Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Care Prepares Children for Life
By Pam Tatum, Quality Care for Children
Years of working with Georgia’s early child care professionals helped to prepare me for motherhood, especially as it related to early child development and care. I knew that by three years old, 80 percent of a child’s brain is already developed, and within the next two years, it is almost fully developed – making these first five years pretty important. So, as soon as our son joined our family, we immediately showered him with love, we picked him up when he cried, we read to him, we took him out for walks in the neighborhood and strived to give him the very best care – emotionally, physically and cognitively – we could. But still, I questioned everything we did, especially when it was time to choose a child care program. When he cried, who would brush away his tears? Would his teachers listen to him and engage him in activities?
Then it occurred to me, if I – an early childhood expert – had all of these questions and fears about the quality of care our son was receiving in child care, what about all of the other parents who were not as familiar with the importance of quality care or what it means when we talk about it? Did they know that children need to feel loved and respected by their teachers, and learn best through play?
What I found out was that “quality care” meant a lot of different things to different people. Many parents thought quality referred to the state of the facility or child safety. Mistakenly, some also thought that “high-quality” was synonymous with “high-cost.”
Along with Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), Quality Care for Children continues to help Georgia’s child care programs boost their overall quality while also helping to educate parents about what high-quality care is and why it matters.
In recent years, with the introduction of Georgia’s Quality Rated program, DECAL has made it even easier for parents to choose programs that have been evaluated and are considered to provide children with exceptional early care and learning opportunities. Knowing that a program has achieved a Quality Rated status is the first step in finding a great child care or Pre-K program, but parents need to remain vigilant and review the programs themselves. Here’s some of the things we advise parents to look for when visiting classrooms:
- The program should include a high-skilled, well-trained staff with low turnover.
- Staff should be caring, friendly and responsive to the children.
- Class sizes should be small and feature a low ratio of children per teacher.
- The program’s space should be clean, child-friendly and exciting to inquisitive minds.
- Do the centers support creative play? Are books, toys and materials organized and stored on a level to encourage children to pick out what interests them?
- The program should have a safe outdoor space where children can run and be active.
- The program’s curriculum should support age-appropriate opportunities for social-emotional and active learning, as well as prepare children for kindergarten.
- Meal programs should offer healthy and fresh choices with milk.
- Parents should feel welcome at the center and encouraged to drop in at any time during the day. Additionally, they should receive regular communication from the child care program and its staff.
Why does quality in child care matter? Because with the right support, children who have had quality care from birth to age three will be able to take full advantage of Pre-K, and then enter kindergarten ready to learn. Research on the impact of “high-quality” early childhood programs has proven that those children have less behavioral problems, are more in step with peers from more affluent backgrounds, are more likely to graduate high school and attend college, and are less likely to use illegal substances, be incarcerated or have a teen pregnancy.
Hopefully, as more parents begin to recognize why quality in early education is important and what they should expect from early childhood and Pre-K programs, we’ll see more high-quality programs become accessible for all of Georgia’s families. When we invest in our youngest citizens, we all benefit.
For more than 35 years, Quality Care for Children has worked to ensure Georgia’s infants and young children are nurtured, educated, and reach their full potential. QCC’s primary focus is on creating excellence in child care and early learning by:
CREATING QUALITY – providing training and resources to child care providers to increase the overall quality of care
ENSURING ACCESS – helping parents access affordable, quality care for their children to ensure the best early learning experiences
The non-profit organization launched 1-877-ALL-GA-KIDS (877-255-4254) in 2009, funded in part by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, to provide Georgians with one source for finding the best quality child care to fit their needs. Please visit www.QualityCareforChildren.org or call (404) 479-4200 for more information.