Finding High-Quality Child Care
Trying to find high-quality child care in your community can be confusing. Where do you start? Who do you call? Start your search now by clicking the link to find care near you that offers convenient hours and other options to meet your needs or call our toll free number at 1-877-691-8521 to be connected to one of our referral specialists. If you are a child care provider wishing to update your profile for Worklife Systems, enter here.
Below, you’ll find information on what to look for when you’re searching for a high-quality child care provider or preschool. As you are searching for child care, we encourage you to Follow the Stars. See information below about Ohio's Step Up to Quality Star Rating system.
What to Look For When You Visit
Before you choose a facility, visit each one you’re considering. But what should you be looking for? Below are some tips to help you find the early childhood environment that’s right for your child.
The state of Ohio publishes inspection reports for child facilities in the state. Click the search licensing reports button to read about the programs you're considering.
Step Up to Quality
Did you know that Ohio has a star rating system for child care programs? Step Up To Quality (SUTQ) is the five-star quality rating and improvement system administered by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
SUTQ recognizes and promotes learning and development programs that meet quality program standards that exceed licensing health and safety regulations. Program standards are based on national research identifying elements that lead to improved outcomes for children. To find a SUTQ-rated provider near you, click on the Search for Child Care in Ohio button. Want more details? Visit earlychildhoodohio.org or download the brochure.
Watch for early childhood care providers who really seem to know and like the children and treat them with respect. Make sure there are enough care providers to safely handle the number of children present.
Take a good look around: is the facility safe, clean, organized, and kid-friendly? Are the children supervised at all times? Do electrical outlets have childproof covers? Are breakables stashed out of the reach of children? If there is a food preparation area, is it properly childproofed? Are there low sinks or stools so children can reach to wash their hands?
You'll want to ask about hand washing and sanitation policies for both caregivers and children. Also ask about the facility’s policies on vaccinations and on allowing sick children to attend.
Are there plenty of clean, developmentally appropriate toys and educational materials for both indoor and outdoor exploration? Materials should include:
- Objects for dramatic play (such as a puppet theater and dress-up clothes)
- Sensory materials (sand, water, play dough)
- Materials that help children learn reading, math, science, and social studies
- Materials that help children develop gross motor skills such as pulling up, walking, climbing in, on, and over, moving through/around and under, pushing, pulling and riding.
Do you see keypads or other security devices for doors? How are children tracked when they arrive and when they leave for the day? What if someone other than the primary caregiver must pick up the child? What are the procedures for tracking visitors?
A Typical Day
Look for learning going on, all around. You should see children who seem comfortable, engaged, and eager to learn and interact with their peers and with care providers.
Young children learn best within a routine. A structured environment helps young children feel safe and in control of their world. It’s comforting to know that certain things happen at the same time every day.
That said, young children also need some “down time,” the freedom to wander, imagine, and discover. A good facility makes sure that each day’s schedule provides a combination of structured activities and free time, and that both children and parents know what to expect from one day to the next. A schedule of the day’s activities should be posted or provided upon request.
A typical day might look like this:
- Arrive, put away coats
- Circle time: lesson and sharing
- Arts and crafts
- Learning stations: art, dramatic play, water table, etc.
- Hand washing and morning snack
- Indoor individual activities: blocks, Legos, puzzles, coloring, etc.
- Outdoor play
- Hand washing and lunch
- Learning time: theme-related lessons, story time, songs, art activities, etc.
- Nap/rest time
- Outdoor play
- Hand washing and afternoon snack
- Learning stations: art, dramatic play, water table, etc.
- Clean up, prepare to go home
- Quiet activities: drawing, coloring, puzzles
While the length of each activity depends upon the age group, most activities will last from 10-30 minutes.
A Word About Naps
The state requires that a child care center provide a quiet space for children who want to rest or nap. Nap time typically lasts for no more than 60 to 90 minutes, though this depends on each child’s rest requirements.
Ten Signs of a Good Classroom
If your child is between the ages of 3 and 6 and attends a child care center, preschool, or kindergarten program, the National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests you look for these ten signs of a good classroom:
- Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials or other children. They do not wander aimlessly, and they are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.
- Children have access to various activities throughout the day. Look for assorted building blocks and other construction materials, props for pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as matching games, pegboards, and puzzles. Children should not all be doing the same thing at the same time.
- Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend all their time with the whole group.
- The classroom is decorated with children's original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and stories dictated by children to teachers.
- Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snack provide the basis for learning activities.
- Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Worksheets are used little, if at all.
- Children have an opportunity to play outside every day. Outdoor play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
- Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.
- The curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Teachers recognize that children's different backgrounds and experiences mean that they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
- Children and parents look forward to school. Parents feel secure about sending their child to the program.
- Children are happy to attend; they do not cry regularly or complain of feeling sick.
Five Steps to Finding a High-Quality Child Care Facility
- Start Early: Start looking as far in advance as you can. No matter what type of care you are considering, finding the right option can take some time.
- Make a Call: Begin by calling the local experts - your child care resource and referral (CCR&R) center. CCR&Rs can give you the facts about child care, and a list of child care options in your area that may meet your needs. In Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, and Trumbull counties, your CCR&R is the Early Childhood Resource Center, which you can reach at (877) 691-8521. You may want to ask the following questions:
- What are the licensing requirements in my area?
- How can I get information about complaints and licensing violations?
- Does my family qualify for any child care financial assistance programs?
- Visit and Ask Questions: Make sure you visit the child care programs you are considering. Find out about these key indicators of quality:
- Adult-to-Child Ratio: Ask how many children there are for each adult. The fewer children per adult, the better for your child. You want your child to get plenty of attention. The younger the child, the more important this is. Babies need an adult to child ratio of no more than one adult for four infants, while four-year-olds can do well with a ratio of one adult for ten children.
- Group Size: Find out how many children are in the group. The smaller the group, the better. Imagine a group of 25 two-year-olds with five adults, compared to a group of 10 with two adults. Both groups have the same adult to child ratio. Which would be calmer and safer? Which would be more like a family?
- Caregiver Qualifications: Ask about the caregivers' training and education. Caregivers with degrees and/or special training in working with children will be better able to help your child learn. Are the caregivers involved in activities to improve their skills? Do they attend classes and workshops?
- Turnover: Check how long caregivers have been at the center or providing care in their homes. It's best if your child stays with the same caregiver at least a year. Caregivers who come and go make it hard on your child. Getting used to new caregivers takes time and energy that could be spent on learning new things.
- Accreditation: Find out if the provider has been accredited by a national organization. Providers who are accredited have met voluntary standards for child care that are higher than most state licensing requirements. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) are the two largest organizations that accredit child care programs.
- Make a Choice: Think about what you saw at each visit, and make the best choice for your child and family.
- Stay Involved: The work isn't over once you find good care. You and your child's caregiver are partners now. Here are some ways to be involved:
- Have a parent-caregiver meeting regularly, and ask questions.
- Offer to volunteer time when needed, like participating in clean up days, fixing broken toys.
- Be there for your child's birthday party.
- Visit your child at child care and read a book aloud.
- Join in special events, like field trips, Career Day, Black History Month, or holidays.
Even if you can't get time off from work during the day, you can still check in at drop-off and pick-up times. Ask the caregiver how things are going, and how your child is doing.
Visiting and participating in events at your child's provider sends a strong message. It tells your child and your child's caregiver that what you think your child is doing and learning is important.
A Guide for Choosing Child Care
- Do the caregivers/teachers seem to really like children?
- Do the caregivers/teachers get down on each child's level to speak to the child?
- Are children greeted when they arrive?
- Are children's needs met quickly, even when things get busy?
- Are the caregivers/teachers trained in CPR, first aid, and early childhood education?
- Are the caregivers/teachers involved in continuing education programs?
- Does the program keep up with children's changing interests?
- Will the caregivers/teachers always be ready to answer your questions?
- Will the caregivers/teachers tell you what your child is doing every day?
- Are parents' ideas welcomed? Are there ways for you to get involved?
- Do the caregivers/teachers and children enjoy being together?
- Is there enough staff to serve the children? (Ask local experts about the best staff-child ratios for different age groups.)
- Are caregivers/teachers trained and experienced?
- Have they participated in early childhood development classes?
- Is the atmosphere bright and pleasant?
- Is there a fenced-in outdoor play area with a variety of safe equipment?
- Can the caregivers/teachers see the entire playground at all times? Are there different areas for resting, quiet play and active play?
- Is there enough space for the children in all of these areas?
- Is there a daily balance of play time, story time, activity time and nap time?
- Are the activities right for each age group?
- Are there enough toys and learning materials for the number of children?
- Are toys clean, safe and within reach of the children?
- Do you agree with the discipline practices?
- Do you hear the sounds of happy children?
- Are children comforted when needed?
- Is the program licensed or regulated?
- Are surprise visits by parents encouraged?
- Will your child be happy there?
Content provided courtesy of the Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association