When you are faced with choosing a child care centre for your child: A guide for choosing a quality and safe learning environment

          My blog is not only for discussing sleep issues but also for development, education, community resources for infants and toddlers. I received a request from an amazing mom who I had recently helped with her baby’s sleep. She is thinking about putting her little one on the wait list for a child care program (I know it is a big problem in Metro Vancouver, some places have a wait list of over 12 months).  She told me she was looking for a high quality and safe setting but she doesn’t know what to look at. So I thought this may be a great opportunity to share my insight about a quality and safe learning environment.

Why environment?

The environment has a great impact on improving children’s abilities, how well they can learn, when they use particular skills and how competent they are perceived to be.

Safe environment

Did you know many children are injured or worse because of preventable accidents? It is very important to check if there are any conditions, events or situations that may cause unintentional child injury and death at a centre.

Quality environment

Along with the home environment, the child care environment where your child will spend a tremendous amount of time largely influences their outcomes. A good quality environment can provide positive learning experiences and pathways to reach their optimal outcomes. 

What do you actually need to look at?

A centre based learning environment has multiple layers, and these factors influence the quality of children’s experiences and their learning. These are possible questions you can ask or check for each layer.

Diagram from McLean, Wolery, & Bailey, 2004, p.220

Diagram from McLean, Wolery, & Bailey, 2004, p.220

Ⅰ. Interactions: Interactions with teachers and peers.
- Do the teachers speak in a warm fashion to children?

- Are children encouraged to interact with peers?

Ⅱ. Classroom Features: Classroom curriculum, practices, schedules and nature of activities, materials.

- Does the centre have structured, but flexible schedules based on the child’s needs?

- Does the centre provide safe and developmentally appropriate activities and materials?

- Do the activities and materials promote different skills that children need to develop? (e.g. language skills, big muscle skills, small muscle skills, social skills, cognitive skills, self help skills)    

Ⅲ. Classroom Staff Characteristics & Classroom Structure: Education and training, experience, beliefs and goals of the teachers, child-teacher ratio, group size, arrangement of physical space, equipment, furnishings and hours of operation.

- Is the centre licensed, unlicensed, or licensing not required?
(If specific outcomes are the goal such as tutoring, the child care does not require a license, however, licensed centers must meet and comply with the Community Care and the Assisted Living Act as well as comply with Child Care Licensing Regulations. You can view the Child Care Licensing Regulation at www.health.gov.bc.ca/ccf/)

- What are the qualifications of teachers?
(e.g. responsible adults, assistance license, early childhood educator license, infant and toddler license, special needs license - all of them must have had a criminal record check)

- How many teachers and children are in each class?
(Group care: under 36 months -12 children with 3 teachers min, over 36 months- 25 children with 3 teachers, Preschool : 20 children of the ages of 3 to 5 years old with 2 teachers max, Family child care: 7 children with 1 adult, Multi aged care: 8 children with 1 teachers in B.C.)

- Is the classroom big enough and well-arranged? Can children move around freely?

- What are the hours of operation?
(Group centres offer year-round, full-day care, typically opening between 7:00/8:00 a.m. and closing between 5:00/6:00 p.m)

- What other spaces are provided that add to the learning experience? 
(i.e. playgrounds)

- Are there any potential hazards?
(e.g. cutting boards, cleaning supplies)

- How can the teachers and classrooms accommodate children with special needs? Do the teachers have the proper abilities in order to support the child? Is there limited access to certain spaces and materials for the child?

Ⅳ. Administrative Characteristics: Philosophy, administrative structure and support of staff.

- Does the philosophy of the centre meet your child’s needs and interests?

- How is the inclusive program operated? (e.g. fully or partially)

- Do the policies meet your child’s needs and interests? If not, is it flexible to meet them?

- Is there funding support as well as specialist support for children with special needs?

 ★It is important to assess the environment as well as communicating with the teachers and administrators to let them know your priorities, beliefs, needs of your child before and after entry into the program in order to be able to set common goals for your child. There is a very useful website with a check list. http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/ : Parents’ Guide to Selecting and Monitoring Child Care in B.C.