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How to Choose Quality in Early Child Care and Education

Early Care and Education

What Does Quality Look Like?

A high-quality early care and education program provides a healthy environment and a range of enriching activities. The following are characteristics of high-quality programs that support positive developmental outcomes.

A Healthy and Safe Environment
High-quality early care and education programs follow national health and safety best practices, including frequent and proper handwashing, and proper diapering and toileting procedures. Indoor and outdoor spaces are safe and free of hazards. Meals are nutritious and prepared and stored safely.

Adult Supervision
Interactions with caring and responsible adults impacts your child’s daily experience. The Rhode Island Department of Youth, and Families (DCYF) sets the following minimum ratios for children:

Child Care Center Family Child Care Home
4 infants / 1 adult 6 children / 1 adult
6 toddlers / 1 adult 8 children / 2 adults
9 three year olds / 1 adult  
10 four year olds / 1 adult  
12 five year olds / 1 adult  

Rhode Island special education minimum ratio regulations for public school is 15 children to 2 adults for preschoolers.

Indicators of higher-quality programs include: Staff show awareness of the whole group and provide careful supervision adjusted for different ages and abilities and provide frequent personal contact. Staffing patterns provide for adult supervision of children at all times.

Trained and Qualified Educators
The program should have trained and qualified educators to work with the children. This is critical to ensure that the educators can recognize and provide for your child’s learning and development. At the higher levels of quality, educators have college credits and/or degrees in early childhood education and training in the Rhode Island Early Learning and Development Standards (RIELDS).

Promotes Learning and Development
It is important for your child to have many opportunities to learn and practice skills. Programs should have a stimulating environment for all children, including children with disabilities and developmental delays. High-quality programs use a curriculum to maximize children’s learning and development and gathers information about each child to meet their individual needs.

Welcomes and Includes Families
High-quality programs communicate regularly with families and offer opportunities for family involvement. High-quality programs use a variety of strategies to communicate with families, including family-teacher conferences.


How to Choose a High Quality Early Care and Education Program

  • Think about what is important for your family and child such as hours of care, activities offered, etc.
  • Search for programs that meet your needs: Contact a BrightStars referral specialist at 1-855-398-7605 or search online.
  • Narrow your search: Once you have a list of early care and education programs narrow your search by contacting the programs and asking questions to make sure they meet your needs.
  • Visit the programs: After you have narrowed your list, schedule appointments to visit the programs. Seeing a site in person and asking questions can be crucial to help you make the correct decision. Use the BrightStars Early Care Site Visit Checklist as a guide as you visit programs.


Choosing a High-Quality Early Care and Education Program for Children with Special Needs

When choosing an early care and education program for children with disabilities or developmental delays the first consideration is the general quality of the early childhood program. Participation in a high-quality environment is important for all children but can be even more critical for children with special needs. 

When choosing a particular program, it is not only important to identify the general quality of the environment but to think about desired results. According to the joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC), “the desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential.”  

To meet these desired results, high-quality early childhood programs must ensure that all children have access to both the physical and learning environments, individualized and intentional accommodations and supports allowing for participation in all classroom-based activities, and systems-level supports including structures for collaboration among families, educators, and specialists. 

In addition to accessing the Early Learning Program Search, visiting early care and education programs and speaking with directors is essential. Some of the following questions may be helpful during these visits. 

When speaking with directors:

  • How does your program prepare for the successful participation of children with disabilities?
  • How do you collaborate with the local special education department to support children with disabilities within your program?
  • Do teachers have time out of their classrooms to meet with families and specialists and to participate in any necessary training?
  • Do teachers adapt and modify activities and carry-out embedded learning activities which are designed in conjunction with the specialists?
  • How does your program communicate with families regarding progress?

When visiting classrooms:

  • Is the atmosphere bright, cheerful, organized, and child-focused?
  • Can all of the children access the indoor and outdoor learning environments, toys, and materials?
  • Do the adults appear to celebrate individual difference and support children at different levels of development?
  • Do adults interact positively with children and assist as necessary in interactions between peers?
  • Are adults available to facilitate learning during play?
  • Are all children actively involved in positive learning activities?
  • Are there routines in place to assist children in transitioning smoothly between activities?   
  • Do the learning materials, books, and pictures reflect diversity, including children with special needs?

View the inclusive early childhood practices in Rhode Island tip sheet for more information.