted on the wall. Look for a routine with a mix of active and quiet activities. There should be a time to rest in full-day programs but not enforced naptime. Kids should have time to play outside every day and time to explore, often called “choice” or “center” time. All pre-k children eat lunch in the classroom, “family style,” where they can chat with friends and learn good manners.

Opportunities to be independent

Look for ways teachers foster independence. Children can hang up their own coats, help serve breakfast or lunch, clean up after themselves and put on their own coats and shoes. In good pre-k classrooms teachers often label objects so kids can begin to pair objects and words, and provide them with step-by-step instructions for procedures like hand washing. These help kids develop independence.