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Tips for choosing a quality child care/ early learning/ home visiting program

You want your child in a quality PA child care/ early learning program or with a quality home visitor, but may not know what to look for to know that it’s quality. You may know what you don’t want just by looking at it, but it’s harder to know what will help your child be safe, happy and learning.

  • KeystoneSTARSReach for the STARS! Keystone STARS can help you pick out programs that have quality staff and activities to start your search for the right fit for your family. Child care and Head Start programs that participate in Keystone STARS meet many of these elements of quality as part of the STARS standards. They receive a STAR 1 to STAR 4 rating based on these quality standards.
  • Download a quick checklist of what to look for in a quality child care/early learning program and questions to ask when you visit.
  • Use the Early Learning GPS  to compare child care programs. Create a free family account and map for your child. In your child’s map use the “Program Checklist” tab to download questions to ask when you visit a program, then enter your answers. You can compare answers to as many programs as you like.
  • Download our tip sheet to share with others (PDF)

Some things are a matter of preference – what you like or don’t like – such as choosing between a family child care program and a center. But others definitely affect your child’s safety and what he will learn while he is there.

Here are key things to look for when visiting a child care/ early learning program:

Your child is safe and secure.

When you trust your child to someone else, you want to be sure that your child is in a safe place and that your child feels safe. Children are learning all the time, but if they feel unsafe or don’t feel well, it’s harder for them to learn.

  • Programs meet the appropriate regulations and have their certificate posted.
  • Staff are trained in CPR and first aid.
  • The facility is clean and orderly.
  • There is an emergency plan and is it posted.
  • Hazardous materials are locked away.
  • Staff follow regulations on handwashing, diapering and preparing food.
  • Staff have been trained in preventing, recognizing, and reporting child abuse.
  • The program has an open-door policy where you can visit any time you want.

There are good teachers and specialists that support you and your child.

Your child’s teacher shapes her whole day, and affects who your child will become. The quality of the teacher is one of the most important pieces of a child care/ early learning program.

  • You and your child get along well with the teacher or home visitor. You feel that you can trust the teacher and they respect and include you in your child’s development.
  • Teachers have specialized training teaching young children. Because young children develop so many new skills so quickly in the first five years, teaching young children is special; it’s about nurturing, learning what the child can do, and helping the child build new skills on his/her own path. It’s important that your child’s teacher has some education in child development or early childhood education, like a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or college degree. If you are looking for an afterschool program, teachers may have a Pennsylvania School-Age Professional credential. Keystone STARS programs must meet teacher education requirements based on their Star level.
  • There is consistency – the teachers stay. Your child will love his teacher, and will get stressed if the teacher leaves. It is better for your child if teachers stay longer. Ask the program if they have low teacher turnover.
  • Teachers and home visitors encourage children to safely explore and try new things. Children are comfortable, happy, and involved in the classroom. If there is a conflict or a child needs to be disciplined, the teacher handles this in a positive manner.

The atmosphere is kid-friendly with learning areas and activities that are right for your child’s age and development. 

Young children learn by exploring and using many skills at once. Classrooms need to be designed to fit them with activities that work best for them.

  • Everything is at kid level. There are learning stations, books and activities that are not too easy or too hard for the children in the class. (called “developmentally appropriate”)
  • The teacher has a daily schedule and curriculum based on the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards. The standards show what skills children should be building at different ages with tips on how to help them grow.  By planning activities around the standards, the teacher is helping your child reach kindergarten ready to learn.
  • The teachers take time to see how each child is doing and check the child’s progress throughout the year using an “authentic assessment.” The teacher can use these checks to see your child’s strengths and give extra help where your child needs it. The teacher can also share this information with you and together think of ways you can help your child at home.
  • The class sizes are small enough that teachers have time to work one-on-one with your child throughout the day. For child care programs, state regulations for group child care homes and child care centers require
    • one staff person for every four infants (1:4)
    • one staff person for every five 1-2 year olds (1:5)
    • one staff person for every six 2-3 year olds (1:6)
    • one staff person for every 10 3-4 year olds (1:10)
    • one staff person for every 12 children in Kindergarten- 4th grade (1:12)
    • one staff person for every 15 children older than 4th grade (1:15)

If the classroom has children of different ages, or a mixed-age classroom, the ratios are a bit different.

  • If you have a home visitor, she should provide activities that are appropriate for your child. Many home visitors will bring books and toys with them.

Knowing the lingo. Early childhood educators may use some technical terms that you may not know, here are a few you may hear:

  • Authentic assessment – an authentic assessment is one that measures a child’s progress through observing the child in regular learning activities, rather than giving them a test.
  • Child Development Associate (CDA) credential – This is a professional credential for child care/ early childhood staff, where the person takes 120 hours of training in early childhood education (usually college classes) and passes a verification visit to receive the credential.
  • Child outcomes – this usually refers to how children have progressed through a program or school year, such as the percentage of children that were proficient in language, math or social skills at the beginning and end of a program year.
  • Developmentally appropriate – learning activities and practices on behalf of the child that recognize that each child is unique and match the child’s developmental abilities. Providing children with activities that are neither far below or above a child’s skills.
  • Gloria Durst says:

    I agree that you want to find a childcare service that is clean and organized in their facilities. It would tell a lot about a company if they are clean and keep the children safe. I need a daycare to look after my son while I’m at work, so I’ll have to find one that is clean and organized.

  • Raisa Delima says:

    I’m really glad you talked about the safety aspect of selecting a child care facility. I had never thought to check if the place you choose has staff trained in CPR and safety procedures. Now that I think about it, too, it would be really nice to see that the facility has its emergency plan posted for everyone to see. I’m looking for a place that my little boy could be at while I’m at work, and while it’s important that he has fun and learns, safety and health always come first.

  • Will Lombart says:

    This is a great resource for finding out about and choosing the best daycare for kids. It’s important to know these to minimize any risk and ensure your baby is safe. Would like to add something to the list – stairs. If the daycare has stairs (even a seemingly small and harmless flight), ensure they use a barrier, and definitely not one with bars, because kids love climbing on these!

  • It’s nice to know that I could put my daughter into daycare with teachers that would be focused on her education. I just hope that I’ll be able to find the perfect daycare center, I’d have to talk to my husband about it first. I’ll have to see if my sister would be know any good places, she’s put her kids in daycare a few times.

  • I love so much child. I really hope to view the same high-grade content by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own blog now.

  • Jade Brunet says:

    It is good to know that you want to be sure your child is in a place they can feel safe when it comes to selecting a child care service. I like what was said about finding out if the facility is clean and orderly. Another thing to consider would be to get a background check on the care provider to make sure they are a right fit for the job.

  • John says:

    I think the article makes a good point that you should choose a child care center that has the right atmosphere for you child’s age and development. My wife has been wanting to put our daughter in a daycare in order to further her social and cognitive learning development. Do you suggest then that we look for a care center based specifically off age?

  • Braden Bills says:

    I want to make sure that my kids are taken care of while my wife and I are at work. It makes sense that I would want to find a good child care service! They would be able to ensure that my kids are learning well.

  • siaosi says:

    I think it would be nice to get some appropriate learning actives. I want to make sure that I have enough abilities. I wast to have some certified teachers.

  • I agree that when choosing a daycare service for your child, it is important to go with someone you know. If you know someone that works in the service it will be a lot easier to trust them. If you don’t know anyone in the service you can schedule a meeting with the owners and instructors to make sure that they are trustworthy.

  • Sarah Smith says:

    I’m looking for a daycare for my son. I appreciate the information about how you should get a daycare where you and your child get along with the teacher and you feel like you can trust them. Something else to consider is to get a daycare that has hours that work with yours.

  • Looking at potential child care programs for my son has been really hard because I don’t want to leave him with someone else. But I like how you mention that if children don’t feel safe, it’s harder for them to learn. I should probably start taking my son with me while looking at programs so I can get a sense on if he enjoys being there or not.

  • Erika Brady says:

    With my living situation, I feel that I am going to need to take my son to child care soon. This makes me a little nervous because I have never done anything like this before. I agree that finding a teacher that is consistent and will stay is important in choosing a child care. I do not want him to have to go through a lot of different teachers. He has a difficult time adapting to people, and so just having one, consistent teacher will work best for him.

  • Thank you for the advice. I have been looking at what make a good daycare. My wife and I both work full time. We have been wanting to shop around for an actual daycare. My child right now just stays with my mother in law. However, my mother in law is moving too far away to keep watching the kid. I like the idea of my kid going some place that will focus on development of my child as well.

  • Wade Joel says:

    Child care is very important. I would suggest you do your best research to find a good child daycare because it will shape your child’s future. I agree that you want to choose a place that you feel is safe for your child because you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them while you are away.

  • I really like the tip to make sure that the daycare that you choose has an emergency plan displayed at all times. I know that I would feel more at ease if my child was at a daycare that was well prepared in case of an emergency. I’ll have to be sure to ask about the emergency plan of a daycare before I decide to trust them with my children. Thanks for the great tips!

  • Bob Lowe says:

    Thanks for the post. I really like the idea to send my child to a learning center. I think that can really help them to get a better education from trained teachers. Putting them in a situation that allows for kid-friendly learning areas can really help them to excel in my opinion.

  • I agree I think staff size is something you should really look at when choosing an early education program. You want to make sure your child is getting enough personalized care and attention. If a staff is undermanned it can be less effective.

  • Kyle O'Ren says:

    I totally agree that you must check to make sure your child is safe and secure in the trust of the child care service. I personally always check all of their accreditations and ensure they are well prepared for emergency situations. You may feel like you’re being a little paranoid but it’s the best choice when you’re concerned for the well being of your child.

  • Justin Knox says:

    Thank you for the help. My wife just got a job, so we are looking for a daycare for our kids. I definitely want visit facilities to see the atmosphere, as you discussed. How many daycare facilities would you visit before making the decision?

  • Nash Rich says:

    The first thing I would want, is to know that my kid is safe and secure. I liked there was a whole list on things to look for. I thought the staff being CPR and first aid certified was a really good thing to have. Kids are always swallowing things they shouldn’t and getting all scratched up. That’s what childhood is for! Great stuff on here. I’ll keep it in mind for when my little guy gets to that age.

  • My daughter is finally old enough to go to daycare. However, I’m not sure if I’m ready. We haven’t been apart since she was born. In order for me to go through with it I need to find the perfect child care program. Thanks for the tips on what to look for. I think it would be smart to make sure they have an emergency plan and are practiced in CPR and first add.

  • Jen Pack says:

    My family and I just moved to a new location for my husband’s job and I will need to go back to work this year as well. With all the changes happening, we are in real need of a reliable child care provider so I really appreciate these tips. I like how you point out the importance of making a check list of the things you want in a provider beforehand so that you have something to compare it to when looking around. I will be sure to keep all these tips in mind!

  • When you are a parent you really want to keep your child safe. So, I like that you talked about looking into a child care place that has a lot of security. As well as a well thought out the plan in case something bad happens.

  • I definitely agree that you should be choosing a day care facility that is kid-friendly and has a good learning environment. That’s the reason you’re putting them in here anyway, right? I know that I wouldn’t want my child to be placed in a facility that wasn’t healthy or productive for them, so focusing on this aspect can really help ensure you pick the right place for your kid. Thanks for sharing!

  • I’m going to be putting my daughter in a day care program so that I can go back to working. In your post you mentioned that I should look for a day care that has a kid-friendly atmosphere, with learning areas and activities focused on my child’s age. I think that this is a great idea. I feel that day cares should be focused towards the development of the kids, and having these two things would definitely help with that! I’ll be sure to find a day care that has learning areas and activities, like you suggest. Thank you for the advice!

    • Vicky, I completely agree with you that the day care center should be focused on educational development. If I were to put my kids in daycare, I would want to know that they are at least learning and developing social skills. I assume that most child care centers focus on these attributes to better their service.

  • Dee Francis says:

    Choosing a child care program where my son can be safe, and that has teachers and specialists that will support my child seems really important to look for. You’re right about how my son needs a friendly environment that’s right for his age and development. He should still be challenged, but making sure that the curriculum is designed to help him learn and grow is important to help make his early education worthwhile.

  • Ian Johanson says:

    I think one of the most important things to look for in a daycare is good teachers. Since my kids are going to be spending most of their day there I want to make sure their teacher is up to the challenge of helping them learn. On of the biggest concerns I have heard growing up and even now is the fear that children in day care won’t learn as well as if they are at home with their parents. I don’t buy into this, because it all depends on how good their parents or their teachers are at teaching them. So, as long as you do your research and trust the teacher, I think daycare is a good choice.

  • Thank you for the advice on choosing child care! I need to put my daughter in day care for part of the day, but I’d like to combine this with early learning. I agree that choosing good teachers and specialists is essential, so I’ll look for the qualities you list. What type of early education programs are available for kids that are 3-5?

  • I work a lot, and I’ve been having a hard time finding a daycare to take my son to while I’m at work. This being said, I really appreciate you giving me some insight on how I can find a quality daycare for my son to start going to. I need to make sure he learns a lot and has a lot of fun. I’ll be sure to start looking for one right away. Thanks a ton for the help.

  • Hannah says:

    Awesome post-these are all things you definitely want to look for in a premier childcare program!

  • Jack Moore says:

    This post makes some really good points! I know a lot of parents stress over whether or not everything to do with their children is perfect. But a lot of the time it’s as easy as looking around, seeing what your options are, and weighing them against each other. It can be a really stressful and nerve-wracking situation if you let it be, but it can also be very easy and simple. Thanks for writing!

  • Zach Potter says:

    I appreciate the article here on quality tips for early development. We are researching a lot of different things in our free time and are even looking more into children’s programs. I also appreciate all of the hyperlinks that include pdfs and other resources that build the article up.

  • I really like your list of requirements for a daycare. It’s very important that the facility follows all the regulations and procedures. I am helping my sister to find a good childcare facility. I am going to share this article with her, it will be helpful for her.

  • I like how you said, “When you trust your child to someone else, you want to be sure that your child is in a safe place and that your child feels safe”. My friend takes her kids to daycare. They have a really good time every day. Also, they learn quite a bit from what I’ve seen. How much does daycare cost per child?

  • Cheryl Smith says:

    I know my child does not like having too many new people in his life. The one question I have asked constantly is if my child’s teacher has been there for a long time. Building a relationship takes a long time. Hopefully, teachers understand this and try their best to stay as long as they can.

  • Connor Adams says:

    I have a little boy that is just about to turn two this weekend. I have been staying home with him but I am really anxious to get back into the work field. I love that you outline expectations. Now I don’t need to wonder what is out of the ordinary and what is perfect for me and my son. Thanks for the information!

  • Drew says:

    It can seem overwhelming to choose the right child care for your kids. It’s a good idea to ask lot’s of questions and get familiar with the staff so that you and your child can feel comfortable. Thanks for the advice.

  • I’ll be looking for a daycare next spring, but I want to make sure I’m well prepared since this is my first time doing it. It seems overwhelming, but I’ll be downloading that tip sheet to refer to. I’ll make sure to verify that the staff is trained in CPR and practices safety precautions so my child is in a safe place to learn. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mary P. Hall says:

      Thank you, Stephie for your support of quality early learning and wanting the best for your child. You’re so right–looking for an early learning program or provider can seem like an overwhelming process. Glad you’ll find the tip sheet helpful! Good luck on your search.

  • This is good to know. I’ll pay special attention to the atmosphere and check the condition of the food preparation/catering menu. Thanks for sharing, I definitely learned a few new things today!

  • Ted Smith says:

    I really appreciate the tips on what to look for in a quality child care program. Safety is definitely an obvious thing to look for. You need to find a program that is safe for your child. Like the article say’s, the workers need to know how to perform CPR and first aid and much more. I will definitely keep this in mind when I am looking for a child care program.

  • Mia Boyd says:

    Thanks for the information. I just picked up an extra shift at work, so now I’ll be needing to take my children to a daycare. Like you said, I’ll be needing to find a place that has enough staff for my children. My kids are 2 and 4 years old, so it sounds like they’ll at least need two people working there. Do you have any other tips?

  • Susan H. says:

    Thank you for this information. My grandson will be turning four this year and I thought I should start looking into child care programs. It is important to me that my grandson is safe and secure, so I appreciate that you addressed that. Nothing matters more to me than his safety.

  • I like what you said about making sure that the child care facility has the right atmosphere. That seems like it would be the key to picking the right program. If they have adapted everything to effectively educate children, chances are it’s a good place to have your kid. I especially agree with you about class sizes that permit individual attention.

  • Ashley Reed says:

    My children need to get a new nanny, or go into a day care. I’m starting my new job, and I won’t be able to leave them home. I think it might be nice to get them in a day care, that way they can be around other kids. It’s good to know the staff to child ratio, so I can ask about it.

  • Gaston Parizeau says:

    I think when choosing child care it is important to rely on parental instincts. As the article says, you need to be sure that there is a good, child-friendly environment, and I think you need instincts for that. I think parents can judge very well how their children will be taken care of by observing first.

    Gaston Parizeau

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