How to Choose a Quality Program

Choosing a quality early learning and care environment is important to your child’s future. To help you choose the best program for your family, below are the different types of programs available, the quality characteristics you should look for, and questions to ask. Visit our Program Finder to find programs in your area:

Early Learning and Care Environments

You have a choice in the type of program you enroll your child in. Take time to research the different options available to find the one that best suits you and your child. Check out this useful Choosing Quality Child Care Guide, available in English or Spanish to get you started.

  • Licensed Center-Based Programs
    • For-profit, a faith-based, or non-profit centers
    • School district-based subsidized centers
    • College-based centers
    • Head Start
  • Licensed Family Child Care Homes
  • Licensed Exempt
    • Family Friend and Neighbor Programs
    • Military Child and Youth Programs
    • Boys & Girls Clubs

What to Look For

Once you have narrowed down a few options, we recommend contacting the program and inquiring about their tour policy. Here is what to look for when visiting and what SDQPI uses for quality improvement efforts. (These are the National Association for the Education of Young Children Program Standards)

1. Relationships

Look for a program that promotes positive relationships among all children and adults. You and your child should feel welcome when you visit and every time after. Teachers help children get used to the program, being away from family, and making friends with other children. The conversations between teachers and children are warm and friendly. Teachers help children resolve conflicts by identifying feelings, describing problems, and trying alternative solutions.

2. Curriculum:

The program should follow a research-based curriculum that promotes learning and development in each of the following areas: social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive. The curriculum should include goals for what the children are learning, planned activities linked to these goals, daily schedules and routines, and materials to be used. Children learn and develop through exploration and play, and teachers work with individual children as well as small groups. Activities help children with reasoning, solving problems, getting along with others, using language, and developing other skills.

3. Teaching:

Children have different learning styles, needs, capacities, interests, and backgrounds. The program should use developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate teaching approaches that enhance each child’s learning and development. Teachers provide indoor and outdoor playtime and organize time and space so that children can work or play individually and in groups. Strategies and materials are modified to respond to the needs and interests of the children.

4. Assessment of Child Progress:

The program engages in formal and informal assessments using a variety of methods to provide information on children’s learning and development. Assessment methods are appropriate for each child’s age and level of development and encompass all areas of development, including math, science, and other cognitive skills; language; social-emotional; and physical. You receive information about your child’s development and learning on a regular basis.

5. Health:

The program promotes the nutrition and health of children and protects children and staff from illness and injury. Staff have training in pediatric first aid. The program has policies regarding regular hand washing and routinely cleans and sanitizes all surfaces in the facility. There is a clear plan for responding to illness, including how to decide whether a child needs to go home and how families will be notified. Snacks and meals are nutritious, and food is prepared and stored safely.

6. Staff Competencies, Preparation, and Support:

The program employs and supports a teaching staff with the educational qualifications, knowledge, and professional commitment to young children and early childhood development. The program provides ongoing staff development, including orientations for new staff and opportunities for continuing education.

7. Families:

To support children’s optimal learning and development, programs should establish relationships with families, involve families in their children’s educational growth, and encourage families to fully participate in the program. Teachers and staff talk with families about their family structure and their views on childrearing and use that information to adapt the curriculum and teaching methods to the families served.

8. Community Relationships:

The program establishes relationships with and uses the resources of the children’s communities to support the achievement of program goals. The program connects with and uses museums, parks, libraries, zoos, and other resources in the community. Representatives from community programs, such as musical performers and local artists, are invited to share their interests and talents with the children.

9. Physical Environment:

The program has a safe and healthful environment that provides appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. The program has necessary furnishings, such as hand-washing sinks, child-size chairs, and tables, cots, cribs, beds, or sleeping pads. A variety of materials and equipment appropriate for children’s ages, skills, and abilities is available and kept clean, safe, and in good repair. First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are installed and available.

10. Leadership and Management:

The program administrator has educational qualifications. The program is licensed and/or regulated by the applicable state agency. The program’s written policies and procedures are shared with families and address issues such as the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline, and health and safety procedures. Appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children are maintained.

Questions to Ask

  • General
    • What are your hours of operation?
    • What is the cost? Is there a registration fee?
    • Is the program licensed by the state?
    • How many teachers have Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, associate’s degrees, or higher degrees?
    • How many children is each caregiver responsible for?
    • How does the staff communicate with parents?
    • How do you support the professional development of your staff?
    • What is the attendance and tardiness policy? Is there a late pick-up policy?
  • Health and safety
    • Where and when do the children sleep? What is provided by the program and what needs to be brought from home?
    • How do you manage toilet training? Where and when do you change diapers?
    • How are food and feeding handled? Who prepares the food? Are there food options provided or does food need to be brought from home?
    • Is the staff trained in CPR and first aid?
    • What is the center’s policy for sick children?
    • How do you keep the facility clean and safe?
  • Education
    • What do you do to help my child feel comfortable being away from me?
    • What is your curriculum and how does it address all aspects of child development?
    • Do expectations or activities change with the children’s ages?
    • Do you adjust teaching methods based on the child?
    • How do you handle discipline or conflicts?
    • What does playtime look like? What kinds of activities does the staff do?
    • Are the chairs, tables, sinks, playground equipment, and other items child-sized?
    • How do you get parents involved in your program?
    • How do you communicate my child's progress? Do you do regular assessments?

Other Resources to Help Families Find a Quality Program

To find a preschool, infant/toddler center, or family early learning and care programs participating in the San Diego Quality Preschool Initiative, search here. View our helpful Choosing Quality Child Care Guide.

Community Resources

bullet pointCounty of San Diego Child Care Services Early Care and Education

The information on this page applies to families with children ages birth to 5 years of age and Early Care and Education Providers (i.e., Center-Based and Family Child Care Homes).

bullet pointYMCA Childcare Resource Service with Partners in Prevention

Families can also call the YMCA Childcare Resource Service to determine which programs might meet their needs and can look for quality elements when visiting early learning settings to find the right match. Please call 619-521-3070 or 1-800-481-2151 to speak with an early learning or care consultant or visit the Resource and Referral website.

bullet pointQuality Counts California Resources