If you’re a new parent, you’ll have lots of questions when choosing the best child care program in your area.
Will your child be safe and happy? Will caregivers provide enough love and attention when you’re not around? How will child care affect your baby’s relationship with you?
Researchers have been looking into this for decades, and the good news is that selecting a quality program makes a big difference in promoting healthy development for infants and young children.
- The National Institutes of Health tracked over 1,300 children from the time they were less than one month old, and found that students who had received high quality infant care earned better grades and had fewer behavior problems in high school.
- A long-term study from Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that, by age 30, those who had attended quality child care as infants were more likely to complete a college degree, maintain consistent employment and earn higher incomes.
So, what exactly makes a quality child care program? The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends several important things to consider when choosing the best place for your baby.
#1: Qualified Caregivers
Believe it or not, babies learn a great deal in the first 18 months, and every baby learns at his or her own pace.
The best child care programs are firmly grounded in an understanding of early brain development. They recruit and train professional caregivers who support baby’s well-being and learning readiness.
- Emphasis on relationships. Babies need stable relationships with trusted adults. Look for a low staff-to-child ratio in which your baby interacts with an attentive primary caregiver.
- Warmth and affection. Babies feel safe and secure when they are gently held during feedings, rocked to make them feel loved and spoken to throughout the day.
- Planning and responsiveness. Good infant caregivers let baby experience a variety of sounds, colors, shapes, sizes and textures. Simple, developmentally appropriate challenges — such as letting the child reach for an object instead of handing it to them — promote a sense of pride and self-esteem.
#2: Positive Environment
A quality child care program will provide a physical environment that supports your baby’s health and overall well-being.
- Health and safety. Caregivers should wash their hands frequently, and classroom supplies must be kept clean. The program should have separate areas for feeding and diapering. A low staff-to-child ratio also means that adults can give adequate attention to each infant, reducing the risk of accidents.
- Soothing environment. Babies can be easily overwhelmed when presented with too much sensory information. Child care spaces should be free of clutter, lighting must not be too bright and recorded music should be balanced with periods of quiet time.
- Open-ended toys. Balls and blocks of different sizes, colors and textures teach babies to make comparisons and encourage creativity. For infants who are ready to crawl or walk, child-sized furniture enables self-directed activity and develops a sense of independence.
#3: Supportive Structure
Babies do best with predictable routines and familiar surroundings.
Look for a child care program with defined areas for feeding, sleeping, playing and diapering. Planned activities, such as meal time, nap time and story time, should take place at the same time every day.
- Caregivers can introduce new skills when each child is ready, such as letting them feed themselves.
- Sign language can be introduced to help babies communicate before verbal language develops.
- The program should include diverse books, toys and songs reflecting a variety of cultures.
#4: Freedom to Explore
While structure and routine are important for baby’s well-being, so is a little bit of freedom. Quality child care programs include periods of unstructured time when your baby can engage in self-directed activity and exploration.
- Look for safe open spaces both indoors and out, where baby can move around freely with caregivers close by. Infants need quality time away from strollers and baby beds.
- This is also a good time to introduce simple games like peekaboo.
- For young infants, tummy time is very important. This activity promotes early motor development and is a great time to offer a variety of toys to stimulate baby’s curiosity.
#5: Family Involvement
Finally, a quality child care program values parental engagement. Here are a few quality signals to look for:
- Asking parents about home routines and adapting care to meet the child’s individual needs.
- Keeping parents up-to-date about developmental milestones achieved at the center.
- Encouraging questions and involvement from parents.
At Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool ®, our Infant Preschool program provides your baby a warm and secure place to thrive with the attentive support of our caring teachers.
Get in touch with a location near you to learn more!
Check out our previous blogs to learn how early education supports your child’s development: