Early childhood education studies confirm high-quality child care adequately prepares children for school life. When they start school, children who obtain a high-quality early education have stronger math, language, and social-emotional abilities. They require less special education as they age, progress further in school, have less contact with the justice system, and earn higher incomes as adults. All of these benefits are achievable because of high-quality childcare programs.
The best childcare programs have a few things in common; a low child-to-teacher ratio, small group sizes, well-trained staff, an age-appropriate curriculum, and a positive and safe learning environment. This should be your starting point if you want to run a high-quality childcare program and increase your bottom line.
We cover in detail everything you should know about high-quality childcare, including how to evaluate and improve your program over time in this comprehensive guide.
Benefits of high-quality early childhood programs
What is high-quality child care? High-quality child care provides children with an enriched and stimulating preschool environment that prepares them for later learning. Overall, high-quality early childhood programs support children's holistic development and their physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills. Below we dive deep into the benefits of high-quality early childhood programs.
Improves social skills
High-quality early childhood education programs tend to have small groups, an age-appropriate curriculum, and engaging activities. This ensures that children are nurtured and learn from one another individually and in groups.
As a result of this positive experience, toddlers and preschoolers who attend high-quality childcare centers typically have better social skills than their peers who don’t attend these types of programs. Research supports that early socialization and play have a positive effect on children’s social skills such as empathy, resilience, and prosocial behavior later in life.
Increases chances of success later in life
Children who have access to high-quality early childhood education programs have greater chances of success later in life. Quality early childhood education prepares children for later academic and occupational endeavors.
Research supports that children who experience quality early learning programs are 25% more likely to graduate high school, four times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree, and earn up to 25% more in wages as an adult.
Other studies show that children who attend pre-kindergarten programs score significantly higher on math tests in primary grades.
Offers developmental milestone screenings
Children who attend high-quality early childhood education programs are regularly screened for health and behavioral issues. By identifying potential problems early, such as developmental delays, educators and families can take appropriate steps to address them and get children the support they need.
Helps with brain development
The first five years of a child’s life is when the brain develops fastest. It is during this time that exposure to high-quality childcare programs has the most positive impact, providing a child with crucial language, cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills. What happens during those early years is the most important for a child’s early brain development and overall well-being.
Boosts confidence and independence
A key goal of early childhood education is to help children develop confidence and independence. High-quality programs give children opportunities to try new things, explore new environments, learn how to be self-sufficient, and manage their emotions. For example, toddlers and preschoolers in high-quality childcare centers often learn basic personal hygiene and build confidence as they master basic skills like feeding and dressing themselves. As they grow older, this fosters a sense of independence and confidence in their abilities.
Supports transition to school
Quality early childhood education programs can also help children transition to school smoothly. This is because they provide them with the essential skills and knowledge required for success in kindergarten, elementary school, and beyond. For example, high-quality childcare centers often teach toddlers basic pre-reading and early math skills. In addition, they offer activities that promote socialization and cooperation among classmates, which helps children build positive relationships that will support their academic progress.
Exposes children to diversity
High-quality early childhood education programs expose children to diversity. This includes different cultures, religions, and languages. It helps them learn how to cooperate and relate well with others. In addition, it encourages kindness and empathy towards people from different backgrounds. This can make them more tolerant of others and better equipped for a successful future career path.
Nurtures an enthusiasm for learning
Attending a high-quality early childhood education program often makes children excited about learning. This is because they’re surrounded by positive people who support their efforts and provide fun and engaging learning activities centered around things like music, art, and other enrichment programs. As a result, toddlers and preschoolers may view learning as a positive experience.
What are the characteristics of a high-quality early childhood program?
Many factors make a high-quality early childhood program, but the following are some of the most important:
Low childcare staff turnover
Programs with low staff turnover are often more successful because they maintain a consistent level of care. This means the children are comfortable and familiar with the educators and assistants throughout the day.
Qualified and well-trained childcare staff
A program with high-quality childcare staff will typically hire individuals who’ve undergone training in early childhood development and childcare techniques. Typically, the most qualified early childhood education teachers have a degree in early childhood education, complete any exams as required by their state, and have hands-on teaching experience.
Low child-to-teacher ratios
Adult-to-child ratio requirements typically vary by state and program type. However, in general, it is recommended that the younger the children are, the more trained adults should be present. In addition, smaller group sizes usually allow for more individualized care and attention for each child and are easier for teachers to manage. General recommendations state that one trained adult should not care for more than 3-6 young toddlers or 6-10 preschoolers.
Highly experienced childcare director
A childcare program run by a highly experienced director will likely be more successful than one run by a director with little to no experience. A well-trained and qualified childcare director provides the foundation for a successful program, overseeing the teaching staff, setting the curriculum, and managing all administrative functions.
Positive child-to-teacher interactions
High-quality early childhood programs are characterized by positive interactions between children and their educators. This means that children feel comfortable with the staff and receive the individualized attention they need.
Accreditation by relevant education associations
A high-quality early childhood program may be accredited by relevant education associations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This ensures that the program meets rigorous standards and is up to date with current best practices.
A well-rounded early childhood program includes an age-appropriate curriculum to meet the specific needs of struggling and advanced learners. This ensures that all children can thrive in a stimulating and supportive environment. Your activities should also promote learning across all developmental domains. Our free list of over 100+ activity ideas supports children's language, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development.
A safe and hygienic learning environment
A safe and hygienic learning environment is essential for promoting healthy child development. Programs that maintain a clean and organized environment provide children with the optimal physical and emotional conditions necessary for learning.
Adequate learning materials and resources
A well-equipped early childhood program includes adequate learning materials and resources like toys. This allows children to explore their creative side while developing fundamental skills like reading, math, and writing.
Children require adequate nutrition for optimal growth and development and childcare programs that offer nutritious foods support children’s healthy development. Educators help children build strong dietary habits early in life by providing them with balanced meals and snacks. A balanced diet for children has plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
Active family engagement
Family involvement in their child’s early education is an essential part of their child's overall development. Programs that include families in a meaningful and active way help to promote healthy child growth, development, and learning. Frequent communication with families through things like daily reports or monthly newsletters can keep families informed of their child’s progress and offer ideas for them to continue their learning at home.
Early childhood quality rating systems
There are many different high-quality childcare rating systems, and below we cover the most common ones.
QRIS is a quality rating and improvement system for early childhood development programs. It works by giving providers of early childhood development services a tool to measure and improve the quality of their programs.
The benefits of using QRIS include the following:
- Increased efficiency in improving programs
- Better identification of areas that need improvement
- Enhanced communication between service providers and governing bodies
- Greater assurance that funding is being used most effectively
- Improved quality of services for children and families
The cons of using QRIS include the following:
- Increased bureaucracy for providers
- Higher costs for service providers
CLASS is a classroom assessment scoring system for early childhood education programs. It’s designed to give providers a way to measure how well their programs meet their children's educational needs. CLASS uses a seven-point scale (1-7) to analyze teachers' performance across core emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support domains.
The benefits of using CLASS include the following:
- Better identification of areas that need improvement in early childhood development programs
- Improved quality of services for children and families
The cons of using CLASS include the following:
- Higher costs for service providers
Childcare accreditation is a process by which providers of early childhood programs can validate that they meet specific quality standards. Accredited providers can then advertise their programs as meeting the highest possible standards.
Childcare accreditation has many benefits for childcare providers, including:
- Increased efficiency in providing high-quality childcare
- Improved public perception of childcare services
The cons of using childcare accreditation include the following:
- The accreditation process may be tedious and costly
Any childcare center may apply for and receive national accreditation from a variety of different accrediting associations, such as:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
- National Accreditation Commission (NAC)
- National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA)
- National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
ECERS is a tool for assessing the quality of early childhood programs including things like, a center’s space and furnishings, personal care routines, and classroom activities and interactions.
The benefits of using ECERS include the following:
- Improved identification of areas that need improvement in early childhood programs
- Quick to administer and relatively easy to use
- Cost-effective and easy to monitor
The cons of using ECERS include the following:
- It doesn't cover broader aspects like leadership and management
A high-quality childcare program has many benefits and sets children up for success later in life. Childcare providers can take advantage of the many assessment tools that exist to measure the quality of their existing program and find ways to improve it over time.