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Navigating Early Care & Education

Dear Elizabeth,
Iím starting to research all of the child care and preschool options in my community. There seem to be several choices available, but how do I know which one is best?
Jacki Walters
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Preschools & Child Care Centers:
  • Designed for kids between ages 2 Ĺ and 5
  • Offer more limited hours
  • May follow specific educational approaches & curriculum

Family Child Care:
  • Designed for kids of many different ages
  • Offers flexible schedule options
  • May have less formal educational approaches & curriculum
Expert Advice
Jocelyn Tucker
Jocelyn Tucker
Child care program specialist
Choosing child care or a preschool program for a child is an extremely personal decision. The choices are individualized based upon the needs of the family and the child. The ďbestĒ option is the one that meets your needs as a parent and the needs that your child has. The only way to tell if a program is best for you and your child is to visit the program and ask lots of questions.

Probably the two biggest factors parents need to consider are the hours for which you need care and how much it will cost. Youíll also need to consider if you want a location close to home or work if you work a long distance from where you live. You may also consider choosing a provider who is close to a relative that can be called on in an emergency.

Individual Needs
All parents should consider their childís individual needs. If a child has an identified ďspecialĒ need, parents need to ask if the provider is capable of providing care for that child. If the child is beginning to walk, is there space that is safe for beginning walkers? Is there sturdy furniture that a toddler can hold on to? Is there cushioning on the floor to soften the blow of falling down?

Visit Before Choosing
Before selecting your child care option, you must see what the options are in person. Schedule a visit. Then, after you visit as a parent, you should take your child with you to see how the fit is, to see if they get along with others, or if they run to play with some of the toys that they see, or if they are nervous or hesitant. The first time, theyíll probably be hesitant, but you want them to be there as part of the initial evaluation.

Parents should begin to investigate their options at least a month or more prior to needed childcare. They need to take the time to schedule appointments with providers with and without the child. I would advise parents to visit, without their child, during the busiest time of the day, to see how ďrush hourĒ is handled. This is usually right before lunch time. Once they select a site, parents should slowly transfer their child by attending with their child for an hour or two for the first two or three days, then extending the time until the child is there for the total amount of time.

Qualities to Look For
People who care for children should have an environment that is conducive to children. First and foremost, safety must be a consideration. Is there ample space for the number of children in the program? Can children walk around comfortably without bumping into other children? Is the furniture in good repair? Does the environment look inviting to children? Are there toys and other materials (paper, crayons, etc.) that children can access in the play space?

Preschool Programs
Usually, we think of 4-year-olds as a preschool age. But the program can be provided at any age. The curriculum is based upon the age and the developmental levels of the child. For instance, a preschool program is preparing a child for kindergarten, but it doesnít mean weíre trying to teach that child how to read. Weíre looking at readiness skills--letter recognition, color recognition Ė not actually putting a kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. So that distinction should be clear for parents. Donít expect your child to learn how to read at four. Give them time to prepare for that process.

Family Child Care
Typically, in family child care programs, the hours are a little bit longer than typical center-based programs that usually close at 5:30 or 6:00. And if you get off work at 5:30, and you work, live in the San Fernando Valley, you have to go from downtown--to L.A. to--youíre not going to be there by 6:00.

Sometimes family child care homes look like someoneís home, but then, during certain hours when children are there, it transforms into this beautiful, loving, nurturing place with lots of things to do. And sometime at the end of the day, the family child-care provider will pack up their things and put it away to look like, ďNow, Iím in my home.Ē So just know, when you go during child care hours, it should look as if children are actually playing there, for the most part.

Drop-In Care
Drop-in care is an important option, but parents and families need to know that drop-in is for emergency. Itís not a long-term solution. But itís a good idea to have a drop-in site available or identified just in case there is an emergency and you canít take off of work, or you canít find someone else to care for your child. Itís a place where your child can go in case the regular provider is sick. If you choose family child care, believe it or not, family child care providers do get sick sometimes. Not often, but they do. So in the event that something comes up and you canít take your child to the regular place, you need to have another option for emergencies.

Differences Between Choices
There are several differences between child care centers and family child care programs. The main difference is the location. Centers based care is usually in a commercial building. Some centers are converted homes, but in the majority of centers, no one actually lives in the facility. Family child care homes, in most cases, are actually the homes where the owners of the business live. Another major difference is the ratios of adults to children. In family child care homes, there are usually less children per adult. Center based care also tends to have more restrictive hours, and often are open from Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is more of a variety of hours in family child care, such as evening and weekend care options. Curriculums tend to be different in child care centers versus family child care centers. The age range of kids who attend the program also varies, with child care centers focusing on preschool-aged children, and family child care accepting kids of many ages, including school-aged children.

The main similarities between these different child care options are the loving, nurturing, adults that care for children. Most early educators did not enter the field for the money, but because of their love for children and their commitment to the future generations.

For More Information
There are several places where parents can go for more information. The first place to start is their local resource and referral agency. This is a resource to find different types of child care in your community. If they donít know where to find it, they can contact the National Association for Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). They can also contact NAEYC or NAFCC.
Child Care Provider Comments
Laura Moller-Leon
Laura Moller-Leon
Mother of two
I needed to find a place that was convenient, affordable and that I would feel comfortable with. I visited four places and met with the teachers. I really liked the family atmosphere at the place I chose. As for the curriculum, the children can choose from many different activities like singing, reading, painting, etc. They are not forced into doing things they donít want to do and they are free to choose the activities they want to participate in. Thatís good, especially for the younger ones. As they get older, their schedule is more structured and more academic.
Shirley Davis
Shirley Davis
Grandmother of two
I have a family child care, which means that Iím licensed and care for children in my own home. Most of the kids I have now are from an agency that helps parents who are in need, so I provide child care for low-income families as well as for other families. At times Iíve offered early morning, weekend, after-school and some late night care. Sometimes I will do early morning care around 5:45am but mostly for the kids who live in my area so that I can make sure they get on the school bus. But again, these are some services that most typical preschools and non-family child care wouldnít normally be able to offer.
Stacey Braaten
Stacey Braaten
Preschool teacher for 18 years
Our preschool is set up as an academic program. The children are not usually there for a full day. Itís not an inflexible schedule, but I donít think we have the same kind of flexibility as a family child care. Itís very structured.

Choosing a Preschool Program Featured Activity:
Choosing a Preschool Program
Navigating Early Care & Education Featured Video:
Navigating Early Care & Education
Topic: Child Care Management
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