Quality Early Learning

5 Steps to Choosing Quality Early Learning 

Start Early

 Allow adequate time for your search—generally 1 to 6 months. No matter what type of care you are considering—a center or care in someone else’s home—finding the right option can take some time.

Use ExceleRate Illinois

 We’ve done your homework so begin your search by using ExceleRate Illinois to see what options are available and have they achieved a Bronze, Silver or Gold Circle of Quality. Every early learning provider who participates in ExceleRate Illinois makes quality a priority but the higher the Circle of Quality, the more each provider makes meaningful improvements to their program that better prepare children for school and life.

Visit and Ask Questions

Visit the options you are considering. Find out about these key indicators of quality:

  • Adult to Child Ratio. Ask how many children there are for each adult. The fewer the children for each adult, the better for your child. You want your child to get plenty of attention. The younger your child, the more important this is. Babies need an adult to child ratio of no more than 1:4 (one adult for four infants), while four-year-olds can do well with a ratio of 1:10 (one adult for 10 children).
  • Group Size. Find out how many children are in the group. The smaller the group, the better. Imagine a group of 25 two-year-olds with five adults, compared to a group of 10 with two adults. Both groups have the same adult to child ratio. Which would be calmer and safer? Which would be more like a family?
  • Caregiver Qualifications. Ask about the caregivers’ training and education. Caregivers with degrees and/or special training specifically in working with young children will be better able to help your child learn. Are the caregivers involved in activities to improve their skills? Do they attend classes and workshops?
  • Turnover. Check how long caregivers have been at the center or providing care in their homes. Children learn best in relationships with trusted caregivers they know. It’s best if children stay with the same caregiver for at least a year. Caregivers who come and go make it hard on your child. Getting used to new caregivers takes time and energy that could be spent learning new things.
  • Accreditation. Find out if the program has been accredited by a national organization. Providers that are accredited have met voluntary quality standards that are higher than most state licensing requirements. The following national accreditations are aligned with ExceleRate; National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Accreditation, National Accreditation Commission (NAC), Council on Accreditation (COA), American Montessori Society (AMS) Accreditation and National Accreditation for Family Child Care (NAFCC).

Make a Choice

 Think about what you saw at each visit, and make the best choice for your child and family.

Stay Involved

The work isn’t over when you find good care for your child. You and your child’s provider are partners now. Here are some ways to be involved:

  • Have parent-provider meetings regularly, and ask questions.
  • Offer to volunteer time when needed, like participating in clean-up days, fixing broken toys.
  • Be there for your child’s birthday party.
  • Visit your child at the program and read a book aloud.
  • Join in special events, like field trips, Career Day, Black History Month, or other holidays.

Even if you can’t get time off from work during the day, you can still check in at drop-off and pick-up times. Ask the provider how things are going, and how your child is doing.

Visiting and participating in events at your child’s program sends a strong message. It tells your child and your child’s provider that you think what your child is doing and learning is important.