There are about 2,000 days between the day your child is born and the day he starts kindergarten. This period, between birth and age 5, is when he is most curious about the people and things in his environment. It is when he is learning language, learning to get along with others and learning to solve problems. It is also the period of about 90 percent of the brain’s development.
When development goes well and children are in safe, secure and nurturing environments, they are most likely to enter school ready for success. And because many young children spend the majority of their waking hours in child care, it isn’t difficult to see why selecting the right child care is so important.
The ABC Quality program, sponsored by the Division of Early Care and Education at the S.C. Department of Social Services, is a voluntary quality rating and improvement system for child-care providers. It informs families about a program’s success reaching accepted benchmarks of quality while providing program participants resources designed to improve quality. The ABC Quality program represents an important advancement in how our state defines and supports high-quality early childhood programming.
Research from the Institute of Medicine confirms that the teacher is the most important determinate of classroom quality. Children in the classrooms of teachers with specialized training in early childhood education are more successful in school and beyond. The ABC Quality program supports participating programs’ efforts to increase what teachers know and are able to do, through a wide array of professional development.
Also important are adult-to-child ratios and group size. Appropriate adult-to-child ratios are first and foremost a matter of safety: Teachers need to keep all children in their care out of harm’s way. Appropriate ratios also enhance children’s language development, reduce stress and promote close nurturing relationships. They make one-on-one, personalized, responsive care possible.
Appropriate group sizes reduce the spread of infections and keep children healthier. They also promote spontaneous language, increase positive interactions between children, increase children’s engagement with the people and things in their environment and encourage cooperation.
The ABC Quality program provides incentives to reduce teacher-to-child ratios and to keep group sizes small enough to reap the benefits. In this way, the program improves the quality of early childhood classes in South Carolina.
This is important for all of South Carolina’s children, but particularly for children who are at risk because they experience stress, live in poverty, are learning English as a second language or have persistent health problems. They are the children who are most likely to benefit from high-quality early care experiences, and unfortunately, they all too often are the children who attend less-than-optimal programs.
But encouraging our state’s child-care programs to commit to improving quality is not enough. Many parents aren’t good consumers of child care.
Think of it this way. When you go into a grocery store, you can tell the difference between good apples and bad apples, and you buy the good apples for your family. Parents are informed consumers of apples, but they are usually not good consumers of child care. They don’t know how research defines quality. They don’t know how to choose the higher-quality option.
When we give parents information about program quality that is based on credible research, they will become better consumers. The ABC Quality program helps them to pick the good apples.
When more families know and understand the research-based ABC Quality rating system, they will become better consumers. They will look for that rating when they are choosing child care. We are hopeful these knowledgeable consumers will encourage more child-care centers to participate in the ABC Quality system. It is designed to help them measure and improve their quality.
Be sure to look for that ABC Quality rating when you choose child care. That way you can be sure the research is on your side.
Dr. Freeman is a professor emerita in the USC Department of Instruction and Teacher Education and helped launch the state’s early childhood initiatives for infants and toddlers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.