Most people prefer quality products, whether it is food, cars, hotels or even movies. In our society, we have systems that rate the quality of the items that we purchase. There is even a monthly magazine dedicated to rating and ranking items for consumers. With so much concern about quality products, why isn’t the same time and thought put into purchasing child care? Most people spend more time researching what car to buy or what movie to see then where to send their child while they are at work or school.
Fortunately in the states of Ohio and Kentucky, there are quality and improvement rating systems that help families select quality child care. In Ohio, we have Step Up To Quality (SUTQ) and in Kentucky, STARS for KIDS NOW. These systems look at quality factors that are proven to help children be better prepared for school, work and life. Unfortunately, these rating systems are also voluntary, which means families often do not have all of the information when selecting care for their child.
A lot of programs can look wonderful from the outside. An attractive building, beautiful landscaping and lots of new equipment make it appear as if children will receive what they need to grow and learn. Even having degreed teachers isn’t a guarantee of quality. Teachers need to understand what is age appropriate and how to choose activities and plan experiences based on the children’s interest and where they are developmentally. Take a closer look at your own program. Are you truly implementing developmentally appropriate practice or is it just words on the brochure?
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), young children learn by having positive relationships with responsive adults that “promote not only children’s social competence and emotional development but also their academic learning.” Teachers should be talking with children, encouraging them to try new things and sharing in the excitement of each child’s learning. Children also learn through active, hands-on involvement and should be encouraged to investigate, question and ponder problems. Children also need to have meaningful experiences while constructing their own understanding of the world, and they do this by making choices, solving problems, conversing and negotiating throughout the day while engaging in high-level play. If the majority of children’s time is spent in group activities conducted by the teacher, the children are not getting the high-level play which is proven to be one of the best predictors of later school success (Smilansky 1990).
Having a quality program is much more than appearances. I challenge any program, whether SUTQ-rated or not, to stop and reflect on their day to day practices. Think about what it is like to be a child in your program. Is most of your day spent talking to the other children in your classroom? Does your teacher tell you what activity to do, or is the classroom set up with purposeful materials for you to explore? Teachers should observe and take advantage of the “teachable moments” when children are already at play. Every child will not be ready for every activity at the same time, and experiences should be adapted based on the children’s age, experience, interest and abilities.
Remember when it comes to children, we should not expect anything less than quality. Using a system that rates quality is the first step, but you still must reflect on your day to day practices to ensure that your program is providing children with what they need to learn and grow.