In recent years, the child care options available to working parents have grown exponentially. Parents can choose from home care providers, nannies, and childcare centers and many more options. These different services may be referred to with many different terminologies, including childcare, day care, early care, or early childhood education. It makes one wonder what they really mean and what the difference may be between these different terms, and most importantly, if it helps determine the quality of such a service.
All options provide child care, but the term early childhood education signifies an additional educational component beyond basic care. High quality care comes in many forms and under many descriptors. A program’s use of the term like “early childhood education” does not necessarily guarantee a high quality program any more than “day care” implies a lack thereof.
An important element of a high quality childcare is to facilitate and enrich the childcare experience for their families. Likewise, where possible, they should seek to provide services that will ease the burden of working parents. In order for them to achieve these goals, they have to provide many services that integrate the family into the educational and care-giving process.
In addition to these services, they may have added health and wellness aspects to their programs. Many childcare centers have changed their menus to eliminate most processed foods and make more fresh fruits and vegetables available. These may also include Gluten-Free, vegetarian and kosher options as well. They may also use eco-friendly cleaning products as well as have recycling programs in the classrooms; capturing families that give great importance to environmental-friendly practices. Extra-curricular and arts and enrichment programs are also one of many things that such high quality centers may provide; due to its many developmental benefits.
NAEYC accreditation is one way to determine the quality and standard of a childcare. The National Association of Young Children (NAEYC), is a national organization that advocates for early childhood education, and considers 10 areas of program standards when assessing and accrediting programs: relationships, curriculum, teaching, health and safety, assessment of child progress, teacher qualifications, family and community relationships, physical environment, and leadership management.
In evaluating early childhood education, it is helpful to first consider what it is not. One current trend in early education is to apply the teaching methods and content designed for older elementary-age children to the early childhood classroom. Many studies have been conducted on early education and child development and they have found that this practice is not only ineffective, but actually damaging to young children’s growth and development. A high quality early childhood education is based on a sound understanding of how young children learn; through engaging, play and hands on experiences, within a setting of comfort and trust.
The best way to learn more about a childcare center is to visit and ask questions about all the different programs they offer, even if they are not for your child’s age. It’s natural to look at only the infant or toddler programs that your child is entering. If you find the right child care for your family, however, your child may be there until kindergarten. Ask to hear how the toddler program expands on the infant’s program and the preschool on the toddler, and so on. Another important aspect to address is a centers approach to discipline and how they deal with different situations and incidents. This will help you understand their practices better.
Curriculum is one of many essential things that a parent should look into before selecting a childcare. A high quality childcare program should have an early childhood curriculum that should take into account all developmental areas, including social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development. A well-organized, written curriculum gives teachers the structure they need to ensure quality, while allowing flexibility to meet the individual needs of the children in their programs.
The curriculum should be engaging and spark children’s interest to explore, ask questions, and discover. A high quality curriculum offers many activities presented in a wide variety of ways. Through these activities, children learn more than merely the basic alphabets and numbers. They learn to solve problems, communicate effectively, and get along with others. These aspects help them develop emotionally, socially and cognitively.
Early childhood programs can and should address academic topics, such as early math, literacy, and science. The challenge is to nurture these skill areas in ways that are respectful of how young children learn. When learning is addressed through a hands-on, playful, engaging curriculum with kind and nurturing teachers, children gain confidence and develop a lifelong love of learning. The aim is that each child is provided with a rich environment of learning and allowed to grow at his or her own pace.
Great early childhood development and care comes under many names and many terminologies, in large and small centers, and in homes. Regardless of the terminology an organization uses, high quality early education begins with some basic elements that children need to thrive. Children need and deserve teachers who understand them and treat them with kindness and respect, and their families should feel that they are partners in their children’s care, and are wholly involved in the decision-making process.
The difference between a quality early education setting and a mediocre one is not in a name, the length of the day, whether it is for profit or nonprofit, or found in a home or center. Good programs recruit and retain good teachers, are committed to training and development, and have a culture built on respect for children and families and all of those who care for them.