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Finding a Quality Early Childhood Program

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

What should families look for when they choose a childcare program?

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has 10 standards for early childhood programs to help families in Worcester and its surrounding communities evaluate an early learning center, preschool, or family childcare program and choose one that aligns with their child’s best interests. These provide the foundation of the NAEYC Accreditation system for early childhood programs. 

Additionally, NAEYC’s standards can help parents prepare for program visits and ask the right questions about them. From here, parents can validate their instincts about a program and make an informed decision about whether it aligns with their child’s best interests.

In this blog post, we'll look at each of these standards in detail. We'll also provide you with questions to ask as you evaluate early childhood programs in Central Mass. 

Standard 1: Relationships

student hugging teacher

Children build relationships, which help them establish a sense of individual worth and understand what it takes to contribute to their community. These relationships are warm, sensitive, and responsive. They help kids feel safe and secure.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Teachers help kids adjust to the program and make friends.
  • Teachers engage in warm, friendly conversations with kids and encourage and recognize their work and accomplishments.
  • Kids play and work together.
  • Teachers help kids identify feelings, describe problems, and resolve conflicts.
  • Teachers never physically punish children.

Questions to Ask

  • Can you describe the teaching team in the classroom? What’s the ratio of children to adults?
  • How do you encourage kids to play and learn together?
  • How do you help children resolve conflicts?

Standard 2: Curriculum

A curriculum is developed and implemented that has consistent goals for kids. It promotes learning and development of a child’s social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive skills.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Kids learn and develop through exploration and play.
  • Teachers work with children and small groups on an individual basis to help them develop and fine-tune specific skills.
  • Materials and equipment are used that spark children’s interest and encourage them to learn and experiment.
  • Activities help children develop their reasoning, problem-solving, social, and other skills.
  • Toddlers and infants play with jack-in-the-boxes, playdough, and other interactive toys and materials.

Questions to Ask

  • What can you tell me about the curriculum you use and how you plan it?
  • How do you connect the curriculum to children’s interests?
  • How do you track my child's progress during the year?

Standard 3: Teaching

teacher and students cutting paper

Teachers help children learn and develop in conjunction with a curriculum’s goals. They use multiple approaches that are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate to children in the program.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Teachers supervise children at all times.
  • Teachers provide kids with time each day for indoor and outdoor activities (weather permitting).
  • Teachers organize time and space so children can work or play individually and in groups.
  • Children’s recent work is displayed in the classroom.
  • Teachers adjust their strategies and materials as needed.

Questions to Ask

  • What does a typical day look like?
  • How do you balance play and education?
  • How much time do children get to play outside? Are there activities planned outside?
  • How do you support different learning styles?
  • How are toys, materials, and activities chosen and planned for?

Standard 4: Assessment of Child Progress

Systematic, formal, and informal assessments are used to understand the learning and development of children. These are performed with respect to a child’s culture and family.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Teachers use checklists, rating scales, and other assessment methods to help children learn.
  • Teachers utilize assessment methods based on a child’s age and level of development.
  • Assessments emphasize several areas, including the development of a child’s cognitive, language, social-emotional, and physical skills.
  • Teachers use assessments to create individualized goals for kids, monitor their progress, and improve the program and its teaching strategies.
  • Families get regular feedback about their child’s development and learning through meetings and conferences.

Questions to Ask

  • How do you get to know each child?
  • How do you monitor a child's progress?
  • How do you provide parents with feedback, and how often do you provide parents with feedback?
  • If you have a concern about my child's development, how would you address that? What supports and strategies are available in the classroom?

Standard 5: Health

Teachers help foster a healthy and safe learning environment where kids can learn and grow. In this environment, the nutrition and health of children and how kids and staff can guard against illness and injury are top priorities.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Teachers are trained in pediatric first aid.
  • Infants are put on their backs to sleep.
  • Policies are in place relating to regular hand-washing and routine cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces in a facility.
  • There is a plan for responding to illness, how to decide if a child needs to go home, and how families will be notified if their child is sick.
  • Nutritious snacks and meals are provided.
  • Food is prepared and stored safely.

Questions to Ask

  • What snacks and meals does your program provide?
  • How do you help kids develop healthy habits?
  • How do you maintain a clean, healthy, and safe environment?
  • Does your staff have pediatric first aid training?
  • What do you do if a child gets sick?

Standard 6: Staff Competencies, Preparation, and Support

Teachers have the educational qualifications, knowledge, and professional commitment to promote children’s learning and development. They also support families’ needs and interests.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Teachers have Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, associate’s degrees, or higher degrees.
  • Teachers can access continuing education and other ongoing staff development.
  • Teachers have training in the program’s curriculum and work as part of a team.

Questions to Ask

  • Do teachers have credentials?
  • Do teachers have first aid and CPR training?
  • Do teachers have to complete training programs even if they already have a degree?
  • How are teachers screened for child abuse and neglect?
  • What skills and dispositions do you look for when you hire early education staff?
  • How many staff members have CDA credentials, associate’s degrees, or other degrees?
  • How do you train your staff on your program's curriculum?
  • How do staff receive ongoing professional development?
  • How do staff members work together as part of a team?

Standard 7: Families

Staff members foster relationships sensitive to a family’s composition, language, and culture. They establish relationships with families based on mutual trust and respect, involve them in their children’s educational growth, and encourage them to participate in the program.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • Families are encouraged to be involved in the program.
  • Teachers and staff members talk with families about their family structure and use this information to adapt a curriculum and teaching methods.
  • Teachers and staff members use conferences, orientations, and other strategies to communicate with families.
  • Program policies, operating procedures, and other policies and procedures are provided in a language that families can easily understand.

Questions to Ask

  • How do you communicate with families?
  • How are families involved in your program?
  • Can you share your program's policies and procedures for families?
  • Can I visit my child at any time?
  • How do staff members show respect for home values and the culture of each family?

Standard 8: Community Relationships

Community resources support the program’s goals. The program utilizes relationships with community agencies and institutions to connect families with resources they can use to help their children develop and learn.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • The program provides families with access to museums, parks, libraries, zoos, and other community resources.
  • Artists, musicians, and other community program representatives share their interests and talents with children.
  • Staff members develop professional relationships with community agencies and organizations to meet the needs and interests of children and their families.

Questions to Ask

  • How are you involved in the community?
  • Who are your community partners?
  • Do you provide community resources?

Standard 9: Physical Environment

student smiling at camera

The physical environment includes appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor facilities and equipment. It helps staff members facilitate children’s learning and development.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • The environment is laid out in a way that staff members can supervise all children by sight and sound.
  • Hand-washing sinks, child-size chairs and tables, and other furnishings are in place to accommodate children.
  • Appropriate materials and equipment are available based on children’s ages, skills, and abilities.
  • All materials and equipment are clean, safe, and in good condition.
  • Fences or natural barriers are in place in outdoor play areas to prevent kids from accessing streets and other hazards.
  • First-aid kits, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are available.

Questions to Ask

  • How do you keep kids safe throughout the day?
  • What safety equipment do you have on site?
  • How do you protect children in case of an emergency?
  • Does the program have live video feeds or a security system?

Standard 10: Leadership and Management

Policies, procedures, and systems support stable staff and strong personnel. Along with these, the program meets program licensing requirements in Massachusetts, ensuring children and their families can access quality services and support.

What the Standard Looks Like

  • The program is licensed.
  • The program administrator has a degree from a four-year college and specialized training in early childhood education, child development, or related fields.
  • Policies and procedures are shared with families and explain the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline, and health and safety procedures.
  • There are appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children.

Questions to Ask

  • Who is your program administrator, and how can I get in touch with them?
  • What are your program administrator's qualifications?
  • Is your program licensed?

At Edward Street, we support young children and their parents. Together with our community partners, we advocate for young kids and families in the Worcester area, ensuring every child’s needs are met.

We're happy to help you access resources so you can evaluate an early childhood program and figure out if it's the best one for your child.

For research-based resources, tips, and ideas for families, check out NAEYC’s family resources.

Additionally, contact your local childcare resource and referral agency (CCR&R) for resources for accessing childcare services.

Edward Street proudly supports high quality early learning and care. Donate today so children, families, and businesses can thrive, and follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.