We talk a lot about providing high quality child care, but do we stop every now and then to think about what that really means? In one of my previous jobs, I managed a Child Care Resource and Referral program, so my staff was tasked with helping parents find child care. One component of their job was to teach parents what high-quality child care looks like. As providers, our mission is two-fold: we need to provide high-quality care and we need to make sure that parents understand what that means and why it’s important to them.
So, what are the components of a high-quality child care program?
- Number 1 on the list has to be safe and healthy. We have to have procedures in place to check regularly for any hazards, inside and outside. We have to have health policies that ensure that ill children are not in care and that our staff understands what to do if a child becomes ill or is injured in our care.
- Appropriate group size and teacher-child ratios. We have to, at a minimum, meet the state and local requirements for group size and ratios. After that, we need to decide for ourselves if these minimums allow us to provide a high standard of care. Your state may allow one teacher with 6 infants or 20 preschoolers, but can one teacher really provide high-quality care to that many children? Sometimes we have to exceed minimum requirements.
- All staff members are properly qualified. Again, our staff must meet the minimum requirements, but we can strive to be an employer-of-choice, attracting and retaining highly-qualified staff members. While pay is one aspect of getting and keeping this kind of staff, it is only one component. We can make sure that our staff has paid planning time and knows that we, and the parents, appreciate and respect their work.
- The schedule and activities are developmentally appropriate. Children have a daily routine that allows for indoor and outdoor play as well as individual, small group, and large group activities. Children are engaged in hands-on, open-ended learning activities, rather than sitting at desks doing worksheets. Of course, this means that we frequently have to explain to parents what their children are learning through their activities as a lot of parents think that if they don’t see worksheets, their children aren’t learning anything.
- The other components are a little tougher to identify. I ask my staff or parents to just look and listen. Does the classroom look organized and appealing? Is the classroom clean…and are the children reasonably clean (noses wiped, hands washed, etc.)? Are teachers interacting with children by bending over to talk with them rather than standing over them or calling out from across the room? Do teachers and children talk to each other and to their peers with respect? Overall, how does it feel? We often disregard our gut reactions to things, but our gut reactions can tell us a lot.
In helping parents to understand the components of high-quality child care, and how your program provides such care, you can be more assured that they will enroll their child in your program, keep him or her there as long as possible, and refer their friends to you.