What are the components of a childcare centre?

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    National experts have identified research-based components that are essential to high-quality child care. Programs often start with tangible changes to the environment and the program's structure and then advance towards changing practices that promote relationship-based care between children, caregivers and families.

    Child Care Programs Following Appropriate Health and Safety Practices

    Melbourne ensures that basic health and safety requirements are met by licensing child care centres and registering family day care homes. With standards among the highest in the nation, Melbourne's child care regulations address everything from handwashing procedures and sanitation practices for minimizing the spread of infection to policies for administering medications and guidelines for safe sleeping. The full set of regulations can be found at

    Staff Well Trained in Early Childhood Development

    According to research, staff education and training are among the best ways to rate child care quality and predict long term success. In addition, the last decade's findings of early brain development tell us that baby and toddler caregivers need to study early care and education rather than preschool or elementary education. Early care and teaching focus on the unique learning abilities of babies and toddlers and trains caregivers how to plan appropriate activities, how to use daily routines to bond with babies, and how to provide cognitive stimulation through conversation, interaction and responsive relationships.

    Age Appropriate Environments

    Children under 3 learn through continuously exploring and interacting with their environment, which includes the emotional climate of a child care setting and the physical space. Babies and toddlers need safe spaces for quiet and active play (both inside and outdoors), safe spaces for sleeping, and spaces to interact one-on-one with individual caregivers. In addition, they need toys and activities selected primarily for personal interests and abilities within the environment rather than one-size-fits-all group play.

    Small Groups with Optimal Ratios (Click Here)

    Group size and adult-child ratios determine each caregiver's amount of time and attention to each child. Infants need individualized care and one-on-one time for interactions and routines. As they grow, they can play more independently and can handle small group activities. NY State regulations require:

    • 1 caregiver for every 4 infants (6 weeks to 18 months) – group size no larger than 8
    • 1 caregiver for every 5 toddlers (18 months – 36 months) – group size no larger than 12
    • A family child care provider may care for no more than 2 children under age two
    • While these standards are among the best in the nation, the National Association for the

    Education of Young Children and Zero to Three recommend 1 adult to every 3 babies or 4 toddlers.

    Primary Caregiver and Continuity of Care (Click Here)

    Assigning each child a primary caregiver promotes the caring one-on-one relationships that help babies thrive. A baby develops trust as her primary caregiver learns to respond appropriately to her unique temperament, needs, and interests by being the one who almost always diapers her, feeds her, puts her to sleep, and communicates with her family. The child's security deepens as her primary caregiver develops a positive relationship with her family and comes to know their values and wishes for their child. This holistic relationship provides the security and trust that enables the child to explore and flourish in group care. Ideally, a child has the same primary caregiver until age three, which spares her the trauma of leaving someone to whom she is securely attached and having to adjust all over again to someone who does not know her. Stability is important for healthy emotional development, which provides the underpinnings for all other areas of development.

    Active and Responsive Caregiving to Support Children's Development


    The active and responsive caregiver takes cues from each child to know when to expand on the child's initiative, guide, teach, and intervene. She recognizes signs of stress in the child and takes appropriate action to adapt to the child's needs. Responsive caregiving requires careful observation, knowledge of child development and respect for each child's temperament, interests and capabilities. The primary caregiving system encourages responsiveness.

    Curriculum, Observation and Individualized Programming

    The 0 – 3 curriculum is based upon a sound understanding of child development and appropriate practices while taking into account each child's individual needs and temperaments in care. The curriculum includes:

    • the goals for children's development,
    • the experiences that will be provided,
    • the role for caregivers and families,
    • the materials used.

    Caregivers plan for each day, individualizing activities, materials, and schedules according to each child's routines and developmental stage. Observation and discussion among caregivers and families provide a deeper understanding of each child and a basis for documenting developmental progress towards stated goals.

    Emerging Language and Literacy

    The path to literacy begins with conversations between caregivers and young children. Research tells us that a caregiver is laying the foundation for language and reading when she talks aloud to a baby throughout the day, repeating his babbling, asking him questions, reading him books, and singing him songs. A caregiver promotes language development when she uses simple words, balances listening and talking with the child, and provides a childcare environment rich with age-appropriate books, interesting pictures and photos to talk about, labels, and other printed material.

    Family Involvement and Cultural Continuity (Click Here)

    Melbourne's children come from a huge variety of ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. High-quality programs incorporate practices that reflect the values and beliefs of the families and the cultures of their communities. In their work with families, caregivers respect differences and strive to become more culturally competent. Caregivers welcome parents into their child's classroom, use the child's home language whenever possible, and organize special events that include the child's family members.

    Comprehensive Support Services

    In addition to providing a protective and enriching environment for children, high-quality child care serves as a source of support for families. Child care can become a family's connection to essential community services, including a medical home, mental health and social services, and therapeutic interventions. Open communication among child care and service providers creates a more holistic and accessible system for families.

    High-Quality Workforce Trained in Early Childhood Development

    The quality of an early childhood program rests on the quality of the workforce. Are they warm and friendly professionals that love working with kids? The workforce will play an instrumental role in your child's early development, which is why you should take time to meet these providers before you entrust your child to them. Make sure to check if they have received proper education and training in early childhood development.

    Assigning a Primary Caregiver

    While the staff may include many professionals, make sure your child has one primary caregiver. Having a primary caregiver helps infants and toddlers thrive. It establishes trust between the child and caregiver. A primary caregiver will know how to respond to a child's unique background and temperament and provide highly individualized care, which helps the child feel secure.

    Good Child-to-Caregiver Ratio

    To establish a deep bond with a caregiver, there should be a good child-to-caregiver ratio. When deciding on an early childhood care centre, make sure to choose one with no more than 5 infants or toddlers for every caregiver. Infants and toddlers need one-on-one interactions before they learn to become independent. A child care centre with many students per caregiver won't provide a personal relationship to your child.

    Maintenance of a Safe Physical Environment

    The centre should be safe for very young children. Risks should be well-managed. Infants and toddlers are very physically active. Indoors and outdoors, the environment should be very engaging, promote independence, and encourage exploration. At the same time, it should also be safe and controlled.

    Age-Appropriate Environment

    Infants need safe and quiet spaces indoors and outdoors for play. Toddlers are very curious and will get carried away by their exploration. Their environments should be appropriate to their age groups and allow them to interact with others who belong to the same age group.

    Age-Appropriate Learning Activities

    Infants and toddlers have unique learning abilities. Caregivers trained in early childhood care and development know-how to plan age-appropriate activities for infants and toddlers, carefully considering their culture, language, and special needs. The activities should stimulate the minds of the children, regardless of their age.

    Observation, Goal-Creation, and Planning

    When planning activities, the caregiver should consider the individuality and development of the infant or toddler. There are various temperaments and developmental levels that should be considered when creating goals for each child. No two children will have identical plans and activities. Therefore, it's important to go with a child care centre that offers this type of attention to detail for the children they care for.

    Creation of Activities that Engage the Family

    For healthy development, an early childhood care program should include play or learning activities the family can engage in. 

    This also means your child's caregiver should recommend activities for you to do at home with your child. Activities that engage the entire family help to foster a stronger bond between family members and encourage better communication.

    Overall elements of quality

    While there is no single definition of quality in child care, some overall elements of child care are identified as critical to the well-being of children. These include:

    • Health, safety and good hygiene
    • Good nutrition
    • A well-maintained environment set up for children
    • An adequate number of staff who are sensitive and responsive to children
    • Opportunities for active play—especially outdoors
    • Opportunities for quiet play and rest
    • Opportunities for developing motor, social, language and cognitive skills through play
    • Positive interactions with adults
    • Practices that support positive interaction amongst children
    • Facilitation of emotional growth
    • Participation in, support for and communication with parents
    • Respect for diversity and difference, gender equality and inclusion of children with disabilities

    As well, high-quality child care is generally understood to have

    • Broad learning and development goals for children, going beyond narrow academic aims like early literacy and numeracy to social, emotional, cultural, artistic and physical goals.
    • An approach that "lets children are children" means learning through play and experiencing a wide range of artistic, cultural, cognitive, social and physical activities.

    Unregulated child care


    Many families with parents in the labour force and no close family members who can provide child care use an unregulated arrangement, either in a family child care home (a caregiver's home) or in the child's own home. This means parents have sole responsibility for assessing the quality of the child care, managing the relationship with the care provider and are on their own in finding a new provider if the arrangement breaks down or ceases. 

    Guidelines for assessing quality in unregulated child care

    When looking for an unregulated child care arrangement, it's advisable to become well informed about health and safety and the elements of high-quality child care. One way to start is to get to know your province or territory's requirements for regulated family child care as a starting point and a point of comparison in such areas as

    • Health and safety
    • Programming
    • Maximum numbers of children by age
    • Physical space
    • Caregiver training and support

    This approach can provide some basic guidelines for assessing unregulated family child care since there is no public oversight or monitoring, no support system and no training requirements.

    You may want to consider a written contract with an unregulated family child care provider. A contract or agreement should include payment amount and schedule, benefits, hours, sick days and holidays, cancellation and termination of care, etc. A sample contract for the Live-In Caregiver Program (below) may be useful for designing this contract.

    Identifying the Core Components of a High-Quality Early Childhood Program

    Every day, millions of American families go through a familiar ritual: dropping off their young child at child care or preschool. And while there are many reasons why parents choose a particular program—cost, location, the teachers, shared values, the program's specific focus—one thing is universal: As parents walk away from the classroom in the morning to start their day, each of them hopes that they have made the right decision and that their child will have a rich and fulfilling day, supported by a loving and affectionate caregiver.

    Unfortunately, parents often have very few child care options and limited ways to know their child's quality of care. The level to which basic needs are met—keeping the child well fed, safe, and clean—is usually easy to verify, but determining if one's child is engaging sufficiently and is participating in age-appropriate learning activities is much harder to ascertain.

    The need for high-quality early childhood education has never been greater. Increasingly, children are growing up in families where all available parents are working—out of necessity and choice. Furthermore, research affirms the short- and long-term benefits for children who participate in high-quality early learning programs. However, parents face significant barriers when searching for high-quality care. Waitlists are long, employers are inflexible, high-quality programs are expensive, and parents often lack the necessary tools to evaluate program quality. Many families live in child care "deserts," Even when programs are available, quality is not well-regulated or supported by local, state, or federal policies, putting it out of reach for most families.

    This child care crisis has received increased attention from policymakers, political candidates, and voters in recent years.However, there remains a critical need to understand the components of high-quality programs better to ensure policy solutions adequately support and promote access to quality for all families. To that end, this issue brief highlights three core indicators of high-quality early childhood programs and identifies six structural supports that are necessary to achieve and maintain high quality. These indicators and supports provide a roadmap for policymakers as they develop solutions to the current child care crisis and serve as a guide for parents seeking to make the best and most informed choices for their children.


    The need for high-quality early childhood education has never been greater, but programs are increasingly out of reach for most Americans. As policymakers at the federal, state and local levels develop strategies to address the child care crisis, they must simultaneously focus on the importance of quality. To achieve the goal of increasing access to high-quality programs for all children, it is vital that families and policymakers fully understand what quality looks like and what structures are needed to support it. The quality indicators identified in this issue brief can serve as a roadmap for policymakers to ensure the key supports are in place to help programs achieve and maintain quality and help families access those high-quality programs.

    What does high quality look like?
    • Interpersonal interactions. ...
    • Physical environment. ...
    • Program support structure. ...
    • Professional and stable teacher workforce. ...
    • Effective leadership. ...
    • Age-appropriate curriculum. ...
    • Comprehensive family engagement activities. ...
    • Multilevel continuous quality improvement system.
    No matter what educational philosophy or model an early childhood classroom uses, these five elements are the essentials to look for when choosing a preschool.
    • Classroom atmosphere and design. ...
    • Teachers. ...
    • Discipline and Social-Emotional Development. ...
    • Academics. ...
    • Safety.
    What Are the Characteristics of High-Quality Child Care?
    • Small Class and Group Sizes.
    • Staff with Higher Education and Continuing-Teacher Training.
    • Low Staff/Teacher Turnover.
    • Positive Teacher/Child Interactions.
    • National Accreditation and Licensing Standards.
    • Good Health and Safety Practices.
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