As a parent, you are faced with making many significant decisions for your child. One of the most vital decisions you will make is the decision to send your child to an early learning center. For many parents, knowing where to begin the journey is a challenge. You want an environment that is safe, warm, caring and provides your child with a strong foundation for learning that sets them up for success. You hear so much about the impact a quality early learning environment has on a child’s growth and development, but what does quality truly mean?
In Georgia, we have a system that helps families identify quality early learning programs. This system is called the Quality Rated System (QRS). QRS works similar to ratings for hotels, restaurants and other businesses — think of it as the Yelp! for early education. Many programs throughout Georgia, including our YMCA Early Learning Centers, participate in the Quality Rated Program. The system informs families about the centers that have well-qualified staff, use best practices and focus on all aspects of development. Using a 3-star rating scale, participating early learning centers are given a rating recognized for quality and continuous improvement. Families who enroll their children at these Quality Rated centers also benefit from additional savings on the cost of care.
When you begin your search for a quality early learning center, keep these five things in mind:
1. Health and Safety
Childcare centers that are high quality maintain a safe and welcoming environment for children. All early learning programs that are licensed are required to fulfill the minimum safety and health guidelines set by the Department of Early Care and Learning. Many early learning centers go above and beyond these minimum requirements and adhere to the guidelines outlined in a standardized measurement for quality known as the ECERS and ITERS rating scales. Our YMCA Early Learning Centers use this tool to ensure we maintain high-quality environments for our children.
2. Language and Literacy
At the YMCA, our NAEYC-accredited, state-licensed early learning program curriculum is centered around three Signature Programs — STEAM, Read Right from the Start and Start for Life. Language and literacy development is at the center of all of the learning experiences and programs for young learners. Many children enter kindergarten with fewer words than children from more affluent households, which can put them years behind and unable to attain the skills they need to read proficiently by 3rd grade. An intentional focus on language and literacy helps children gain the foundation needed to become strong readers and life-long learners. An environment that’s rich in conversational turn-taking with children matters.
3. Social-Emotional Learning
When determining which center to select for your child, consider the character and social-emotional skills you want your child to develop. High-quality programs have a curriculum that is based on comprehensive early learning standards and is developmentally appropriate and effectively implemented. Children in our YMCA programs learn social-emotional skills through a play-centered curriculum called The Creative Curriculum. Our teachers ensure daily routines that foster social-emotional learning, understanding that children learn best in environments that are consistent and predictable. Quality early learning programs focus on the development of social skills through collaborative, play-centered classroom experiences and routines.
4. Engagement and Responsiveness
Many households are structured where parents work outside of their homes and children spend most of their day in an early learning environment. Parents need to feel secure in the relationship their child has with the teacher. Often, the initial exposure that children have with teachers in their early years establishes a foundation of perceptions of teachers in their later years. Children in our program have teachers that respond to the children’s needs with respect, warmth and empathy. Developing warm, supportive and engaging relationships with parents is equally important. Our well-trained teachers tailor their interactions to fit the needs of the children by engaging all children in classroom activities, fostering independence, and creating a nurturing and safe environment.
5. Continuous Quality Improvement
In addition to early learning programs evaluating the developmental progress of children, a high-quality program continues to evaluate and monitor their program’s success. Reflecting on the quality of the educational programming being delivered allows opportunities to ensure that early learning programs are at their best. Also, providing teachers opportunities for professional development and growth is essential in the educational development of your child. At the YMCA, our early learning teachers are provided opportunities for formal training that exposes them to groundbreaking developments in early learning.
Finding a quality early learning program for your child is essential to balancing your career and family life as well as your peace of mind. There is no one way to define a quality early learning program, but at our YMCA Early Learning Centers, you will find that your child’s safety is our priority. You will find that they are nurtured through interaction and will be school ready.
For more information on our YMCA early learning programs, visit www.ymcaatlanta.org/early-learning.
By Robyn Tedder, Senior Director of Early Learning Partnerships
and Jennifer Scott, Senior Director of Quality in Early Learning