Good early childhood education programs create and offer on a day to day basis a partnership between your family and their teacher caregivers. Finding a loving, caring place for your exploring toddler may take sometime so be sure to start early and give yourself an opportunity to visit several programs.
First, look for early childhood education programs licensed with either the Department of Health or the Department of Education in your state. Licensed programs must meet certain criteria for the health, safety and education of young children. Requirements vary from state to state. Call the Department of Health or the Department of Education and they can give you a list of licensed programs in your area.
Second, make phone calls, ask questions and schedule a tour. To learn what is available you may want to visit center based programs, home based programs and even interview nannies to work in your home. Talk with other parents who already have their child enrolled in a program you are interested in. Choosing an early childhood education program for your toddler is a very important and personal choice.
Third, visit several programs. Go prepared with a written list of questions. What you want to see as you visit early childhood education programs are small group sizes. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends maximum group size of 12 toddlers, with 1 teacher caregiver for no more than 6 toddlers (preferably fewer i.e. State of Connecticut requires 1 teacher caregiver for every 4 toddlers and maximum group size is 8 toddlers). This allows for a high level of supervision that toddlers require. Your state agency requirements may have different ratios.
In your toddler’s early childhood education program you want to see:
o Toddlers have a primary teacher caregiver so they can develop a strong relationship together. Your toddler’s teacher caregiver comes to know your toddlers individual personality, needs and cues and builds a strong positive communication with you.
o Caregivers who are positive and praise toddlers for their accomplishments. Toddlers then become more in control of themselves and positive.
o Teacher caregivers promptly respond to toddler’s cries or other signs of frustration because they realize toddlers do not yet have the language skills to communicate their needs.
o Teacher caregivers are good role models by treating others kindly and with respect. As language development builds teacher caregivers encourage toddlers to use their words to resolve differences.
o Teacher caregivers smile, use pleasant voice tones, give hugs and pats on back, and hold toddlers in lap throughout the day.
o Physical space and activities are age appropriate allowing children to explore experiment and be actively involved in their learning environment.
o Teacher caregivers read to children during the day 1 on 1 on adults lap or in groups of 2 or 3 children. Teacher caregivers sing, do finger plays and act out stories with children.
o Sturdy picture books that show different cultural and racial groups, various types of families and different ages.
o Toddlers encouraged to do everyday tasks such as eating, dressing themselves, toileting, washing hands. With opportunities and support toddlers will be learning new skills and better control of their behavior.
o Teacher caregivers follow proper health and safety procedures to include hand washing and universal precautions. Written procedures are posted in designated areas in the classroom.
o Teacher caregivers directly supervise all children by sight and sound, even at nap time.
o Teacher caregivers provide curriculum so that toddlers have a variety of activities that include large-muscle play indoors and outdoors. Check to see that play equipment is safe. Equipment should be challenging for toddlers and separate from older children. Teacher child ratios should be maintained the same outside as they are in the classroom.
o Caring and responsive teacher caregivers with training and or an early childhood education specific to the toddler age.
Fourth, you want to feel that you are always welcome in your child’s early childhood education center or home and can arrive at any time unannounced. Teacher caregivers see parents as the primary source of love, affection and care of their child. Teacher caregivers support parents and work to build a healthy professional relationship taking care of the whole family unit.
Fifth, toddlers are explorers and are very inquisitive about their world. They are always on the move looking for new and exciting activities and sights. Sometimes this appears to be a discipline problem however you may find that this is a toddler’s challenge to understand how he/she fits into the world.
Finally, toddlers learn best through play, investigation, exploration, observation and going at their own pace. Between the ages of 1 -3 years so many exciting developments occur. You want to offer your toddler an early childhood education environment that gives him/her a chance to take part in meaningful activities either alone or in a small group. This gives your toddler an opportunity to make choices and practice his/her social skills by sharing and getting along with others. They like to pretend to do what you do, dress up like mommy or daddy, scribble with crayons, read picture books, stack blocks, kick balls, eat with a spoon and fork, string beads, do puzzles and the list goes on.
A high quality early childhood education program works with you the parents. This provides your child with the learning activities he/she needs to become an individual who feels good about themselves, can sustain themselves and grow up to be a productive member of society. Good beginnings never end!