What is a Quality Preschool Program?

Written by Trena Hudson, M.A.
Yikes Tikes! Director

I know it has been a while since my last blog post, but this topic is a big one and required a lot of reflection and research on my part. I posed this question as part of a reflection exercise at the October Yikes Tikes Board meeting and the answers are still resonating in my mind. It’s a pretty significant question and is pretty difficult to answer. Some people respond with different types of philosophies and education models when it comes to early education, but what is considered Quality? With everyone having unique opinions and expectations, can such a term even be defined in regards to early education and care?

Of course there are going to be differences in each program/school and inherently so, every program consists of unique populations that are representative of each school and therefore will look different, sound different, feel and dare I say smell, and taste different. But again, what makes for a high-quality program?

Does the answer lay in the way that the children are talked to? Is it with the number of degrees the educator possesses? Or perhaps, quality is instilled in the midst of a clean and organized classroom that doesn’t have a toy or chair out of place. Quality may even be defined as an educator’s ability to keep a young child “busy” from the time the child enters the school, ‘til the time the child is picked up.

After asking Google “What is a quality early education program?”, I find that there are a vast number of definitions. I have included the top two here:

  • The U.S. Department of State defines a high quality early education program as “a program that provides a safe and nurturing environment while promoting the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development of young children”.—-But what about the early educators, families, and administrators? This definition does not take into consideration the adults that are charged with providing such an environment. Let’s look at another definition.
  • According to The Parents League of New York, “an excellent early childhood facility is clean, bright and organized. Its staff is accessible, competent and professional. The children are busy, happy – not too clean, not too quiet. Their parents are welcome, supported and encouraged to participate. It is a community inclusive of many, built around its youngest members.” This definition is probably the one that comes closest to how I would define a high quality early education program. I personally don’t like the term busy, I would prefer for children to be engaged, but that is just a matter of semantics. I would also add something in regards to intent and goals, for example, the program intends to always strive towards better meeting the needs of the children, the families and the professionals that make our program a success.

It appears to me that in a society that is so consumed with distorted views of quality, we have somehow forgotten about the children. The quality is and has always been defined by and with children. Programs that understand this, draw resources based on this, create and implement systems based on this, are and forever will be considered “high quality”.

These high-quality programs understand that children are more capable than vulnerable. These programs understand that children learn from exploration, examination, and investigation. For young children, the only way to know something is to do it. They cannot read about it, and very seldom will sit for too long to listen to you talk about it, they need to DO it.

Here at Yikes Tikes!:

  • The education team consists of families, teachers, administrators, the environment and children.
  • Children are considered decision makers/leaders and have a say so in their learning process.
  • Anything can be considered a teachable moment and can be a part of a child’s learning process.
  • All members of the education team are expected to create and maintain a safe physical and emotional environment.
  • All members of the education team are in charge.
  • Adults are positive role models.
  • All members of the education team are expected to be engaged
  • All members of the team are welcomed, supported, wanted and loved.
  • Everyone is here to learn and learning is fun, challenging and rewarding work.
  • Physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development is supported and evident.


But how to incorporate all of these characteristics into a reasonable, inclusive and measurable definition?  I am going to give it a go…………………….


“A High Quality Early Education Program takes “special” care to ensure that their program meets the environmental, social, emotional, familial, cultural, economical, intellectual, physical, safety and health needs of each child in their program by continuous: professional development, meaningful assessments, family involvement, cultural sensitivity, resourcefulness, community support, comprehensive decision making, commitment to excellence and the celebration of diversity.”-Trena Hudson, M.A.


Wow, that is a lot to digest………so in my upcoming blog posts, I will be digging deeper into each of the components of my definition, but for now, this is a good place to start.


As I close out this blog post on quality, I would like to end with the great work that Yikes Tikes is doing to achieve and maintain quality, by my definition and anyone else’s in the field of early education and care. Every member of our education team is concerned with implementing and modeling quality practices.  As Lesley Stahl, a parent in our Los Altos Co-op said, “Give yourselves a pat on the back, it’s a big deal to have a program that is running so well and we don’t want to make light of it.”

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