We went with a Co-op Style Pre-school for our daughter and it has been a great experience for her. Parents are very involved and are expected to help out a number time each year. The focus of this particular school is “structured play” There’s no TV. There’s free time, craft time, circle activities, games, and discussions, story time, snacks, etc. Children as expected to help clean-up and keep the school neat.

Some great advice so far. Only thing I’d add or reiterate is to poll friends and coworkers who live in your area for recommendations, and to visit each place (unannounced if possible) beforehand.

We were very lucky in that we had a local center recommended to us by a couple of teachers we knew. It’s run by a church, but religion is not stressed at all. The infant care was fantastic, and both my children have loved the “teachers” they have had as toddlers/pre-schoolers. Lots of activities, including field trips, lots of learning opportunities and creative activities, and very little TV time were all big positives.

Montessori schools are great.

You can also check to see if the preschool is accredited by naeyc.
I think the certification is changing so it’s less of a plus than it used to be, but you may be able to get more information about things to check on from their site.

This place is awesome.

They have two rules:
Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else, and keep your underwear on.

I know a few kids who went there, and they are head and shoulders above their peers in critical thinking.

Course, it doesn’t do you much good if you don’t live in Austin…

Lots of great advice here in this thread. Two other suggestions:

  1. Check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s accreditation tool (avail. here). While not all good child care centers are NAEYC certified, it’s a good sign.

  2. Once you’ve found places you like, check with your city or county to find out who regulates child care, and then request information on the places you’re interested in. Again, while it’s not conclusive, it should give you a better idea of how closely folks are following the law (and all child care providers usually have some violations – most of them are really minor, but it’s worth checking out).

Final rule: get used to writing big checks. Here in the DC area, child care is generally between $1,000 and $2,000 per month. Our experience has been that price isn’t necessarily strongly correlated with quality, so take the time to do some research.

2nd for the Montessori approach. We put my daughter in a Reggio school (Reggio is like Montessori++), and I’m afraid she may already, at age 4, be beyond the kindergarten curriculum at the local public schools.

We had originally enrolled her in Kindercare, which seemed to only care that the kids made it to the end of the day alive. It may have just been that facility, but we toured a number of them, and that same attitude was reflected in all of them. I’m sure that’s completely acceptable if all you’re looking for is daycare, but we wanted a little more than that for the money we’re throwing down.

At just a little more money a month, she’s now attending the Preschool of the Arts. We couldn’t be happier with our decision.

Another vote for Montessori schools. I learned how to read at a Montessori preschool and skipped a year of schooling.

Thanks for the advice. I guess I’ll have to check out the Montessori school nearby.

I’d vote caution regarding Montessori schools. Way too disciplined for my tastes, with the ones I’ve seen going out of their way to teach kids to think inside the box – “That’s not the way you’re supposed to play with that”. Going into Kindergarten, you can definitely tell which kids have been in a Montessori school – they know their place.

There seem to be a fair range of “Montessori” schools though, following the teaching philosophy to different degrees and in different areas. It’s worth talking to them about their teaching philosophy, as you might find some surprises.