The Importance of Quality Early Learning Experiences

October 5, 2016

Child And Caregiver

When it comes to choosing an early care and education setting for your infant, toddler or preschooler, there are lots of factors to take into consideration. Do you want center-based care, a licensed family child care provider, or a relative, friend or neighbor? What hours of care will you need? Which providers are located in your community? What is your family’s budget for child care costs? No matter what option you choose, one of the most important questions is, “Is my child receiving quality care?”

The quality of early care and education that children receive is critical because it lays the foundation for how they learn throughout their lives. Research demonstrates that 90 percent of brain development takes place in the first five years of life and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the environments in which this development take place impact both the structure and function of the brain. Children who are in high-quality early learning environments demonstrate better math and language skills, better cognition and social skills, better interpersonal relationships, and better behavioral self-regulation than children in lower-quality care. These skills are critical for children to enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.

So what does quality care look like? Zero to Three asserts that this is largely determined by the quality of the caregiver. While having a variety of toys and activities is important, a consistent caregiver who understands and nurtures each child’s unique developmental needs through responsive, loving care in a safe environment has a much deeper impact on the child. This is especially true for infants and toddlers for whom the caregiver relationship is the safe base from which they explore and learn.

Among the things state quality rating systems look for in licensed early childhood programs are caregiver education and training, physical environment, learning activities, and practices that promote health and safety, among others. Quality ratings can provide important information about the characteristics of individual programs, but they are no substitute for observations and interviews with potential care providers.

What should you look for in a quality care provider?

  • What training do caregivers have in child development?
  • Do caregivers speak to the children, even babies? Do they sing and read to the children?
  • Do they answer children’s questions patiently? Do they ask children questions?
  • Is a daily schedule posted, using pictures and visuals, so that children can anticipate what will happen next?
  • Are toys and materials well organized so that children can choose what interests them?
  • Are caregivers able to accommodate the special needs of children?
  • Does the environment accommodate the special needs of children?
  • Do caregivers respect the language, culture, and values of families in the program?
  • How does the caregiver feel about discipline? Weaning? Toilet training? Feeding? Do the caregiver’s beliefs match your own?
  • Does the caregiver handle conflicts without losing patience, shaming a child, or frequently displaying anger?
  • Does the caregiver seem to enjoy children?
  • Are you welcome to drop in at any time?
  • Would your child feel good about coming here? Would you feel good about leaving your child here?
  • Is the environment sanitary and safe?
  • Is staff turnover low? Will your child have a primary caregiver? Are ratios of children to caregivers low?

This article was written for the October 2016 edition of Parent Source.