Transcript: How to Choose High Quality Child Care

Presented by Lindsey Ramsey

Parenting Together Pathway, Trying Together

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>> Lindsey Ramsey: Hello, everyone. Welcome to How to Choose Child Care. This video is a part of the Parenting Pathway, a series of sessions to provide high-quality information on early childhood development, and to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas. My name is Lindsey Ramsey, Public Policy Regional Coordinator for Trying Together. Trying Together supports high-quality care and education for young children by providing advocacy, community resources, and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals who interact with them. Stay up to date. There are newsletter signups that help you stay up to date on all Trying Together news and events and you can click that link right there to be able to sign up. Follow us on Trying Together social media. And those are all of our handles for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. How to choose high-quality child care. This presentation will give you a brief overview of the important characteristics to look for when searching for child care in our area. We will discuss the following topics. The early learning landscape in Pennsylvania, developmentally appropriate practices, DAP, and interactions, curriculum and assessment, the physical environment, health and safety in COVID-19 adaptations, center and family engagement, and family and community partnerships. So whenever we are thinking about early childhood for our families, for our children, we want to definitely outline the importance of choice. Every child is unique and has different learning styles. Each child also comes from a diverse family with a diverse background. And for these reasons, it’s very important that families have choices when exploring child care options. Alright. So we are going to go over the early childhood education landscape in Pennsylvania. This just gives you an overview of the various early childhood options that are available for your children and your families. So first, we have the child care center, which most people are familiar with. And that is care and education provided to more than seven children in a center that is state-certified by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. Then, we have our group child care homes. And that is care and education provided for up to 12 children in a home or commercial setting that is state-certified by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. Then we have our family child care home. That is one caregiver who provides care and education for three to six children who are not related to them in a home setting that is state-certified by the Office of Child Development. And then we have relative care. Relative care is one caregiver who provides care and education for no more than three related children in a home setting who may be eligible for subsidy reimbursement. And below, we have our public schools. And that is a school that provides pre-kindergarten programming. It may be funded privately or publicly. And then we have our private schools, a school that provides pre-k programming funded by the individual or eligible family or the school. So those are just the various options that are available for your family to choose childcare in the area. Next, we’re going to talk about affording high-quality child care. Whenever caregivers make that tough decision about where they’re going to find high-quality care and place their child in high-quality early learning, affordability is always a part of that conversation. Many caregivers have a hard time accessing high-quality early learning and being able to afford it for their family. So we’re just going to go over a couple of different options that can help support them in being able to afford high-quality services. So first, we’re going to talk about childcare works, CCW. Families have to fall 200% within the federal poverty guidelines to be eligible for CCW. And it goes to children ages birth to 12. And they may receive a voucher to attend a child care program based on the family’s or household’s school or work schedule. And a small co-pay may be required from the family. Next, let’s talk about Pre-K Counts. So for this, you have to fall 300% of the federal poverty guidelines to be able to receive Pre-K Counts. It’s a school-day, school-year program for children ages three and four, and may give preference to four-year-olds. Then we have Head Start, but you have to fall within 100% of the federal poverty guidelines. Again, it is a school-day, school-year program for children ages three and four. And again, may give preference to four-year-olds. And then there’s Early Head Start, which you also have to fall 100% within the federal poverty guidelines, serves children birth to age two in home-based or center-based programs. And most programs are not full-time care. Affording high-quality child care. Even if a family does not quite qualify for Child Care Works, Pre-K Counts, Head Start, or Early Head Start, many programs offer their own independent scholarships or tuition assistance programs. Families can ask each early learning program about financial assistance whenever you’re inquiring about services. Next, we’re going to talk about a huge thing, which is quality, the importance of quality. As a caregiver beginning to navigate their way through our early learning landscape and tour different learning centers and different programs, it’s very, very important to keep quality in mind. We want to make sure that our children receive the highest quality of education and experiences throughout their early learning journey. Pennsylvania child care providers currently participate in the Keystone STARS Quality Rating Improvement System in an effort to support the quality improvement work of providers in our state. Providers are rewarded or awarded with a STAR level from one to four to reflect their progression throughout the STAR system. Along with this system, here are other indicators of high quality. Characteristics of quality. So again, we have our STAR system that rates child care providers from a one to four based on high-quality services. But quality is one of those things that you can see and feel whenever you walk into a program. So let’s start with developmentally appropriate practices and interactions. Interactions and experiences are some of the most crucial pieces to child development. You want to always look for programs with diverse social experiences, quality interactions, and developmentally appropriate practices happening all throughout their facility, whether it be a building, a house, you’ll be able to see these things. Developmentally appropriate practices, DAP, it’s a framework designed to help promote young children’s optimal learning and development. Helps them make decisions that reflect best practices. Educators take into consideration what they know about the whole child and facilitate learning experiences to reflect the needs of each child at their current level of development. So it’s really about meeting the child where they are and being able to assess where they are, assess their strengths, think about what they need to build on, and provide interactions and experiences that support that. Next, we’re going to talk about serve and return. A style of interaction that includes a back and forth communication between children and responsive adults. When a baby coos or cries, or when a pre-k child asks, “why?”, the responsive adult returns the child’s “serve” with interest and continues the back and forth interaction for as long as the child is interested. During these interactions, connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that supports communication and social-emotional skills and development. So in this picture on the side, this actually happened in one of my old facilities, and we have a community helper teaching children how to plant seeds in a cup. It was actually our local UPS driver, and he happened to own a farm. And he was able to engage with the children and teach them how to plant some fruits and vegetables in our garden. And of course, during this process, the children had tons of questions about what to do or why did, why does it feel this way? Or how many holes do we poke in the cup? There are so many questions going on. And he was able to have that back and forth conversation with them, to help them trigger more questions and their development and keep that ongoing interest going for the activity. Next, we have culturally responsive environments. Children need to be served in environments that promote diversity and inclusion. It’s really a reflective upon the communities that we live in. Educators provide culturally responsive environments by knowing their students’ backgrounds and incorporating their unique differences in everyday learning. And this can happen in numerous ways. Whether it be writing in different languages, labeling things in your classroom, having lessons about diversity, having diverse books, or diverse dolls, or diverse pictures around your classroom. It also happens through interactions. Here in this picture, you see children, they are simply, they have little circles drawn in front of them that looks like they’re plates, and they’re about to have lunch. And they were asked to draw what their lunch and dinner looks like at their home. And that’s just another way to show the differences by having those conversations about, what does it look like in your home? What do you do with your mommy and daddy? And having those diverse conversations within your classroom. Below after they did that activity, we actually had parents bring in dishes from their native land or something that they used to make with their grandparents to express their culture within the center. So the children were able to try some unique dishes and learn some lessons that day about diversity. Characteristics of quality: curriculum and assessment. Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards, the learning standards for early childhood provide a framework for classroom implementation. Teachers who use the standards as a guide for creating appropriate learning experiences build instructional strategies that focus on what children should be able to do and learn. In early learning classrooms, you will see that our educators follow these early learning standards and they create schedules and lesson plans based off of them that help support the needs of each child. Here, you see part of the lesson plan which includes a schedule as well. And it puts a great description on what they’ll be focusing on and doing in the classroom. And along the side, you’ll also see what learning standards that those activities will be reaching. It also pinpoints what learning standards it will connect to for each specific child so that our educators and our parents are really able to hone in what those children are learning and those things that they’ll be growing and focusing on in the classroom. Whether it be through fine motor development, gross motor, cognitive development, whatever it may be, we’re able to again, meet each child at their level and distinguish the exact needs that will help them grow. Again, with our early learning standards used together with curriculum and content resources, the standards help teachers provide responsive and intentional opportunities for learning to all children. So whenever you’re touring a prospective early learning facility, be sure to inquire about the program’s curriculum. And there’s many different curriculum types that vary between providers. But the use of a curriculum assists educators in delivering structured and comprehensive learning experiences, and through their curriculum, they’ll also be able to connect the early learning standards to that to be able to support each child. So below are just some pictures of various curriculums that are used in different programs. And again, make sure that you’re asking your provider about what curriculum they’re using in their classroom. And this is a quote from Fred Rogers. “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Early childhood curriculum is structured around the most crucial part of early learning — and that is play. In any early learning facility, with any provider, play circles and centers our work. Children learn through play, they engage, they build confidence, and they build great skills to help them communicate and further their growth. And it all happens through those play interactions. So we’re going to talk a little bit about assessments. There is informal assessments that happen in early learning programs. Early childhood educators meet their students where they are developmentally and come up with child-centered comprehensive plans and individualized instructions to further their development. Every child is unique and develops at their own pace. Educators perform informal assessments through gathering ongoing evidence of each child’s progression. High-quality collection of evidence can look like the following, which is children’s work samples throughout the year, a teacher’s simple observation and notes on what a child’s doing in the classroom, photos of the children’s work or photos of them in the classroom, and children’s reflection on their work. Then there is formal assessments. In addition to informal assessments, providers use formal assessment tools to track skill development. Many providers complete assessments multiple times a year and conduct parent-teacher conferences to inform parents about their child’s learning journey and developmental milestones. This helps parents discover what practices are developmentally appropriate for their child. And so at that link below, you’ll be able to access more resources for developmental milestones. Characteristics of quality, our physical environment. Early childhood educators develop high-quality physical environments so each child can explore it and be further enticed to learn. When exploring the physical environment of a child care facility, the most important thing to look for is, of course, safety. Along with ensuring that there are safe spaces, here are additional indicators of high quality. Here you’ll see centers. The creation of centers within early childhood classrooms assists educators in facilitating routines and classroom organization. Centers are used to facilitate learning in specific content areas, whether it be science, literacy, dramatic play, art, there’s many more. The enrichment of centers helps extend the child’s learning experience and sparks their imagination and creativity. And by enrichment, I mean, for example, in this picture, we have a dramatic play center. During the lesson, the children were learning about flowers and gardening. So this educator turned their dramatic play center into a flower shop, and children went and pretended they were selling flowers to the public. They had a price list and aprons they put on, and they were selling and giving away those flowers and it was the cutest thing to see. But that just gave them an additional extension of their learning for that lesson. Materials within a learning space. Young children become even more engulfed in play when they have developmentally appropriate materials to explore. It’s good to ensure that there are a variety of materials that help engage children in constructive play opportunities and that these materials are switched in and out often so children have different materials to explore and stay engaged. Cozy areas, just like adults, sometimes children need a quiet space to relax and reflect. Cozy areas contribute to social-emotional development by allowing children with a space to take a break from large group interactions to identify their feelings and emotions. Outdoor space, this is one of my favorites. Young children need adequate outdoor space to explore the world around them. Strong development of gross motor and fine motor skills occur in outdoor spaces. Along with that, there are so many lessons to be learned outside. Play in outdoor spaces promote all facets of development. In this picture, you can see the little guys digging and analyzing dirt in the garden, and they have their magnifying glasses and they are exploring. Evidence of learning. In collaboration with the environment and adequate resources, high-quality interactions allow educators to produce amazing moments for young children. High quality is something that you can see and feel when entering a child care facility. Evidence of learning is documentation such as photos, quotes, writing samples, charting displayed to convey what children have been learning in their classroom. This is another way to indicate high quality while touring early learning programs. So now we’re going to move on to talk about health and safety and COVID-19 adaptations. First, it is important to note that all childcare providers were given guidance to go by CDC regulations. And that they are to comply to the best of their ability. These regulations are not required at this time, so it is up to the providers’ discretion and ability to meet these regulations. And as we review these regulations, it’s really important to think about which regulations are most important to you and your family. And this includes social distancing strategies, drop off and pick up procedures, screening children upon arrival and then screening for their temperature and screening for health check, cleaning and disinfecting routines, eliminating personal items brought into the center, and mask wearing for staff and children. And below is a link where you can explore more of that CDC guidance and those recommendations. Now we are going to discuss provider and family engagement. The relationship between the provider and family is vital to the child’s success in their early learning experience. Creating a strong partnership between the provider and family creates optimal support for a child’s social, emotional, and all developmental needs. Here are some things to remember. Communication is key. Before touring a facility, be sure to write down the most important topics to you regarding your child’s care and education. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and share important information to get as much information as you can. And thoroughly read all tour and enrollment paperwork. Educate yourself on the mission and policies of the early learning program before making that commitment. And we cannot stress this enough that families are children’s first and most important teachers. So when caregivers are working in partnership with providers, educators are best able to individualize learning experiences, develop strong relationships, and communicate openly and respectfully. Be sure to inquire about parent engagement opportunities and ways you can stay actively involved with your child’s early learning journey. And again, for our family and community partnerships, we would love for you to stay engaged by joining our Early Learning PA campaigns. And that is our Start Strong PA campaign that focuses on affordable high-quality child care, or Pre-K for PA campaign, which advocates for increased access to high-quality pre-k, or Childhood Begins at Home campaign, which advocates for evidence-based home visiting and you can also always support our Public Policy Agenda by clicking the link below. And you can click each link for each Early Learning PA campaign as well. Kindergarten registration and transition. The Hi5! Partnership focuses on engaging all 43 public school districts in Allegheny County and supports each district to develop and implement their own kindergarten transition plans. Helps them build awareness with families that when your child reaches five years of age, it’s time to register them for kindergarten. It builds a network and helps share best practices between pre-k teachers, kindergarten teachers, early childhood program directors, and school administrators, and helps gather community resources throughout the county. Really supporting caregivers, early childhood educators, school teachers, and administrators in building that bridge and bridging that gap in between the transition from early childhood to kindergarten and making sure that they have all the information and support needed to help that transition as easy as possible for children and families. Here are some more resources from Trying Together. And I would like to thank you again for participating in this session. And there are a number of sessions available on the Parenting Pathway website for you to view. Additionally, again, here are a few resources for families in our region. We have Allegheny Child Care. If you are a caregiver seeking childcare for early learning after school, out-of-school summer camp in virtual programs, you can use this tool to search available spots in Allegheny County. There’s our Early Learning Resource Center, Region 5. Families can utilize the ELRC to gain information and services that support high-quality childcare and early learning programs. Our Homewood Early Learning Hub and Family Support Center. Families in Homewood or surrounding areas can utilize the hub and family center activities for their children and individuals or support groups for parents. The developmentally appropriate practice series. DAP series on Trying Together website helps caregivers navigate a variety of topics related to early childhood with new content added throughout the year. As part of the DAP series, families can opt into receiving cards with helpful information mailed directly to them as they are developed. To enroll in this program and provide feedback on the Parenting Pathway series, please visit the link on the screen. Again, please click the link and provide your feedback and you’ll receive those DAP series cards in the mail. Again, here’s my contact information. My name is Lindsey Ramsey, and my email is If you have any questions about how to choose child care or any support that you need transitioning into a program for a family, please feel free to contact me at any time. Thank you again for joining How to Choose Child Care. We hope that this gave you some great resources and great information about how to choose child care whenever you are navigating through different programs and searching for that great high-quality child care provider for your family.

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Parenting Together Pathway

The Parenting Together Pathway is a video-based learning series to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas.

Learn more about the series.



Image: An early learning professional works with a young student to put together a puzzle of a young boy.
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