Searching for a day care or preschool for your child is stressful. It can be challenging to peer into a room with finger paintings on the wall and the usual sand table in the corner, and figure out if this place is any good or any better than another place across town. That is, if you are lucky enough to get a spot in either of them.

So what should you do?

Make sure you are considering a licensed, regulated center first in D.C., Maryland or Virginia. A current license means that the center meets standards for safety and training.

Next, go and visit. Stay awhile. A lot of parents skip this step, said Rhian Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. But if you spend some time just observing, you can see how the caregivers are interacting with the children. You are looking for high levels of attentiveness and communication.

Here is a cheat sheet from the association, which accredits early learning programs, to bring along during your visit.

For infants, a high-quality program means:

●Group size is limited to no more than eight babies, with at least one teacher for every three children.

●Each infant is assigned to a primary caregiver, allowing for strong bonds to form and so each teacher can get to know a few babies and families very well.

●Teachers show warmth and support to infants throughout the day; they make eye contact and talk to them about what is going on.

●Teachers are alert to babies’ cues; they hold infants or move them to a new place or position, giving babies variety in what they can look at and do.

●Teachers pay close attention and talk and sing with children during routines such as diapering, feeding, and dressing.

●Teachers follow standards for health and safety, including proper hand washing to limit the spread of infectious disease.

●Teachers can see and hear infants at all times.

●Teachers welcome parents to drop by the home or center at any time.

For toddlers, a high-quality program means:

●Children remain with a primary teacher over time so they can form strong relationships.

●The teacher learns to respond to the toddler’s individual temperament, needs, and cues, and builds a strong relationship communication with the child’s family.

●Teachers recognize that toddlers are not yet able to communicate all of their needs through language; they promptly respond to children’s cries or other signs of distress.

●Teachers set good examples for children by treating others with kindness and respect; they encourage toddlers’ language skills so children can express their wants and needs with words.

●The physical space and activities allow all children to participate. For example, a child with a physical disability eats at the same table as other children.

●Teachers frequently read to toddlers, sing to toddlers (in English and children’s home languages), do finger-plays, and act out simple stories as children actively participate.

●Teachers engage toddlers in everyday routines such as eating, toileting, and dressing so children can learn new skills and better control their own behavior.

●Children have many opportunities for safe, active, large-muscle play both indoors and outdoors.

●Parents are always welcome in the home or center.

●Teachers have training in child development or early education specific to the toddler age group.