What Makes a High-Quality Early Learning Program?

Much of a child’s brain development occurs during the earliest years of life, setting the stage for future cognitive, social, and emotional development. Research shows that supportive, high quality, early learning programs prepare children for success. Yet,  only 60 percent of public schools offer early learning programs and program quality varies widely. African American children are least likely to receive high quality early learning care, most likely to underperform on statewide kindergarten readiness assessments, and most likely to be retained in kindergarten due to an absence of quality early learning experiences. Furthermore, early learners are more likely than students who do not acquire an early education to graduate from high school, attend college, achieve professional success, and strengthen the nation’s economic and national security.

Several promising programs around the country have been applauded for innovative approaches to helping children succeed. To name a few, Dunbar Learning Complex is an innovative, Atlanta based early learning center that collaborates with employment and community development non-profit organizations to support early learning success. The center is committed to offering students a challenging education, recruiting quality teachers, and helping parents achieve excellence in the workplace. Nurtury is a Boston based early learning center that serves 1,400 children up to age eight, and provides professional development for teachers. The center also offers caregivers career-focused courses and programs on parenting, nutrition, and financial literacy. These programs are unique and innovative because they aim to meet the needs of children, teachers, and caregivers to secure positive outcomes for early learners.

The American Institutes for Research has outlined five questions that caregivers should ask when selecting a quality early learning program for their children:

1.)    What background do the teachers have? Teachers should have an associates and/or bachelor’s degree with a background in childhood development.

2.)    What does the curriculum look like? The curriculum should be informed by evidenced-based best practices. In other words, research should demonstrate that the curriculum effectively offers children a quality early learning experience.

3.)    What is the quality of classroom interactions? Teachers should encourage children to explain their thinking, ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, and listen to a child’s perspective.

4.)    How are student assessments being used? Assessments should be used to determine a child’s unique developmental needs.

5.)    Does the program work with parents and family members? Programs should offer literacy programs for parents and/or provide informational material to support early childhood learning.

Have you met with your child’s early learning provider and asked the aforementioned questions that are critical to ensuring your child’s success?

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