Early Childhood Education: A Parent’s Guide to Selecting the Best Childcare

Submitted by Sarah Morris on behalf of Primrose Schools- the preschool and early childhood education experts.

Few parental decisions are as stressful as choosing the right childcare. Children’s brains develop quickly during the years between birth and age five and healthy development comes naturally when children are in a stimulating and supportive environment. Selecting the right sort of childcare is one of the most important decisions that parents will make in the early years.

Begin by knowing your options. Start with recommendations from friends and family or trusted professionals. There may be in-home day cares, church programs, Head Start programs, Waldorf, Montessori or other options available in your area. Visit the website for each recommendation and learn more about their programs. Once you have a smaller list of programs to work with, call each one and set aside time to take a tour of the facilities that look most promising.

Preschool Aged Education is Vital to Kids' Early Development

First impressions are very important. Pay attention to your gut instinct when touring facilities. Simple things like the way you’re greeted, the smell of the facility and the level of eye contact and happiness between staff members are telling indicators that can’t be quantified on a list of pro’s and con’s. The main thing you’re looking for is the ability to create a sense of partnership with the people who will be caring for your child, mainly driven by the goal of whatever is best for the child.

If your gut feeling tells you to proceed, you’ll want to ask some specific questions about their policies, teacher qualifications and educational philosophies. Think about the following five topics to help guide your interview:

1. Educational Philosophy: Does the school adhere to a specific educational philosophy? Is it goal-driven, or experiential? Does the school’s philosophy sound like something that meshes well with your family’s personal belief system? How well does the school support children for moving onto more formal education?

2. Accreditation: The quality standards that a school is committed to adhering to will be reflected in the accreditation they have achieved. For example, a school that markets itself as a Montessori school and doesn’t hold MACTE accreditation is probably not truly practicing the Montessori principles, and might not meet the needs of a family that wants a true Montessori experience.

3. Qualifications for Teachers: Most states have standards in place requiring childcare staff to maintain Early Childhood Education (ECE) credits. What other certifications does the school require? How many teachers are trained in CPR? Are they able to meet your special needs?

4. Atmosphere: When you visit the school, what’s the learning environment like? Developmentally, kids under age 5 should be exploring, experiencing, building, imagining and interacting with one another. Are the adults engaged with the children, or watching from afar? Does the schedule allow for alternating periods of “down time” and high-energy activities, to best harness the energy levels that are typical of children under five? Do the children look happy? Pay attention to the class your child would be in and ask to see their schedule.

5. Policies: Ask about the school’s safety and parent communication policies. Learn about their billing and payment policies, sick day procedures, what happens on fire drills, and safety screening for all staff members. Learn more about the school’s communication procedures, are you expected to read every email they send? Do they print newsletters? Is there a special area of their website you should be subscribed to? How can you stay active and involved with your child’s education?

Selecting a childcare provider is a decision that will undoubtedly affect your child’s development and form the foundation for their future success. There are several options for childcare and preschool, so keep looking until you find the one that fits your family’s needs the best.