High Quality Matters to Early Learning and Care

When work hours increased and scheduling family care for two-year-old Sophia became problematic, Kalli Fortune-Ball knew she had to find professional childcare. 

She was aware of research showing that 90 percent of a child’s brain architecture is built before age 5. Failure to develop early knowledge capabilities and social skills during this prime learning time can put children behind their peers before they even start kindergarten, creating an achievement gap that is difficult to close in later schooling.

So the Hazel Park mom knew she would settle for nothing less than the best: “If I was going to be leaving my daughter anywhere, other than home, I wanted it to be a high quality early learning environment.” 

It’s a fact that parents are a child’s first and most influential teachers. However, when choices regarding childcare and preschool have to be made, parents need to know what to look for in order to make the best selection. 

Finding the high quality early care and education that every parent wants can be a daunting task. Personally evaluating every program in their area would be time-consuming, and few parents are up on the latest early childhood trends and research to best analyze available programs. 

Kalli found help through greatstartCONNECT.org, Michigan’s nationally-recognized online referral and searchable database of qualified early learning resources. Families can access the site 24/7 to find licensed local childcare and preschool providers.

Michigan parents soon will have another invaluable tool to help them find the best care for their child.

The new Great Start to Quality system, which is expected to be available for parents later this year, will offer a tiered rating and improvement system giving parents an honest and consistent assessment of program quality.  The system also will give early childhood educators – those working in childcare, pre-k family homes and Head Start programs – a consistent set of standards on which to assess and improve their programs as well as to objectively distinguish the quality of their services for consumers. 

Great Start to Quality is being developed and implemented by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation on behalf of the Michigan Department of Education Office of Great Start, which oversee public early learning programs. 

“This is a huge leap forward in improving early childhood development services and outcomes for Michigan families,” said Karen Roback, Senior Director of Early Learning Innovation at Michigan’s Early Childhood Investment Corporation, an independent, public nonprofit corporation that developed and oversees CONNECT and Great Start to Quality. “Together, these tools will give parents the consumer information they never had before.”

Of great use to Kalli was “A Parent’s Guide to Early Learning & Care in Michigan,” found on CONNECT and containing tips on how to find and recognize high quality care. The guide helped her to narrow her long list to four childcare centers. Kalli visited each to try to assess their quality. 

Like many children, Sophia had unique needs that had to be addressed, including wearing cloth diapers and having allergies requiring a gluten-free diet. Some places Kalli checked were quick to agree to provide gluten-free snacks and meals, but when pressed, didn’t know what it meant. 

She also wanted more than just a licensed center. 

“I wanted to know that there were more than just college kids watching my daughter,” Kalli said. “I would ask about the staff’s level of education and how they stayed current. Answers varied from place to place, but some of them said ‘what do you mean?’ That was a red flag to me. I wanted a place where people were passionate about the development of the children they are watching, not just getting paid to make sure that the kids are safe.”

She ultimately found the right choice for Sophia in nearby Oak Park.  

“I loved the structure and the early learning that’s provided,” she said. “They asked me about the diet requirements and they work with me to be a partner in caring for my daughter.”

Kalli said there were plenty of cheaper places, but her decision rested on more than cost alone. 

“I didn’t want a lovely grandmother to rock her all day, I wanted someone who understands brain development and how important brain stimulation is during these formative years,” she said. “Having some method to know in advance that quality was measured and accounted for would have made my search so much easier.” 

That’s what Michigan’s Great Start to Quality is all about: providing all the necessary information to help all parents give their children a Great Start.   

For more information about Great Start CONNECT visit www.greatstartCONNECTorg. For information on the Great Start to Quality program contact a Great Start to Quality Resource Center by calling 877.614.7328.

Michigan’s Great Start is powered by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation: The Investment Corporation is an independent, publicly owned nonprofit helping Michigan rebuild its economy by delivering better education, health and economic and economic outcomes through effective early childhood development.