Research shows that high quality early childhood programs prepare children for future success in school, work and life. From birth through age 5 is the most important time for growth of the human brain. A child’s brain develops in response to the child’s experiences by building neurological networks in reaction to the environment.
A child’s experiences in a child care program can significantly contribute to that brain development and the future success of the child. High quality child care programs are essential, not only to Hoosier children, but also to their families and to the communities in which they live. Parents need stable, high quality care in order to be productive at work. They count on their child care provider to ensure that their child is safe, healthy and learning during those hours they must be at work. Our school systems need children who are entering school prepared and ready to succeed. Businesses need a high quality work force both now and in the future. In fact, studies have shown that high quality early childhood programs increase the graduation rate, reduce the future crime rate and can save up to sixteen dollars for every one dollar invested. High quality child care programs are essential to everyone.
In order to improve the quality of child care programs, states across the nation are using Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, such as the one here in Indiana, Paths to QUALITY™. Quality Rating and Improvement Systems assess the quality of care within a program, work to improve that quality level, and give families an easy to recognize symbol that makes the difficult decision of choosing child care easier. These systems also provide an accountability measure for funding and create an alignment between licensing, subsidy and quality across child care, Head Start and the Department of Education’s early learning guidelines.
Paths to QUALITY™ gives families an easy to recognize tool for selecting a child care program. Families can look for the Paths to QUALITY™ logo to determine what level their provider has achieved. Each level builds on the foundation of the previous one, resulting in significant quality improvements at each stage and in national accreditation at the highest level. The system validates child care programs for ongoing efforts to achieve higher standards of quality and provides incentives and awards for success. The four levels address:
- Level One: Health and safety needs of children met
- Level Two: Environment supports children’s learning
- Level Three: Planned curriculum guides child development and school readiness
- Level Four: National accreditation (the highest indicator of quality) is achieved
For more information on Paths to QUALITY™, please visit http://www.childcareindiana.org.
On June 2, Town Square and NAFCC hosted the Learn, Share, and Thrive Leadership Summit at Erikson Institute. With local, state, and national level representatives who are family child care provider leaders and other early childhood leaders across the field of early childhood, there were exciting presentations and discussions about supporting the important work of family child care.
Bill Hudson, Executive Director and CEO of NAFCC started the morning with a keynote address.
Angela Fowler, Director of Town Square at Erikson Institute, discussed the impact of Town Square since it launched in January of 2016. You can view her powerpoint slides here.
The morning speaker panel topic was “Taking Charge of Quality and Change”. The panel featured Kate Ritter, Licensing and QRIS Integration Policy Director in the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development; Erma Jackson, family child care provider and NAFCC accreditation specialist; Melody Robinson, family child care provider leader; and Dr. Juliet Bromer, research scientist at Erikson Institute.
- Kate Ritter shared comments about next steps for Illinois after Race to the Top funding ends. Some resources related to her talk can be found on the OECD website.
- Erma Jackson and Melody Robinson talked about taking initiative with change and quality through NAFCC accreditation and other avenues of professional development as a family child care provider including Nature Explore outdoor classroom licensing.
- Dr. Juliet Bromer discussed recent work involving the development of a model for family child care support. You can view her powerpoint slides here. Below is the link to the full brief that her talk was based on.
Participants broke out into working groups over lunch to discuss and set goals in the areas of:
- Embracing Quality through Curriculum, Content, and Standards
- Organizational Support Systems
- National Recognition and Advocacy
Groups plan to follow up over the next year to set specific goals and put plans into action for achieving the goals.
The afternoon panel topic was “The Changing Landscape of Early Childhood” and included Katherine Kempe, Senior Director of Professional Recognition and Advancement at NAEYC; Dante Gonzalez, family child care provider leader; Mary Quest, content coordinator for Town Square at Erikson Institute; and Bill Hudson, Executive Director and CEO of NAFCC, (standing in for Mary Beth Testa, Federal Policy Consultant for NAFCC, who was unable to be at the summit).
- Kat Kempe shared NAEYC’s Power to the Profession initiative and how family child care fits into the early childhood profession. You can access her presentation here.
- Dante Gonzalez spoke about his experiences with professionalization through training offered at the NAFCC conference and accreditation.
- Mary Quest discussed Town Square as a means of supporting professionalization and quality in family child care while also being an avenue for providers to share their voice and contribute to the knowledge base of the field by creating content to share on Town Square with other providers. Her presentation can be viewed here.
- Bill Hudson spoke about advocacy efforts at many levels.
The final speaker of the day was Rachel Schumaker, Director of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.
The day was filled with energy and excitement around the important work of family child care and our hope is that this excitement carries through the year as we encounter opportunities to advocate for and promote family child care as an integral part of the early childhood workforce.
Let’s be honest. Worksheets, cookie cutter craft activities, printables, and plastic manipulatives are widely reviled by early childhood education experts, yet they are widely available and often used in preschool and child care programs. At a recent luncheon with early childhood professional development providers and authors, we tried to sort out why this problem persists and consider why it is so hard to bring the clear messages from research into play in classrooms.
Day in and day out we see posts defending “play based learning” yet, in classrooms, we are seeing limited conversations, low quality play and content-poor activities. Why do these differences exist? Who are the people (teachers, caregivers and administrators) who really do implement developmentally appropriate practice? How are they different from the people who don’t use D.A.P.? Is there a gap in knowledge about what D.A.P means and how it influences lasting learning outcomes? Is there an informed rejection of the D.A.P approach to early education? Are old ways too hard to give up? Are sales pitches from websites and catalogs so irresistible? Do standards, QRIS systems and the Common Core play a role in this discrepancy? Are we wrong to ask these questions? Here are some of the developmentally inappropriate examples we use in our workshops:
A winter project that showed a teacher-cut shape of a giant mitten on which children had glued cotton balls. Doesn’t look like a real mitten, doesn’t function like a real mitten, isn’t made of anything a mitten would be made of. And, even worse, no connection for students that live in warm climates or students who live in the northeastern U.S. where no one needed mittens till after the first of the year. This allows no creativity, no meaning, no learning value and even no potential for play. Doesn’t help children understand winter, doesn’t help them understand mittens. What choices would have been better?
Making “goop” or similar substance with 2-year-olds. It doesn’t mix like anything else you would mix. Has no purpose – can’t be eaten, molded or used so mixing the ingredients doesn’t lead to any understanding. When you’re done – you just throw it away. Teachers have defended this by saying “but we just want the children to experience different things.” Or “sensory”. But the truth is, there are so many real things for them to experience that will help them understand the world around them while also being fun and sensational – why choose this instead of mixing sand and water to make a structure or mixing two colors of paint to make your picture? What choices would have been better?
Dinosaurs. How often do we hear – “Kids love dinosaurs and D.A.P. says we should follow children’s interests!” Very tricky… but kids love a lot of things so you don’t have to pick dinosaurs. What do we have against dinosaurs? They don’t exist. There are so many animals in the child’s real world that could be studied and identified and cared for that would have real world meaning. Why choose dinosaurs that are only seen as plastic toys or cartoons? What choices would have been better?
Handing out black paper and orange paint in October. No choice allowed for children, yet no meaning to the activity. Stripes of orange paint do not help them understand what a pumpkin is or how it grows or what it looks like on the inside. But this is also not art. There is no creativity or independent thought or opportunity for rich, engaging conversation. What choices would have been better?
A poster in 3-year-old class with the sign language alphabet. When children do no yet know any alphabet, hand spelling doesn’t mean anything to them. Pictures of hands in different positions are not going to support “diversity” because they have no relevance for the children nor will they signs be used in the classroom. USING sign language for words like eat, drink, toilet, hurt, more and stop could be a more useful strategy to help children of all languages and abilities understand. What choices could have been better?
Precut red and black ladybug with counting spots. Gluing circles of paper onto other precut paper has no meaning. It may look like a ladybug to an adult, but to a child it is just something to copy for no purpose. Counting the spots has no meaning if there’s no value to the number of spots. What difference does it make if there are two or four? It matters if you have two cookies and your friend gets four. It matters if the puzzle has four spaces but you only have two pieces. It matters if you have two feet but only one shoe. What choices could have been better?
Printable coloring page with leprechaun. Is this really what you want children to learn about Ireland and Irish culture? Is coloring a printable picture of a leprechaun providing anything to discuss or create or imagine? What is the holiday of St. Patrick’s Day? What meaning does it have for children? Is this just cute or is it quality? What choices could have been better?
Skill-based activities with no real content. You can teach sorting plastic things for no purpose and be pretty sure the children can’t generalize to any real life items that need to be sorted. Or you can teach sorting by asking the children to help you find the pieces for each puzzle from a pile of puzzle pieces, or sort the markers that work from the markers that are dried out, or sort the newly washed clothes for the dramatic play area. True D.A.P. based on the research tells us that skills and letters and phonemes should be learned in the context of useful, authentic content. An activity that teaches nothing more than sorting doesn’t really teach sorting either. An activity that involves playing with realistic items that need to be sorted teaches content and vocabulary as well as a lasting, generalizable understanding about sorting. What choices could have been better?
Voices of professional development presenters:
Rosanne Hansel, PA pushes kindergarten teachers to look for deeper meaning and purpose when choosing activities, not just counting for the sake of counting.
Barbara Capra, NJ asks her teachers “Is it cute or is it a quality early learning experience?” She advises teachers to evaluate activities by looking at skills/standards/objectives, time, implementation and the source to really be sure they are making the right choices for young children.
Liz Vaughan, PA, asks teachers to know the difference between art and crafts, but she recognizes the value of predictable, developmentally appropriate routines.
Pam Brillante, NJ, asks teachers to “step away from the Pinterest” because young children, particularly children with disabilities, need learning that connects with experiences they recognize from their daily life rather than isolated activities.
And, these connections to real things and experiences are even more important when teaching young children who are dual language learners! This is one of the reasons these questions seem so pressing right now.
We find it so difficult to help teachers give up activities they’ve been using. They put a lot of energy into defending the old ways instead of using that energy to learn new ways. How can we help? How can we make our writing and our workshops more effective? How can we reach out to those old websites, app developers and Pinterest pages that keep publishing inappropriate materials and activities?
The questions we want teachers to ask are: What for? And What more? In other words, when choosing any activity, can the teacher explain what the children will learn from it that they can really use? We don’t mean to just imitate, or experience, but actually use in their life? And if they find that the activity does provide some learning experience that the child can really use, can the teacher identify related activities that will extend the learning and allow the child to put his new learning to use? Teaching kindergarteners to identify a picture of an asteroid may seem like science, but if they never use that word again or see anything to do with asteroids or have any asteroid activities again for the rest of the school year – they won’t remember it. What for? and What more? Can these questions help early childhood educators break through the D.A.P Gap?
This rating scale is used to help you create an environment that supports the development of young children in your program. It is also required to obtain credentials and quality ratings. If you are interested in purchasing the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale developed by the University of North Carolina, you can find it here: