1.    Start early. Begin researching programs in September the year before your child would begin preschool. This will give you time to assess different options so that you are able to make an informed decision on where to send your child without feeling rushed. Keep in mind that most programs have open houses and enrollment periods from January to March.

2.    Establish your “must-have” list. Determine the needs of you and your child and what criteria each preschool must meet to fulfill those needs. For example, do you want a full or part-time program? Does the school offer a hot meal, or will you need to pack lunch every day?

3.    Visit as many different programs as possible. It is important to do your legwork and know all of the pros and cons for each program you are considering. Don’t forget to look beyond your traditional preschool options and also consider programs with educational child care centers. Give yourself ample time to visit different programs, being sure to focus on items from your “must-have” list.

4.    Request referrals. Ask other parents and friends about their preschool experience to get an idea of what other people are saying. When you visit a school, talk to other parents and teachers to get their opinions of the program. If you are able to visit during drop-off time, pay attention to children and parents. Do they seem happy?

5.    Consider accreditation. Accreditation from organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) program verifies that a third party has evaluated the program and it meets national standards.

Claire Haas is Vice President of Education for Kiddie Academy, the nation’s third largest franchise of learning centers. As Vice President of Education, Claire oversees curriculum development, teacher training and academy-level accreditation.