Choosing a Child Care Center? Here’s What to Think About
Each child — and each family — is unique, so finding the right early learning program for your child can be a personal endeavor.
Judy Witmer, Chief Program Officer at Montgomery Early Learning Centers, has some guidance for families. MELC serves more than 1,400 children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years, at 10 locations around the region.
“When you go into a program, you want to make sure your family will be welcomed at any time,” Witmer said. “Another thing I think you want to look for is what the children are doing on a day-to-day basis. Also, do lesson plans have engaging activities that allow children to explore and problem solve? Do those activities enhance a child’s cognitive, physical, and social emotional development?”
There is also some important information to look for, before you even visit a center, she said.
Pennsylvania has a quality initiative system, Keystone STARS that rates all early learning and care programs as STAR 1-4, with STAR 4 being the highest rating. This can help families learn how a program rates in terms of cleanliness, age-appropriate curriculum, and teaching staff with appropriate education and training for the children they’re working with.
“One can also look to see if the program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, the National Afterschool Association, and the Council on Accreditation,” Witmer said.
Finally, she said, inquire about the program’s curriculum. Is it based on the state’s Early Learning Standards? Does the program address your family’s needs? And finally, does it provide opportunities for your child to explore new ideas and concepts?
MELC’s programs meet all of those standards, and go beyond. Founded in 1964 as a single site in Ambler to serve low-income families, MELC now has a wide footprint in the Greater Philadelphia region — offering the same level of high-quality education to every child. The organization provides infant, toddler, preschool, pre-kindergarten, and out-of-school time programs.
Every center has earned a three- or four-star rating from Keystone STARS, and the organization’s Out-of-School-Time programs are accredited by Council on Accreditation. MELC also works with the federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and the state’s Pre-K Counts program.
“Our primary goal is that our families are welcomed and that there’s a true partnership between the teacher, the child, and the family in the child’s development and growth,” she said.
MELC has adopted The Creative Curriculum for infants through kindergarteners, which aligns with the PA Early Learning Standards and provides flexibility for teachers to plan lessons that support a child’s interests and individual growth and development, Witmer said. A visit to a toddler classroom from one year to the next, she said, might look very different in terms of the lessons, because teachers can adapt the curriculum to each child’s interests and capabilities during that particular year.
“It links the entire child’s development to the intentional lesson plan that’s individualized for the child,” Witmer said.
At its Wynnewood Center, MELC provides a Kindergarten Enrichment program for children attending half-day kindergarten, along with a Pre-K Counts program. Children can begin their early education at the Narberth Center and then move to the Wynnewood location for Kindergarten Enrichment, assisting in a smoother transition to kindergarten.
For more information — including how to visit a center and apply — visit MELC’s website.