EARLY EDUCATION (AGES 0 - 5)
WHY IS EARLY EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
Deciding on a child care or Pre-Kindergarten program for your child is extremely important. There are many things to consider. Some information can be found by making a quick phone call or visiting the program’s website. However, understanding if the program is a quality program or not needs to be a priority and may require more effort.
Did you know that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important in brain development? During this time, children learn at a much faster rate than at any other period in their lives. According to research by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), children who attend high quality early education programs are more likely to:
- Be ready for Kindergarten.
- Be successful readers in 3rd Grade.
- Graduate from high school.
- Have higher paying jobs as adults.
- Have fewer behavioral problems.
- Not engage in smoking and drug use, or have depression.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF EARLY EDUCATION PROGRAMS?
These are programs that are typically privately owned. Though it varies by provider, child care programs will generally accept children from birth through age 12. You either pay a fee up front or you might be eligible for financial assistance from the government if you meet certain criteria. Child care financial assistance: Families meeting specific requirements (financial and other factors) are eligible for child care assistance. Check with your local Workforce Solutions office at (214) 290-1000 to see if you qualify for child care assistance. For more information on childcare assistance, visit: www.wrksolutions.com/for-individuals/financial-aid-support/financial-aid-for-child-care.
In Texas, there are four main types of child care providers:
- Licensed Centers – Care for 7 or more children. They must follow minimum standards set by the state, including cleared background checks and passing inspection at least once a year.
- Licensed Homes – Care for 7 to 12 children. They must follow minimum standards set by the state, including cleared background checks and passing inspection at least once a year.
- Registered Homes – Care for no more than 12 children, with no more than 6 of them related to the home provider. They receive a registration certificate, are inspected every 1-2 years, and follow different minimum standards than licensed homes.
- Listed Family Homes – Care for 1 to 3 unrelated children. They are not inspected unless there is a report of abuse/neglect and must not follow minimum requirements.
EARLY HEAD START AND HEAD START
This is a free program that offers many services for children from birth to age 5, including education, health, nutrition, and social services. Household income must be at or below the poverty level. For example, a family of 4 people can make no more than $24,300 per year. Families may also qualify if they are homeless, have children in foster care, or receive assistance from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). You can find a Head Start location by calling 1-866-763-6481 or visiting this website: eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/HeadStartOffices.
Public Pre-K is a full-day program offered by Dallas ISD and is free to eligible 4-year-olds. A few elementary schools offer half-day or full-day programs to eligible 3-year-olds.
NONPROFIT AND COMMUNITY PROGRAMS
Organizations like the YMCA or your local church may provide child care services. The fees and program rules vary by location.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE EARLY EDUCATION PROGRAM IS QUALITY?
VISITING THE PROGRAM
You should spend at least 20-30 minutes talking to teachers and watching classroom routines. Circle time, read alouds, and center time are the best times to observe. Try not to visit during meal and nap times, as you will be less likely to see the quality of learning activities and interaction between the teachers and children.
Things to look for in the classroom:
- Is the classroom clean?
- Is there enough floor space for infants to crawl and explore?
- Are the ratios of teachers to children in a classroom close to the recommended standards?
- Are the tables, chairs, and bookshelves short enough for the children?
- Are posters and pictures hanging at your child’s eye level?
- Is the classroom open and easy for children to be seen by the teacher? This ensures that the teachers can always see your child and make sure that your child is not at risk for injury or participating in unsafe activities.
- Do you see activities that are both academic (numbers, letters, and books), developmental (puzzles and blocks), and creative (paints and crayons)?
- Is the child’s sleep area safe and calm?
- Do they offer time for the children to be outside every day?
Things to look for in the program:
- Do the teachers follow a curriculum?
- Are infants’ activities based on the needs of the child (napping, meals, or play time)?
- Is music ever played?
- Are there different types of age-appropriate toys?
- Are there goals set for each child?
- Do teachers encourage the children to try things on their own?
- Are there opportunities for the child to work both in groups and individually?
- Are the children read to by adults?
- Is there a daily lesson plan posted in the room that includes planned activities?
Things to look for in a healthy and safe space:
- Do they offer healthy snacks that are limited in sugar?
- Are menus posted for parents?
- Are food, drinks, and medicines labeled with the child’s name and date, and stored in a safe place?
- Are the toys cleaned daily or as needed?
- Are the bathrooms clean and easily available to the children?
- Are there fire drills?
- Are there working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
- Are there safety gates?
- How often do the teachers wash their hands?
- Are children taught proper hand-washing?
- Is there a teacher trained in CPR?
- Is there a first aid kit?
- How do the teachers handle potty training?
- What happens when a child is bitten by another child?
- Do the teachers have paid sick days?
Things to look for in the teachers:
- Does a teacher greet children warmly when they arrive?
- Do teachers welcome questions and visits from parents?
- Do teachers use a warm and pleasant tone when talking to children?
- Do teachers encourage children to talk to other children and the teachers?
- Do teachers discipline the children in a caring, consistent, and calm manner?
- Has your child’s teacher been there for more than 2 years?
- Does the teacher have a certification or degree from a college or university?
- Does the teacher have formal training in child growth and development?
- How often and for what subjects do the teachers have professional training throughout the year? (Examples include safety practices, curriculum, and first aid.)
For a printable Child Care Checklist to take with you when you visit a child care provider, click here.
CHECKING THE TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS
Ask teachers and staff about their qualifications. You are trusting them with your child and have the right to make sure they are qualified! Early childhood teachers should have formal training in the field of early childhood education. The most common qualifications for early education instructors are:
- Early Childhood Associates Degree or Child Development Associates Degree from an accredited program: teachers holding this degree have spent 2 years learning how to provide the appropriate environment and curriculum for children in their classroom.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Education (or another field) with a teaching certificate from the state specifying an Early Childhood qualification: teachers holding this degree and certification have rigorous training in classroom management, curriculum, and at least one semester of practicum in a classroom under the observation of a mentor teacher.
Licensed child care providers are monitored and regulated by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The state routinely inspects these facilities and enforces basic health and safety standards. You can view records of the state’s inspections at www.dontbeinthedark.org/.
It is important to try to find a program that meets a specific set of quality standards, not just the state’s minimum standards. For children receiving child care through state assistance (a Workforce Solutions voucher), quality child care programs are certified as Texas Rising Star (TRS). These providers normally accept children both with and without the state subsidy. TRS providers can be found here: texasrisingstar.org/parents/find-a-trs-provider.
In addition, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredits and certifies centers. The NAEYC standards are much higher than the state’s minimum standards. A list of centers accredited by NAEYC is available at www.naeyc.org/academy/accreditation/search. Other national quality certifications include:
- National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA)
- National Accreditation Commission for Early Child Care and Education (NAC)
- Association of Christian School International (ACSI)
- Council of Accreditation (COA)
- National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
- AdvancedED Quality Early Learning System (QELS)
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER
- Waiting lists: Many early education programs have waiting lists and a registration process, including a nonrefundable deposit.
- Food menus: Some programs ask parents to provide the food for their child, while others offer meals and snacks. For those that serve food, menus should be available to give you an example of the types of foods being served. If parents are expected to provide meals and snacks, ask how the food is stored throughout the day (refrigerator or at room temperature) so you know what you should pack.
- Time spent doing physical activity: Children should spend 30-45 minutes doing physical activity in the morning and again in the afternoon. Ask your provider what exercise activities they plan each day. For a list of activities that parents can do with their children, please visit: www.a-better-child.org/page/387090269.
- Screen time (Tablets, Smart Phones, TV, and Computers): For children from birth to age 2, screen time is not recommended. For children over age 2, screen time should be limited to 90 minutes for the entire day, including at home. Screen time for any children under age 5 should be primarily educational and allow for the caregiver to interact with the child. Ask your child care provider how they use screens if your child is under 5.
HOW DO I LOCATE CHILD CARE?
If you need help locating child care, there are resources available! If you receive financial assistance from the government through Workforce Solutions, you can find child care by calling (214) 290-1000. You are also eligible to send your children to Texas Rising Star quality certified providers, which can be found here https://texasrisingstar.org/parents/find-a-trs-provider/.
You can use Child Care Group’s online search to find child care providers at https://stage.worklifesystems.com/ parent/7. If you need help locating child care programs, you can call Child Care Group at (214) 631-2273 or email them at email@example.com.
You can also call 2-1-1 to get information from United Way about child care options in your area.
You can also search for child care providers online using the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_care/search_texas_child_care. Once your search is complete, you can click on a provider’s name to see important information like licensing violations.
After checking if the program has quality certifications or if they have any licensing violations, you should visit the provider to gain a better sense of both the physical and emotional environment.
WHAT ARE MY PRE-K OPTIONS?
Check with your school district to find out what programs are offered in your area and what eligibility requirements there might be. If you do not meet requirements there might be, you can contact the Pre-K office to see if you are able to pay for your child to attend the program or consider another option listed in this section.