The early childhood years are a pivotal time in a child's life. This developmental stage is when children need a great deal of support in the classroom in the form of their teacher's attention and supervision. To address these needs in preschool, it's essential to create a space for them to learn, grow, develop, and explore safely. Because of these specific needs, staff-to-child ratios are critical to creating and maintaining a high-quality childcare environment.
What is the staff-to-child ratio in child care?
The staff-to-child ratio is the number of children per adult staff member in a classroom. Ratios vary based on the program type and the children's ages. Generally, younger children require more care and attention; therefore, fewer children are typically assigned or allotted to a teacher when they're under a certain age. For instance, many states recommend a ratio of five or fewer infants to one teacher. However, as ages increase and children become more independent and require less supervision, that ratio increases.
Research shows that maintaining a low staff-to-child ratio can positively impact children by improving their quality of care and education. Organizations such as Head Start, the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend low ratios because of these findings.
The Child Care Technical Assistance Network provides a data explorer and state profile tool that details early childhood education ratio requirements for each state. Organizations such as Head Start, Childcare.gov, and NAEYC urge that childcare centers implement low ratios to provide children with more individual attention and continuity of care. While these guidelines are similar, you should still confirm your local and state licensing requirements as they may be even more stringent than these recommendations.
Why are staff-to-child ratios important?
Children's early years require a lot of guidance, supervision, instruction, and individual attention. Preschoolers, who range from 3 to 5 years old, typically need constant attention. One teacher teaching 20 preschoolers would be quite challenging. The teacher would likely feel overwhelmed and unable to adequately monitor each child or tend to each child's unique needs. In a preschool environment, teachers need more one-on-one time with each child to learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and any challenges they may be facing. Additionally, teachers must have enough time to connect with each child to tailor their lessons and teaching methods to accommodate each child’s individual learning style.
While there's no magic number for staff-to-child ratios, in the preschool classroom, less is more. By keeping low ratios, teachers can adequately monitor the health and safety of the class. They can also form better relationships with each child, allowing them to create more meaningful connections, which will lead to a better understanding of where each child is developmentally. Low ratios also make families feel more confident that their children will be safely cared for and receive quality instruction.
The benefits of low staff-to-child ratios in child care
Adhering to low staff-to-child ratios is beneficial to teachers and children. Research studies show that lower ratios contribute to better future outcomes for children and enable them to achieve better academic success. One study, in particular, found that children who received care in lower ratio environments in their early years performed better on tests later on.
Some additional key benefits of low ratios include:
By implementing low staff-to-child ratios, teachers can better monitor each child's actions with fewer distractions. This can result in more safety in the classroom and fewer accidents, incidents, and injuries.
With lower staff-to-child ratios, teachers can form better bonds with children. They can also learn more about their individual interests and skill sets, which can influence their curriculum, lesson plans, and teaching methods. Individualized teaching can build a trustworthy relationship between the teacher and each child, making them feel safe and secure in the classroom. In essence, one-on-one time offers a more enhanced learning experience that supports better language, social, and academic development.
Healthier environment for teachers
Children aren't the only ones who benefit from low staff-to-child ratios. When teachers are responsible for smaller class sizes, they can reduce their job-related stress, ultimately improving the children's learning experience. In addition, in a less stressful environment, teachers can provide quality care and learning, and childcare facilities can hopefully experience reduced teacher turnover rates.
Each child has their own unique needs when it comes to how and what they learn. Therefore, low staff-to-child ratios benefit teachers who want to provide more personalized learning opportunities and implement specific curriculums. For example, teaching methods such as emergent curriculum or intentional teaching rely on creating individualized teaching opportunities based on the children's skill sets, interests, and developmental stages. Low ratios enable teachers to learn more about each child and incorporate that information into how they teach them.
Childcare ratios during an emergency
It's always a good idea to prepare for the unexpected. Following specific ratios and maximum classroom sizes can ensure that teachers maintain order and keep their children safe if an emergency occurs. Teachers must be flexible and swift, whether it's a medical emergency, inclement weather, or any other unpredictable event. Maintaining low ratios help to ensure that teachers can handle emergencies efficiently.
Consider hiring teacher's aides, floater teachers, or substitutes who can fill in during classroom incidents or staff absences. For example, if a teacher has to leave the classroom or the premises due to an emergency, there should be a backup staff member who can step in to maintain an appropriate ratio.
What ratio is best for your childcare facility?
Childcare ratios can have significant impacts on both children and staff. Therefore it is important to ensure that the proper staff-to-child ratios are established so that both children and teachers can thrive in a safe environment.
When deciding on the most appropriate staff-to-child ratio for your childcare center, consider the ages of the children and your program type. Refer to local and state regulations to ensure that your staff and class sizes follow all requirements or check out our guides below for more information:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina