November 18, 2022
Early Childhood Education Specialist
Director, Policy & Programs, Early Childhood Education, USCCF Center for Education and Workforce
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, working parents struggled with access to affordable childcare. This has significantly impacted working parents entering or remaining in the workforce. Another challenge families faced was finding quality childcare for their kids.
On this episode of The Drumbeat, Aaron Merchen, Director of Early Childhood Education Policy and Programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, sat down with April Kimble, an early childhood education specialist, to discuss the importance of quality when evaluating childcare solutions. Kimble discussed critical indicators of quality, like building a positive environment, licensing, and primary education.
Childcare Is Not ‘One Size Fits All’
Kimble believes quality childcare can take different forms depending on what the family wants. Programs within childcare centers can offer niche learning experiences, which can be crucial to an array of families.
Additionally, she said, a high price tag for childcare services does not necessarily mean it offers top-quality care.
“It doesn’t have to be a one size fits all, and it doesn’t have to break the bank,” Kimble continued. “You can have quality that looks totally different depending on the program. Without access and workplace policies advocating for working families in early childhood education and advocating for children, we’re lost as a society and a community.”
Determining Quality in Childcare Should Start With Licensing and Referrals
When families are evaluating the quality of a childcare and early childhood education program, there are some specific measures they can look at to determine whether it will meet their needs.
First, all legitimate childcare centers need certain licenses at the state and regulatory body levels. This helps ensure a healthy and safe environment for children. Next, said Kimble, families can turn to childcare resource referral agencies and other organizations to find high-quality childcare.
“Referral agencies and other organizations may be able to help a program to raise their quality by assisting them with getting national accreditations or quality rated and improvement systems that are at a state level,” Kimble said. “And you sometimes see stars or different levels of ratings.”
Kimble noted that national associations help mark quality, and facilities must meet specific standards to sustain quality. Organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children rate facilities based on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, which measures teacher-student interactions, and the Environment Rating Scale, which further measures physical environment, curriculum, basic care, and interaction.
Beyond these standards, there are some common tenets that every good childcare program should have.
“[It’s not just] trying to assist children … but help[ing] them and … rais[ing] them higher with the developmental milestones — cognitive development, gross motor [and] fine motor development,” said Kimble, who added that a quality childcare provider is “someone that's nurturing relationships.”
Seek Early Childhood Educators Who Pursue Professional Development
Educators who pursue learning after attaining degrees and careers are essential in improving the quality of a childcare program.
“You don’t just stop and say, ‘Look at my program. It’s so wonderful. And look, we have this 100 rating, or we have this rating of a seven, or yes, we are a three-star with quality-rated improvement systems,’” Kimble said. “It’s striving to continue. No one is 100% of anything. You always want to find a program that does have teachers that decide [they’re] going to continue [their] education.”
Kimble led a team developing PBS KIDS’ teacher professional learning strategy with a focus on supporting early childhood educators. The training program focuses on media best practices in the classroom for preschool through first grade.
“You have that drive instead of just, let me just take these basic health and safety courses,” she added. “What [are you] trying to do in your classroom to be better, [learn more], and do those best practices?”