Quality in early childhood programs matters! This is one of the key conclusions from three decades of research on child care and child development. Many studies from a number of countries show that the importance of quality in child care cannot be overstated. High-quality early childhood programs such as child care provide children with many benefits. However, they can be ineffective or even negative if the quality is poor. This may be especially true for vulnerable children or at risk or from homes that are poorly resourced.
There is a considerable amount of research on the benefits of high-quality child care for older preschool-age children. The conclusions of this research strongly indicate that participation in high-quality early childhood programs benefits children cognitively, socially, intellectually, and in language development.
There is less research on how child care affects child development for children younger than about two years old. While it is much less conclusive than research on older preschool-age children, a key concern that emerges is concerned with participation in very early poor-quality child care for substantial hours.
However, some research, including studies that focus on both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, suggests that high-quality child care programs beginning in infancy are even more beneficial than those that begin later.
Overall, the research shows that the quality of early childhood programs is a very key factor for all children.
What Are the Characteristics of High-Quality Child Care?
Specific characteristics are used to determine the likelihood of a quality child care program. Generally speaking, parents should be on the lookout for a centre that provides a safe and nurturing environment while still providing a stimulating learning experience. Knowing what to look for specifically makes choosing a centre much less stressful for parents and much more rewarding for the children who attend. Some of the most important factors to consider are:
Small Class and Group Sizes
Small group size and class size mean more one-on-one time between teachers and students. It also allows teachers to create a stronger bond with the children in their classes, making the children feel safe.
Staff with Higher Education and Continuing-Teacher Training
Centres that employ staff with prior teaching experience in early childhood development means that they know how to tailor the curriculum in developmentally appropriate ways. It's also beneficial to be a part of an education program that encourages its directors and staff to further their skills, providing them with the opportunity to evolve within the ever-changing landscape of the educational system.
Low Staff/Teacher Turnover
This is beneficial for a few reasons. First, it allows the staff to stay familiar with the children and build stronger relationships. Second, it also means that the team is well cared for by their employer and enjoys their job, making it far more likely to put extra time and effort into their teaching.
Positive Teacher/Child Interactions
It's essential to observe how the teachers at a child care centre interact with their students. If the teachers seem stressed out or flustered, it can be a sign of poor organization or lack of leadership. The children should be in a positive environment where learning looks fun and organic, not chaotic.
National Accreditation and Licensing Standards
Child care centres that receive national accreditation and meet the minimum licensing standards demonstrate both the ability and the intent to provide higher than average care for the children who attend them. It proves that they set the bar high and have the results to demonstrate it.
Good Health and Safety Practices
Young children aren't known for their health and safety practices. Providing high-quality child care is a large part of ensuring that the children, teachers, and families who walk through the doors every day practice proper safety, hygiene, and emergency protocol. In addition, teachers should know what to do and who to contact in case of an emergency.
What Should Parents Look for When Touring a Child Care Facility?
- Try to schedule a tour that doesn't take place at nap time. This way, they can see what goes on when the energy is high and the school day is in full swing.
- Observe the classroom sizes and how many kids are in each class. This will give parents an idea of the amount of time/attention teachers can give to each student.
- Observe the average age of the teachers who are working. If the teachers are younger, it is less likely that they have been there long and is also a good indication that there is probably a high turnover rate at that particular daycare centre.
- Do the children look happy to be there? If there seems to be a lot of chaos and turbulence, it's a sign that the teachers don't have a good grasp on keeping the kid's attention or performing under pressure.
- How do the teachers handle conflict amongst the children? Are they able to access the situation and take control, or are the children controlling them?
- Are the students engaged, working on projects, age-appropriate activities, and interacting with other children and teachers? Or are they watching a video and entertaining themselves? Early childhood education should be hands-on and interactive rather than through a screen.
- Is the facility clean? Parents should check bathrooms, changing stations, and all food prep and dining areas. Things should be kept tidy and spotless when not in use.
- Do the teachers at the centre know all the students and their parent's names? This is an excellent indicator of the relationships they form with the children who go there and their families.
8 Tips for Choosing Child Care
Whether you choose a formal child-care centre, family daycare, or in-home care, there are some basic things you should know and insist upon. To help you make this all-important decision, we've talked to mothers and other experts who have been in the child-care trenches. Here are eight ways to size up a child-care option.
When you're visiting a potential site, pay attention to how the staff interacts with the children. Ideally, a caregiver should be on the floor playing with the kids or holding one on her lap. However, babies need close, loving, interactive relationships with adults in their early years to thrive.
That's why it's especially important that babies' first caregivers be warm and responsive and that even in group care, infants and older babies get a healthy dose of one-on-one time. (Though individual states set their staffing ratios for child-care facilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends a ratio of one adult for every three babies up to 12 months of age.)
Ask for a commitment
Babies need consistent, predictable care. It helps them to form a secure attachment to their caregivers, according to Debra K. Shutoff, a family therapist in private practice in St. Louis.
If you're looking at an in-home caregiver, request that the person you're considering make a one-year commitment to the job. If you're considering a centre, find out how long the current caregivers have been working there and how much turnover the centre usually experiences.
Do a policy check
Find out whether you share parenting philosophies on topics such as discipline (Do the caregivers use time-outs, scoldings?); television (Is the TV on all day or used sparingly, if at all?); feeding (What snacks or drinks are provided for older babies?); sleeping (When are naps offered? How are fussy babies put to sleep?); and so forth. Inquire about the sick-child policy (What symptoms prevent a child from attending?).
Also, ask whether there's a backup plan should the family daycare provider or in-home caregiver get sick and be unable to work. The more questions you ask early on, the less likely you are to be unpleasantly surprised later.
Drop by and spy
While word-of-mouth referrals from other parents or trusted resources are important, you need to look at a place for yourself to assess whether it meets your needs. Of course, any child-care environment should be kept clean, childproofed, and well stocked with sturdy books and toys that are age-appropriate.
Other details to consider: When older children share the space, toys with small parts (choking hazards) should be kept away from younger babies. Ideally, infants and babies should have their area where older toddlers won't get "loved" too much. A room or separate area dedicated solely to swings and bouncers may look appealing at first glance, but keep in mind that growing babies need plenty of floor time to develop and strengthen their muscles.
If possible, try to visit the same centres at different times to get a sense of how the staff interacts with the children and what the routine is. In addition, you may want to consider popping in unannounced a few times after you've enrolled your child, just to see how things are going. Sometimes your visits will confirm that the place is right for you, but sometimes they'll be a real eye-opener.
Until your baby can talk, you will be relying on what the caregiver tells you about your child's day.
Make sure you can communicate comfortably with each other. For example, when you first hand off your child in the morning, you should tell the caregiver how your little one slept the night before, if he is teething, and whether he ate breakfast.
You'll want to know similar information, such as the number of diapers he went through when he napped and if he seemed happy overall. It's always preferable to speak to the caregiver in person. If that's not possible, ask if there's a convenient time to phone, perhaps at nap time.
You'll inevitably experience conflicts with your caregiver, both large and small. Address problems right away rather than ignoring them until they grow out of proportion. Some issues can be resolved quickly; others may require more discussion. Whatever the conflict, respectfully treat the caregiver, but don't be afraid to speak up, says Deborah Borchers, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Cincinnati.
When broaching a difficult subject, ask the caregiver's opinion, and hear her out. As the parent, you have the final word with an in-home caregiver, but you're more likely to elicit cooperation if the caregiver knows she has been heard. For example, instead of demanding an earlier nap time to make bedtime easier, ask the caregiver if she has ideas about how to adjust your baby's schedule so he won't grow so overtired in the evening.
Trust your gut
Every parent knows when something doesn't feel quite right. You may be turned off by a centre everyone in town raves about or clash with a highly recommended sitter. If that happens, keep searching. Babies deserve and thrive under good, nurturing care. On the other hand, investigate other options if something just doesn't feel right about your situation.
Be open to change
You're not married to a particular person or situation, and if things don't work out, you can always make a switch. So yes, you want consistency for your baby, but that doesn't mean you can't alter arrangements. Babies are resilient; as long as they're having a positive experience with their new caregiver, they'll be just fine, points out Dr Shatoff.
No matter what your work hours, you are still your child's essential caregiver—the most consistent source of love and support in her life. Under your care and guidance, along with the help of your well-chosen caregivers, your baby will flourish and grow into a happy, healthy child.
How Can Daycares Provide a High-Quality Experience?
- Provide families with access to knowledgeable, trusted staff
- Keep class sizes small, so teachers and students don't feel overwhelmed.
- Staff should get to know the families in the program and maintain a close personal connection with each student and their parents.
- Provide learning opportunities and encourage continuing education for all faculty members
- Stay up-to-date and informed on the state and local guidelines for operating a child care facility.
- Check-in with students and their parents frequently to make sure you are on the same page about the education that is being provided
- Make sure all staff is trained to deal with difficult or potentially dangerous situations.
- Provide teachers with adequate compensation and benefits to help reduce the rate of turnover
- Ensure a clean and healthy learning and teaching environment for all who walk through the door.
A quality program is important because it allows children to create themselves through purposeful activity during the most important years for learning. Children will not be able to achieve their full potential once this critical period for learning is over.
For most parents, quality child care safeguards a child's health and safety; the child is happy, and the program is conveniently located and affordable. For many parents, quality child care is key to balancing work and family, so that parents have peace of mind while they are at work.