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What Is Quality Childcare?
Kathleen McCartney, a researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points to the following key attributes that define high-quality care:

Children learn best when they:

• Interact with others, both children and adults.


• Work actively with material.


• Are given opportunities to learn through meaningful and interesting activities.


• Are able to work at their own development level.


• Are able to predict routines and experiences.

Caregivers teach best when they:


• Respect children’s developmental needs, characteristics and cultures.


• Are sensitive and responsive to children.


• Develop trusting relationships with children.


• Empathize with children.


• Accommodate practices for children with special needs.


• Are unified with other caregivers in their responses to and treatment of children.


• Value and acknowledge children’s expression of affect, both positive and negative.


• Set realistic limits for children without shame or blame.


• Care for ill children by offering emotional support as well as attending to their physical needs.

Centers should have a:


• State-approved license and NAEYC accreditation.


• Educated teaching staff.




• Appropriate student-teacher ratios (for example, 3:1 for infants, 4:1 for 1- to 2-year-olds, 5:1 for 3-year-olds, 8:1 for 4-year-olds).


• Open-door policy that welcomes parental observation and participation.


• Written policies (for example, regarding illness).


• Confidential records.


• Health and safety precautions:


– Sanitary diapering (washing hands, cleaning surfaces)


– Covered electrical outlets


– Gated stairs


– Fresh food


– Toxic substances kept out of children’s reach


– Staff training on prevention of physical disease/CPR/first aid


– Workshops/training/classes for staff on early childhood practices.


What changes are needed?


McCartney suggests the following changes are imperative to improving the quality of child care in the United States:


• Strengthen standards and regulations for child-care programs.


• Require initial and ongoing training for staff working in child-care programs.


• Find ways to recruit and retain more highly educated and skilled staff.


• Inform parents about the importance of quality child care and its effects on children.

• Identify ways to support the costs of higher-quality child care.

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