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Child Care Choices

Expert tips for choosing preschool and childcare programs

kids at preschoolThere is a lot to consider when choosing a preschool or childcare provider. Location, affordability and reputation are among the first things that come to mind, but other factors are important, too.

Following are some excellent online resources designed to help parents choose a program that will provide their children with a strong foundation for their development and education.

• Childcareaware.org, the website of Child Care Aware®, is a hub of information for parents and childcare providers. Its “Parents and Families” section helps parents learn about the elements of quality programs and assists them with locating those programs within their own community.

The site includes numerous tips for evaluating childcare providers, covering points to consider when measuring the quality of caregivers/teachers, a facility’s overall setting, activities offered and general considerations, such as whether parents agree with the provider’s discipline practices and if the sounds of happy children are heard on site.

• Families.naeyc.org is part of is the website of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a professional membership organization that works to provide high quality early learning for children from birth through age 8. The site offers several tools to assist parents in the selection of a quality childcare or preschool program:

– The “What to Look for in a Program” section contains tips to help parents select safe, nurturing and stimulating learning environments for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

– The “Signs of Quality” section covers the 10 research-based standards the NAEYC has in place for early childhood programs, including childcare centers, preschools and kindergartens. In order for a program to earn NAEYC accreditation, it must meet all 10 standards.

NAEYC standards cover relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment of child progress, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment, and leadership and management. They were developed using input from early childhood experts and educators from across the country.

– The “Search for an Accredited Program” section enables parents to search by program name or ZIP code for NAEYC programs in their area and is updated every Friday with new accreditation decisions.

• Getreadytoread.org, one of the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ websites, has a helpful section called “Choosing a Preschool: Simple Tips for Parents.” It emphasizes the importance of preparation in making a preschool choice and offers information to help parents make those preparations.

To clear up some common confusion, the site explains the various terms used to describe preschools’ educational philosophies, including the Montessori Method, Reggio Emilia Approach, Waldorf Approach, Bank Street Approach and High/Scope Approach.

Common terms associated with preschool settings, such as “teacher-led,” “child-led,” “co-operative” and others also are explained.

Finally, the site includes recommended questions to ask when visiting preschools and checklists parents can use when visiting and comparing various preschools.

• Healthychildren.org, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has a section devoted to helping parents choose quality childcare. The site contains a list of pertinent questions parents can ask of potential care providers, addressing topics ranging from hours of operation, daily scheduling and staffing to specific policies on matters such as health standards, medication management, nutrition, discipline, media, outdoor play and more.

The site also features a chart outlining the AAP’s recommendations on the appropriate child-staff ratio and maximum group size for children of various age groups.

To access the information, visit healthychildren.org, and enter “choosing childcare” in the search box.

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