Early care and education happens in many places: child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start programs, preschools and kindergartens.

When children receive quality early childhood education and care, everyone benefits: children, families and communities.

Children are born ready to learn. They are naturally motivated to make sense of the world around them. The brain is the only organ that is not fully developed at birth. During the first three years, trillions of connections between brain cells are being made. A child’s relationships and experiences during the early years greatly influence how their brain will grow.

During the first three years of life, children develop crucial intellectual, emotional and social abilities, learn to give and accept love, to be confident and secure, to show empathy, to be curious and persistent — all abilities that will enable your child to learn, relate well to others and lead a happy and productive life. Children learn best through their everyday experiences with the people they love and trust, and when the learning is fun.

What do high-quality programs do to support children’s healthy development and learning?
Early childhood professionals who have training in child development are aware of the need to attend to all aspects of children’s development. Good programs offer activities and services to promote each child’s physical, social, and emotional development, as well as children’s cognitive development. They also provide the support that families need to ensure the well-being of their children.

What does research tell us?
Researchers have found children who attend high-quality early childhood programs do gain skills normally associated with greater brain development, such as problem solving and language, math, and literacy skills. They also gain other kinds of competencies such as self-control, a higher motivation for learning and social skills. Families benefit too as they access needed services, develop parenting skills, and participate in an atmosphere that promotes meaningful family involvement. The January 2005 publication Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that high-quality early education and child care for young children, which includes all of a child’s experiences at home, in child care, and in other preschool settings, improves their health and promotes their development and learning.

What is important for young children’s early development?
Good early childhood experiences count tremendously and providing children with an early childhood education means much more than making them smarter, earlier. Young children need meaningful learning opportunities to develop skills, competencies, a sense of self, and a foundation for learning throughout life. We should ensure that all children reach school age with a solid foundation for learning and relating to others, and that all parents know what they can do to help their children develop.

A healthy childhood also includes proper nutrition and physical development.
Children, just like you, should get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Limiting high calorie foods and treats like chips, cookies, candy and soft drinks will help. Also limiting TV time and computer time and replacing it with play time will all help to maintain a healthy weight for your child.

Choosing quality child care
Did you know that a child in full-time care from infancy through age 5 may spend as much time there as he or she will spend in a classroom from grades one to twelve? Choosing quality early care for your children is critical! And the idea that quality child care can make all the difference in a child’s life is not a new one. The Perry pre-school project took place in the 1960’s. The participants were followed up for over 30 years. Some children were assigned to a high quality pre-school program while another group was not. Data was collected on both groups regularly and at age 27. The results confirmed previous findings that the quality pre-school group had completed more schooling, had fewer arrests, earned more money, were more likely to own a home and less likely to receive welfare than the control group that did not.

Thousands of Boone County children spend all or a part of the day in child care or at preschool. These settings — in centers or in homes — should be places where children can learn and grow. Choosing child care is one of the most important decisions families make. Finding the right care for your child is often challenging. Even though parents are the most important people in their child’s life, the relationship your child has with their caregiver will also affect how they feel about themselves and the world around them.

First, gather as much information as possible to ensure that the decision you make is a wise one. An easy way to help ensure your child is in a quality learning environment is to ask your child care provider or preschool if they are a STARS rated center.

The STARS system uses a scale of 1 through 4 STARS to identify levels of quality. All STAR levels surpass the minimum licensing requirements that all programs must meet. Early care and education programs work to meet standards associated with quality care that result in positive outcomes for young children. STARS for KIDS NOW provides parents with a tool to help identify levels of quality when seeking a child care setting outside of their home. Child care centers and family child care homes participating in STARS for KIDS NOW demonstrate a commitment toward providing quality care and education. You can also use the following guidelines, based on the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Early Childhood Program Standards, to help you identify high-quality early care and education programs for your young children.

Preschool and child care programs should focus on children:

• Watch to see that children interact with other children and adults, so they can build healthy relationships.
• Ask about the curriculum, which should include a variety of activities appropriate for the children’s ages and needs.

Preschool and child care programs should have qualified staff:
• The staff should have the educational background to promote your child’s learning and development. Ask what degrees and training teachers have.
• Ask how long teachers and staff have been with the program. Teachers that stay in the program longer are more able to focus their attention on the children and establish bonds with them.

Preschool and child care programs should build relationships with families:

• Program staff should work with families to meet their child’s needs. Ask how information and concerns are communicated between staff and families. • Make sure the program’s policies allow families to visit their child during the program day.

Preschool and child care programs should be well-run:
• Check that the program is licensed by the state. The facilities need to be age-appropriate and well maintained, both indoors and outdoors.
• Check whether the program has policies and practices to help keep children safe from preventable illness and injury.
• Ask about the child-to-teacher ratio, which helps determine how much individual attention your child will get. For example, there should be at least one adult for every ten 4-year-olds. Evaluating a program based on these standards will help you choose a high-quality program for your child that will allow them to get a great start on learning. Always remember to follow your instincts and ask questions when you have concerns.

Observation Checklist
❏ Regularly scheduled nutritious meals and snacks are provided and menus are posted.
❏ Indoor and outdoor spaces are clean and safe.
❏ Children and adults wash hands after diapering/toileting and before meals.
❏ Furniture and equipment are child sized.
❏ Medicine and cleaning products are out of the reach of children.
❏ Discipline is handled in a gentle, but firm manner.
❏ Rules are clear, simple and consistent.
❏ Children are not expected to sit quietly or wait for long periods of time.
❏ Books, blocks, puzzles and other learning materials are available and within easy reach of the children.
❏ Outdoor play occurs daily, weather permitting.
❏ Each child has their own crib or cot.
❏ Parents are welcome at any time, without prior notice.
❏ Caregivers respond quickly in a loving, gentle way.
❏ There is a daily schedule that makes children feel comfortable and secure.
❏ Parents and children are greeted upon arrival.
❏ Caregivers have training specific to the ages of children they care for.

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