Tips and Info to Help You Distinguish a High-Quality Child Care Program From One That is Not

“Quality” and “high-quality” are words you often hear when discussing education. These are terms used to describe early childhood learning and care programs as well as elementary and secondary educations. What’s not usually apparent during these interactions is what criteria people are using to qualify one program as “quality” and another as not.


In early childhood education, there are generally recognized characteristics that indicate levels of quality. We are here to help you better understand what they are and why they matter.


Here’s What to Look for When Visiting a Child Care Program:

  • Staff should greet children and adults, making them feel welcome and engaging them in conversation and activities.
  • The program’s philosophy and curriculum should support all aspects of child development.
  • Children should be given opportunities to learn through play, small groups, and one-on-one teacher interactions through the use of interesting materials, equipment, and spaces.
  • Children should have the opportunity for outdoor learning/play every day in a safe, engaging environment.
  • Learning materials, books, music, and pictures should reflect diversity, including children with special needs.
  • Teachers should be familiar with each child and share observations and findings with the child’s family.
  • The teachers and staff should be practicing healthy habits: Look for frequent hand-washing after assisting with bathroom breaks, changing diapers, playing with toys, and before snacks and meals. Babies should be sleeping on their backs. The facility should look and smell clean.
  • Children should enjoy a supervised meal program that incorporates healthy, fresh produce.
  • Families should be encouraged to visit, ask questions, and take part in activities.
  • The program should be licensed.
  • Teachers should be well-trained and knowledgeable and have specialized training in the curriculum, or have earned associates and higher education degrees, or Child Development Associate credentials.
  • Classes should have low child-to-teacher ratios.

Ask These Questions:

  • Is your child care program licensed through the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education?
  • How many educators are on staff and what are their credentials and responsibilities?
  • Does the child care program have a high or low rate of teacher turnover?
  • What is the average class size? How many teachers are in the class?
  • How much play time and outdoor time does each age group receive daily?
  • How do teachers help children solve conflicts?
  • Do the children have access to music, art, books, and field trips?
  • What is the sickness policy for children and staff?
  • How often does the program communicate with parents, and what method of communication is used?
  • Has the program ever been involved in any emergency situations or lost its license for any reason?

Quality Matters:


There is a large body of research that indicates children who receive a high-quality early learning experience (before age 5) fare better in many aspects of their lives. For instance, research suggests that children perform better academically, have better social-emotional development, are more likely to graduate high school and attend college, have fewer instances of drug use and teen pregnancy, and are higher wage earners as adults.


More information:

Choosing child care is one of the most important decisions your family will make. You can begin your search by calling CCRI’s Child Care Search at 704.348.2181 or visiting to let trusted experts help you.