Breaking Down the Buzzword: High Quality Early Childhood Education

Quality is such a buzzword in early childhood nowadays. Quality rating, quality improvement, continuous quality, program quality, teacher quality, quality standards, quality of interactions, quality environments, and I could keep going! Whew! 

But what does quality actually look like in an early childhood education program or system?

Well, in the simplest of terms, a high-quality early childhood program supports the overall development and well-being of children and their families. That’s right, families are a huge part of a quality early education experience! Using a holistic approach to child development and acknowledging the importance of physical, mental, and social health are essential to a successful early childhood program.

Most states have Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) in place to identify and build quality in early childhood settings. They look at a wide range of policies, qualifications, and other factors in determining quality. While I do have experience working in these types of systems, I want to share more general ideas of what quality early childhood programming looks like.

Key Characteristics

Here are some characteristics, features, and services that contribute to positive developmental outcomes for young learners and can help define quality in early childhood education:

Qualified and Well-Trained Educators

Quality programs employ educators who have the appropriate education, training, and experience in early childhood education.Ongoing and individualized professional development opportunities are provided to ensure continuous learning and growth. 

Teaching staff in high-quality programs are given adequate time for lesson planning, strategic planning, and collaboration.

Safe and Stimulating Environment

Quality environments should be safe, clean, and designed to promote exploration and learning. They should include age-appropriate materials, toys, books, and resources that engage children’s curiosity, independence, and communication.

Developmentally Appropriate Practices

Curriculum and teaching practices should align with the developmental needs and abilities of young children. Activities should be open-ended, hands-on, and tailored to support individual differences and various learning styles.

Continuity of care is a best practice in which primary caregivers stay with children for a minimum of one year and longer if possible.

Positive Interactions and Relationships

Quality early childhood education emphasizes positive interactions between teachers/providers and children. Supportive language and meaningful opportunities to develop social-emotional skills are critical to a quality program. Building strong, caring relationships contributes to a secure and comfortable learning experience.

Small Class Sizes and Teacher-Child Ratios

Lower teacher-child ratios and smaller class sizes allow educators to provide individualized attention, forge stronger connections, and better meet the needs of each child. 

Parent and Family Involvement

Quality programs encourage and facilitate active involvement of parents and families in their child’s education. This can be seen through:

  • Open communication
  • Collaboration
  • In-person and virtual family events
  • Opportunities to participate in decision-making processes 

Assessment and Individualized Planning

Regular and authentic assessment of children’s progress should be utilized to identify individual strengths and areas for growth. In high-quality programs, educators should use this information to create individualized learning plans that cater to each child’s unique needs.

Inclusive Practices

Quality early childhood education embraces inclusivity, welcoming children and families with diverse abilities, backgrounds, and needs. Inclusive practices ensure that every child has access to a supportive and enriching learning environment.

Children and families can see themselves reflected in program materials, such as flyers, books, displays, and classroom materials. 

Cognitive, Social-Emotional, and Physical Learning

Quality early childhood education addresses cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Activities and experiences are designed to:

  • Promote large and small motor development
  • Foster language and literacy skills
  • Encourage creativity, curiosity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking
  • Support emotional regulation
  • Develop positive social skills

Play-Based Learning

Play is a crucial component of early childhood education. Quality programs incorporate play-based learning to foster creativity, imagination, and the development of essential skills.

Health and Nutrition

Quality early childhood education includes attention to health and nutrition. Programs ensure that children and families have access to nutritious meals, regular physical activity, and proper health care. 

Continuous Program Evaluation and Improvement

Quality programs engage in ongoing self-assessment and evaluation. Feedback from educators, parents, and assessments of children’s outcomes are used to make improvements and adjustments to the program.

Culturally Responsive Practices

Programs should be culturally responsive, recognizing and respecting the diverse backgrounds and experiences of children and their families. This includes integrating diverse perspectives into the curriculum and inviting families to share about their unique cultures. 

Sharing the Responsibility for Quality

Ensuring and maintaining quality in early childhood education is a shared responsibility and a deliberate system of checks, balances, and collaboration of educators, families, policymakers, and the community. Quality programs contribute significantly to a child’s growth and development, encourage confidence and self-esteem, and set children and their families on a path to success.  

If you’re looking to examine your program’s quality or improve any of these aspects, reach out to The Discovery Source. We’d love to partner with you!


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