Choosing a preschool or childcare program for your child isn’t easy. It’s exciting to look for a program that will provide the foundation for your child’s education and development, but parents and caregivers often end up with more questions than answers.
The process of finding, evaluating and choosing a program that is the best fit for your child can quickly become overwhelming. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on preschools and childcare providers: social distancing, school closures and economic challenges have all made a tough process even harder.
Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline frequently receives calls from parents and caregivers looking for advice or resources for finding a childcare or preschool program for their child.
One of the first hurdles that parents and caregivers face is availability. Many programs don’t have openings or have even shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And once parents and caregivers find an opening, they may find that a program is too expensive for their family budget.
The most important factor to consider when looking for a preschool or childcare program is quality. The first five years of a child’s life are the most important time for their development, shaping their physical, mental, emotional and social abilities as well as creating the foundation for future success in learning and life. Parents and caregivers also have to consider their child’s and family’s unique needs. That’s a lot of pressure. But knowing the key elements of quality can help you make an informed decision.
Quality early learning programs should include:
- Teachers and childcare professionals who are skilled at working with young children
- Positive, nurturing interactions
- Small class sizes, maximizing the amount of individual attention that children need
- Environments that promote creativity, imagination and play-based learning, not just formal worksheet education
- Engaging activities that promote a child’s brain development
- Teachers and childcare professionals who frequently communicate with parents and caregivers about their child’s developmental progress
Some resources that are available right here in Arizona are Arizona Child Care Resource and Referral (azccrr.com) and Quality First (qualityfirstaz.com). These resources provide ratings of childcare facilities and a checklist for parents and caregivers looking at individual programs. Quality First also has a provider search tool, which helps you find programs near you based on type of childcare, age of children and other criteria.
Parents and caregivers can also explore the NAEYC’s website (azaeyc.org) and the First Things First website (firstthingsfirst.org), both of which provide a wealth of resources about early learning programs, accreditation and what makes a program high-quality.
If you are considering a preschool or childcare program for your child and have questions, you can call, email or text Arizona’s Birth to Five Helpline. Helpline specialists will talk with you about your questions and your child’s and family’s unique interests and needs, and connect you with resources to aid your search, explain different resources and possible available scholarships and even call local programs to find openings and available scholarships.
Also consider Southwest Human Development’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which give children from birth through five years old and their families the foundation they need to flourish.
All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.