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How to Choose the Best Childcare Curriculum Plan

A well-thought-out daycare curriculum lays the foundation for a high-quality program. Learn five hallmarks of curriculum you can implement today.

How to Choose the Best Childcare Curriculum Plan

How to Choose the Best Childcare Curriculum Plan

A well-thought-out curriculum lays the foundation for a high-quality childcare program. The curriculum offers the framework for what children will learn and experience and how teachers will create the opportunities to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

The curriculum you choose is a critical decision for your center as it reflects what you believe children need and deserve as foundational knowledge and how children learn best. Your chosen curriculum will ultimately inform and guide teachers on your expectations and vision for the children’s educational experience at your center. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what a childcare curriculum is, the characteristics of a high-quality curriculum, and provide planning templates to guide your ideal curriculum plan.

What is a daycare curriculum?

A daycare curriculum is a detailed plan that assists teachers in organizing and delivering educational activities for children. Its purpose is to outline and address the children's developmental needs and create an engaging and stimulating environment for them. A structured curriculum makes it simpler for teachers to interact with children and provide practical learning experiences. 

Although the curriculum may differ between daycare centers, it generally includes various activities encouraging young children's social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive development.

A curriculum also helps determine the materials and equipment children will use to explore and learn various concepts. It acts as a shared language for educators and families to discuss and understand a child's development, fostering effective communication and collaboration between home and childcare center.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines curriculum as the set of plans that outline the learning experiences for children to acquire knowledge, skills, abilities, and understanding. It also outlines a good childcare curriculum, including certain essential elements and specific indicators for effectiveness.

Some desired elements for lessons and activities: 

  • Thoughtfully planned 
  • Challenging and engaging 
  • Developmentally appropriate 
  • Culturally and linguistically responsive 

Examples of indicators of effectiveness: 

  • Children are active and engaged
  • Goals are clear and shared by all
  • Curriculum is evidence-based
  • Valued content is learned through investigation, play, and focused, intentional teaching
  • Curriculum builds on prior learning and experiences

The first five years of life are a crucial time in a child’s development as 90% of brain development happens in these early years. As a care provider, you need to fill the day with lessons and activities that are engaging, age-appropriate, sequenced, and that facilitate progress towards meeting milestones across all developmental domains.  

Types of curriculum for daycare centers

Early education curriculum varies widely based on the type of childcare program and the age of children (i.e., center-based or home-based programs, infant and toddler programs, or preschool-aged programs). The curriculum a childcare center chooses may also be aligned or “inspired” by an early education philosophy such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, or Waldorf to name a few. Childcare centers may purchase a predesigned curriculum, while others may design curriculum inspired by one or an eclectic mix of educational philosophies.  

Early childhood educators often turn to curriculum kits as a comprehensive resource to streamline planning and ensure that their teaching aligns with educational standards and developmental goals. Brightwheel's Experience Curriculum stands out in this context as an innovative early learning program that delivers monthly kits filled with hands-on activities, teaching materials, and detailed lesson plans.

Emergent curriculum has been receiving a lot of attention and accolades as a highly favored approach to delivering high-quality educational experiences to children. With this approach, teachers design relevant and meaningful learning experiences that are inspired by children’s interests and needs. This is a more flexible, child-centered curriculum with topics sourced organically from children that takes every child into consideration when planning.

In contrast, more traditional curriculum methods are teacher-directed with lessons typically organized around broad thematic areas such as seasons or concepts like numbers or letters. These varying topics are usually chosen by teachers and draws some criticisms as it assumes that all children will be interested in the chosen theme.

Hallmarks of a high-quality childcare curriculum

Now that we have established how vastly unique and different curriculum design for young children can be and the many sources of inspiration and influencing factors (i.e., such as program type and age range), let’s dive into the traits of a high-quality curriculum. 

  1. 1. Curriculum includes early learning concepts and pre-skills

The learning that takes place before kindergarten is crucial to creating school readiness. Children often need to meet specific learning milestones and have certain skills before successfully transitioning to school.

  • Early math: From infancy, children are also offered opportunities to interact with different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns to build number awareness, especially through toys and books. Toddlers and older children will begin to understand number sense and be able to categorize items.
  • Social-emotional skills: From birth, infants become increasingly aware of self and others. Through responsive care, infants learn about relationships, having their needs met, safety, and respect. As they grow, this foundation supports their self-esteem and self-regulation skills, and their ability to collaborate, build relationships, and resolve conflicts.  
  • Arts, music, and movement: Children of all ages benefit from opportunities to experience and explore visual arts, music, dance, and dramatic play. Exploring music and movement in infancy supports development in all domains as well as promotes creative expression in older children. 



  1. 2. Curriculum is evidence-based 

You’ll want a curriculum that aligns with an evidence-based set of standards, whether this is provided by your state or another organization. Each U.S. state provides early learning frameworks that outline a developmental continuum of desired skills from infancy through kindergarten entry. Most states have both an infant/toddler and preschool framework to align with. Head Start also has a highly respected and utilized learning outcomes framework that aligns with child development research and teacher best practices. 

If you are purchasing packaged curriculum, be sure to find out how the lessons and materials were developed, and whether they align with an early learning framework and evidence-based practices. Brightwheel's Experience Curriculum is a complete, easy-to-use curriculum system with digital lessons in brightwheel and hands-on learning materials mailed to you. The curriculum incorporates 35 research-based skills into playful games and discovery projects and is aligned with all 50 states' early learning standards and NAEYC.

  1. 3. Curriculum includes opportunities for observations and assessments

Lessons and activities are only half of the core of your childcare curriculum. As you move through your planned activities, you’ll need to record observations and administer assessments to track progress towards mastering skills. In California, for example, the state has developed a framework called the Desired Results system, more commonly referred to as DRDP, which refers to the assessment piece of the framework, the Desired Results Developmental Profile. A good childcare curriculum provides ample opportunities to closely observe and document development that is directly tied to the day-to-day happenings at your center.

  1. 4. Curriculum is flexible 

A quality curriculum allows for flexibility informed by a child's progress and interests. Based on your observations and assessments, you will make ongoing adjustments to your daily plans. As a teacher, even with the best-laid plans, it is essential to remain flexible to ensure that when your children are suddenly excited by something new, you are able and willing to shift focus to build on their interests. When teachers are responsive to children’s interests, the learning opportunities become relevant and engaging, which may promote better learning outcomes. 

Emergent curriculum offers a great deal of teaching flexibility. One educational philosophy, the Reggio Emilia approach, is well-known for embracing an emergent curriculum where relationships take center stage and spark learning opportunities. The Reggio Emilia approach acknowledges the importance of social learning and the significance of the children’s relationships with peers, their families and teachers, and the classroom environment, also referred to as the “third teacher”. Teachers build the curriculum in response to the observations of the children’s interests, curiosities, and existing knowledge. 

  1. 5. Curriculum incorporates developmentally appropriate practices (DAP)

The developmentally appropriate practice concept is rooted in a deep knowledge of child development and prioritizes how a child's unique personal experiences and cultural identities may affect their development and understanding of concepts. For optimal child development at your center, it is important that the curriculum considers each child's individual needs and strengths, and their social and cultural contexts.

This practice is also informed by teachers' individual relationships with children and their families. As teachers develop deep relationships with families, they can get to know each child's strengths, needs, and interests, as well as their cultural identity and values. This will help educators create culturally responsive learning experiences to promote development across all domains.

Home daycare curriculum considerations

Center-based and home-based childcare programs may offer different benefits to children and their families with regards to services and learning environment. However, the opportunities for children to learn and develop essential skills remain the same. Home-based childcare programs can leverage the inherent embedded curriculum opportunities inspired by the natural rhythms of life that occur throughout the day in a home such as preparing meals, household chores, and caretaking for younger children.

If you are a home daycare provider developing your own curriculum, here are some elements that can inform your curriculum design in addition to early learning concepts and developmental domains: 

  • Age of the children: Mixed-age groups can stimulate development across all domains through observation of peers and mentorship. However, to create a developmentally appropriate curriculum, you will need to consider the individual needs of each child and their stage of development. 
  • Daily routine: Your daily routine with the children and your home environment offers many opportunities for building a curriculum from the natural rhythms of life. For example, you can simply involve your older children in preparing a meal and discuss early math and science concepts. 
  • Children’s family life: Each child’s family life offers rich opportunities for emergent curriculum ideas that are relevant and meaningful to the children. Connect with families about what experiences they are having at home to draw inspiration for activities and concepts to explore.

Whether you’re running a home daycare program or you’re a preschool teacher at a center-based program, sharing the lesson plan with families is a great way to partner together to build a strong home-to-school connection. Download a free copy of our daily lesson plan template and customize to suit your teaching style and children's needs.

Download a free daily lesson plan template!

Childcare curriculum planning templates

Once you have chosen your ideal curriculum plan, stay organized and plan your activities and learning objectives with a curriculum planning template. 

Writing weekly or daily plans allows you to create intentional learning experiences and document the learning objectives and outcomes as well as reflect and share your observations and the children’s progress with families and colleagues. 

Here are some examples of templates for each age group to spark some ideas for how to best organize your daily or weekly curriculum plan. Before implementing a new template, get feedback from your staff to make sure the template is functional and supportive of their planning. 


Daycare_curriculum_infant_daily_planSource: Pinterest


Source: Pinterest


Source: Pinterest

The best childcare curriculum serves you, children, and families 

Your childcare program will only be as good as the curriculum that you put in place. Whether you are just getting started or are looking to update your center’s offerings, using these criteria as you plan activities and incorporate resources will ensure you are offering your families the level of quality that they deserve.

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at

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