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Guidelines for Choosing Quality Child Care

Choosing A Day Care Center or Nursery School For Your Child

How to Assess Quality and Match Programs to Your Child's Developmental Need
- Nancy Close, Ph.D.-Assistant Professor, Yale Child Study Center and Lecturer, Psychology

Parents have many options available to them when they are considering educational programming for their preschool children. Many often wonder what the differences are between day care centers and nursery schools. Nursery schools have traditionally been part time programs, i.e. children attend them two, three or five half days per week. Many children who attend the more traditional nursery schools have a parent who does not work outside of the home or has a babysitter at home. Most day care centers and nursery schools of today have similar curricula and adhere to developmentally appropriate practice.

When choosing a preschool program for your child, it is important to consider what option you are most comfortable will best meet your child's needs. Some parents who need child care for their infants and toddlers and preschoolers prefer to keep them home with a babysitter. Others prefer to have them in a day care center which may be close to one parent's place of work, while others still use family day care homes in their neighborhoods. A number of factors influence such a decision including quality of program, family needs for help at home, convenience, cost, etc. It is extremely important to pay attention to our intuitive reactions to prospective programs we are considering for our children. Parents are the ones who know their children the best of anyone. The success of a preschool depends on the ability of its director and staff to develop close working relationships and excellent communication with parents. Parents need to chose programs for their children where they, as parents, feel comfortable asking for help, sharing observations of their children and working closely with teachers. 

It is important to visit preschool programs you are considering for your child. It is also helpful to visit many times to see the different parts of the day. It can be very instructive to visit during parts of the day that are apt to be stressful for both the children and teachers, such as arrival and dismissal. There are some basics to look for when visiting a program. First the facility should be clean and attractive. The program should be licensed by the state and have an adequate staff. There should be a director and a staff of teachers who have educational backgrounds in child development and early childhood education. There should be very little turnover in staff to insure continuity and consistency for the children. The program should have goals and a philosophy which are implemented by a curriculum which is developmentally appropriate. While observing the program certain aspects of the day to day experience for the children should be noted. Do the adults appear to like and enjoy the children? Do the children look relaxed, involved and attached to the caregivers? Are the children getting more than custodial care? Is there a schedule and routine to the day that offers a balance of organized activities, free play, group activities, individual activities, and active and quiet play? 

When visiting programs it is important to know that programs should vary according to the developmental level of the children they are serving. There is an excellent publication published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) titled, "Developmentally Appropriate Practice," which describes the requirements for a high quality developmentally focused programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and young primary school children. This book can serve as a guide when you are choosing a program for your child and is available from the NAEYC at 1-800-424-2460, ext.604, the Resource Sales Department. Children at different ages are working on different developmental tasks; therefore programs should be sensitive to these needs in the implementation of their program. 

Infants are working on developing trust in themselves and others. It is during infancy that primary attachments are formed. When these attachments are secure they help the infant develop predictability and trust. Infants are also developing their sensory, discrimination and coordination abilities quite rapidly. With these tasks in mind it is important that a program for infants stress the importance of attachments to caregivers. Certainly infants need to receive more than custodial care. A program for infants should be small and intimate with a stress on continuity and consistency of care and an appreciation of the infants' individual differences. For example, infants have different bodily rhythms, and should not be expected to sleep and eat at the same time. There should be enough coverage in an infant program so that the infants can develop their capacity for anticipation and frustration, but if all the babies are needy at the same time, there should be enough adults so that infant's age appropriate ability to wait or delay gratification is overtaxed. The play space in infant day care should be clean and safe. Developmentally appropriate toys such as rattles, teething toys, swings, mobiles and bouncy chairs should be available. These toys should be arranged attractively, and the babies should be protected from over stimulation. The babies should be able to play in different areas i.e. lying on the floor, sitting in bouncy chairs, in a caregiver's lap or arms, outside in a stroller or on a blanket. They should sometimes be with other babies and sometimes alone. They should have lots of social stimulation, toys to look at and manipulate and many opportunities to hear adults speaking to them and engaging them in conversation. 

Toddlers are rapidly developing their skills in the areas of motor control, language, and symbolic thinking. Their main developmental task is to develop a sense of separateness and independence, age appropriate self assertion and control over their bodies. Toddlers can be terrific. They are in love with the world. They love to be on the move and to explore. They are exuberant over their newly developed capacities. Toddlers can also be terrible. They can be emotionally labile, negative and controlling. They are more likely to miss their parents because they are struggling so hard with issues of dependence and independence. Therefore programs for toddlers need to accept that toddlers can experience intense separation anxiety and they need to help to make a gradual transition into a program. Their anxieties about separation need to be acknowledged, and they need to be given help to maintain a mental portrait of the parents throughout the day. Pictures of families are often good concrete reminders of home. Children's special blankets or stuffed toys can also help children keep a connection to home when they are at school. 

Toddlers should also be in small groups. They need opportunities to learn about everyday life throughout their day. A routine that is consistent, predictable and also flexible is crucial for toddlers. There should be enough toys in duplicate so that the toddlers can engage in parallel play and will not be expected to share in a way that is beyond their capacities. Toddlers have quite a bit of aggressive energy that needs to be channeled into appropriate activities. They need lots of opportunities for active play. They also need help to use their developing language skills to engage in conversation, to think and to moderate action. Teachers working with toddlers also need to appreciate the fact that while toddlers are moving forward so rapidly, there are times when they do regress and that this regression is an important way in which children consolidate their development. 

Preschool age children are becoming more independent and self sufficient. They need to develop the ability to function in groups. They are refining motor and language skills, and their conceptual skills and ability to think symbolically are rapidly developing. When looking at a preschool program it is important to understand their separation policy, their approach to setting limits, and their whole curriculum. Preschool programs should acknowledge that separation is a life long process and that preschoolers make a healthier adjustment to school in the long run if they are allowed to make a gradual adjustment to school, i.e. it is important that parents and teachers work together to effect a smooth transition. A school that requires children to be dropped off at the front door on the first day because "if parents stay any length of time, the children cry and cling," is not a school which believes that children should experience pain over separation, should express this pain, and should be gradually helped to find grown producing ways to cope with it. A discipline policy at a preschool should be one which acknowledges that young children are in the process of developing inner controls and that children learn to control themselves when they have trusting and stable relationships. Children need to know the rules and limits of the school and need to be helped by the teachers to follow these rules. The kind of help children need differs from child to child and from moment to moment during the school day. There are times when a gentle reminder helps a child to follow a rule and other times when a teacher needs to say something like, "You cannot hit the other children. I need to stop you now because you are having a hard time being a good boss for yourself." 

The curriculum in a preschool program should reflect that teachers have an understanding of what children of this age need to learn in terms of various skills, information and concepts. It also need to reflect that it takes into account individual strengths, weaknesses, differences and interests. 

Connecticut Department of Public Health - Regulatory Action Report

The State of Connecticut's Department of Public Health Regulatory Action Report is a quarterly publication that highlights statutes and regulations, programs and disciplinary actions the department undertakes. This includes child care centers and family day care providers.