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Sending your baby off to school for the first time is a major milestone. (God, that backpack looks gigantic.) You’ve likely already researched each school’s educational philosophy, teacher-student ratio, separation policy and sussed out the staff for warm, nurturing vibes. But what should you note about the space itself? Here are six visual clues that can tell you whether a school is the right fit for your family.

RELATED: Montessori, Waldorf or Reggio Emilia: What’s the Actual Difference Between Preschools?

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Inspiring Toys

Many play-based classrooms (Montessori, Waldorf) offer toys that seem bare bones at first glance (dolls without faces, wood blocks as opposed to Matchbox cars). That’s because experts in those disciplines find they inspire imagination; kids will project onto them whatever their creative little minds come up with. More literal toys do much of that mental work for them. Still, dramatic play areas full of costumes, sensory stations with sand or water tables and libraries full of easy-to-access, age-appropriate books, with comfy reading nooks, are also the hallmarks of an A+ educational environment.

a well loved space prechool advice
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A well-loved space

Though a classroom should never be dirty, minimalists have no place in nursery school. If a space is bursting with well-loved stuff that's still been thoughtfully organized, it's a sign kids are getting the most out of their environment. A sparse, Spartan school room is less likely to inspire little learners.

art on display preschool advice

Art on display

Reggio Emilia schools believe in “Making Learning Visible.” And many schools borrow from this philosophy. If students’ artwork is proudly displayed on the walls or hung from the ceiling—and better yet, seems connected to whatever theme is being studied (the solar system, Halloween, etc.)—it’s likely that lessons are being incorporated in multiple mediums and to all types of learners.

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A jobs chart

Preschoolers excel when they're given a sense of purpose. Jobs charts, designating individual duties like “line leader,” “door holder” or “caboose,” give each child a sense of responsibility, belonging and their place within  the larger community. Anticipating predictable tasks also works wonders for alleviating anxiety.

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A daily schedule

Little kids thrive on routine, and feel secure when they know what comes next. An easy-to-read chart showing in-order visual cues for the day’s activities, like “circle time,” then “music,” then “snack" and then “rest,” ensures they’ll know what lies ahead. It also means teachers have taken great care in planning their day.

outdoor area preschool advice
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Outdoor space

Many preschools have nature-inspired outdoor classrooms and incorporate gardening (shhh: it's science!) into the curriculum. In urban environments, look for spacious, soft-surface rooftop playgrounds. The best preschools make plenty of physical exercise (essential to developing gross motor skills) a priority. After all, don’t you want your little guy all tuckered out when he gets home?

RELATED: Quiz: There Are 3 Types of Toddlers. Which Do You Have?

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