Category: 3-year-old

Family Field Trip: Grocery

Want to upgrade your weekly shopping trip from family struggle time to — at least on a good day — an educational experience? We have four easy-to-use ways to keep your children (fingers crossed!) calm, curious and connected on your next trip to the grocery store.

Shopping list:
Before you head to the store, work together to create a shopping list. For toddlers, ask questions about what fruit, vegetables or other foods they want at the store. Two-year-olds and up can help make the list, either by saying items they want for adults to write or by drawing items. Then, when you head to the store, use the list like a set of directions. All of these actions build language arts skills!

Location, location, location:
On your way to the store, talk about what part of your community the store is in. Is it north? Right around the corner? Downtown? In town? All of these terms help your child explore geography, which is a part of social studies. For preschool and beyond, you can use maps to talk about location. You can use kid-created maps, paper maps or apps with maps.

Family Style Dining

Want to take the fun from the store to the table? Check out our post on family-style dining by clicking this picture!

Going on a food hunt:
As you shop, talk about the colors, shapes and location (under, over, beside, above) of each food item on your list. For toddlers, simply sharing those descriptions helps build math and science vocabulary. For preschool and beyond, you can invite your child to help you find each item with a grocery store version of “I Spy.” “I spy a white vegetable. It’s as big as your head and next to the broccoli.” Cauliflower is more fun if it’s part of a game!

Delicious AND nutritious?:
Build your child’s health skills by discussing what is healthy about items on your shopping list. Here are some easy ways to help your child explore food and nutrition by age.

  • One- and two-year-olds: Ask if a food is new or one they’ve had before. Then, use words together to describe the color, texture or time of day for each food. “This apple is shiny, red and gold. Would you want to eat this for a snack or with a meal?”
  • Preschoolers: Talk about which foods are more nutritious (vegetables, lean proteins, fruit, whole grains are all great options) and which are perhaps better for treats (nearly the snack aisle!). “Those carrots and plums are really healthy, so we can eat them all the time. If we get these cookies, let’s make sure to just have one each. Sweet treats like these have a lot of sugar.”
  • Pre-K: Discuss the link between a food and their individual health. Encourage your little one to consider which drinks, foods and serving sizes are healthiest for them.

Taking the time to encourage children to help plan your trip, staying engaged during travel time, and talking about foods gives you the chance to make the most of your grocery trip. As parents, we also love taking that time to connect. It makes a chore a little more fun, and helps us explore our children’s favorite flavors!

Do you have any tips on making grocering shopping with little eaters more fun? Share them below!


Cover image by Flickr user USACE Europe DistrictCreative Commons license.

Mini Milestone: Ditching the Diapers

You can call it potty training, toilet learning or “big kid restroom time.” But no matter the words, helping little ones graduate from diapers to toilets can be an emotional minefield for families. There are a lot of factors to consider (and worry about) – from getting started to how to approach the whole process. And there are no limits to opinions on the matter. Some people will insist it should be finished by age two, others will argue that age three is the magic number.

But the reality is this: Learning to use the potty is a process that should begin when your child is ready.

Potty Training Positive Toilet Learning

Toilet-time reading can be a great way to help your little one stay calm during their potty learning experience.

So, how do you know when that is?

Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend looking for these readiness signs:

  • Your child imitates your behavior.
  • Your child is able to put things where they belong.
  • Your child demonstrates independence by saying “no.”
  • Your child expresses interest in toilet training.
  • Your child can walk and is ready to sit down.
  • Your child can communicate her need to go potty.
  • Your child is able to put her clothes on and take them off.

For children, beginning to use the potty and eventually using it all on their own is a part of their developmental process. Want to know more about developmental milestones? Check out our guide!

Partnering with Your Provider

When your child is potty training and going to child care, take the time for ongoing conversations about the process at home and in care. When all the adults are on the same page, you minimize frustrations and confusion. Your child care providers should be culturally sensitive and respectful of possible differences in your beliefs and approaches to every topic – including learning to use the toilet.

In all kinds of early childhood programs, teachers and staff normally provide a routine for children who are potty training. If you and your child’s caregivers use the same routine, methods and words (e.g., potty vs. toilet, bathroom vs. restroom, pee vs. urine, etc.), it helps eliminate confusion for your child and brings a common sense of purpose to the overall effort. Communication is key – for all parties.

Learn More 2 Year Old DevelopmentLow-Stress Potty Time

Taking a “no pressure” approach typically leads to the best results. Helping your child notice when it’s time to potty, and helping them learn the signs can make a big difference. This allows your child to become comfortable with and responsible for her own potty needs. Here are the kinds of phrases you can use to guide that awareness:

  • I noticed that you’re doing a little dance. Is your body telling you it’s time to go to the restroom?
  • We’re about to leave the house. I always like to take a potty break before I go. Let’s make sure you get to go before you put your coat on.
  • It looks like you have the toilet wiggles. Is it time for a trip to the restroom?

If your child experiences a fear of the loud noise of the toilet, the toilet seat itself or falling in, taking a moment to reassure them and responding with care to their concerns goes a long way. Reading books and watching friends or family members use the potty can help normalize the experience and curb any fears.

And remember…accidents are inevitable and should not result in punishment. Remaining calm and accepting that not every day will be a dry pants day helps your child stay on track. Every child is different and learns at her own pace. If your child isn’t ready, it’s best to put diapers back on for a few weeks and try again later.

A Few Final Things to Remember

It’s important to keep these key points in mind:

  • There isn’t much evidence that supports any specific methods of potty training – so, every child may benefit from a different strategy.
  • Learning to use the toilet is a process that should begin when both you and your child are willing and able to participate.
  • A positive, consistent approach to potty training creates a good experience for everyone involved – and helps your child feel supported.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories in the process – a happy high five after washing hands or a hug to tell your little learner that you are excited about their dry undies builds a sense of excitement around their wins.

Are you and your little one ready to begin? Good luck!

Last reviewed: February 2018

Photo credit: Flickr user VintageChica

“Pass the peas!” Family style dining helps little learners grow and thrive

Family Style Dining

Way back in the olden days or maybe not so long ago, families regularly sat down together at a table for meals. They passed the food around, talked about their day and learned from one another. Generations of family members all ate together, sharing their family culture and history. Fast forward to 2016, and we are in a different place. Families are not the same. Food is not the same. Our lives are faster paced, and many children spend most of their days in an early learning setting. The lessons learned from eating together “family style” are no less important than they were a century ago, but our lifestyles have made it harder to implement on a regular basis.

What is “family-style” dining?

Simply put, eating “family style” isn’t just about your family gathering together, though that’s an undeniably positive practice – it’s about passing food, serving ourselves and communicating with one another in the process. Something as simple as putting out bowls on the table, instead of serving from the stove, can actually have a big impact on your little learner’s skills and sense of connection to you.

Family-style dining has many benefits including teaching little ones about having conversations and building relationships. Just by saying, “Sweetie, can you pass the bread to me?” you can give your child the chance to be a helper and learn how to make polite requests from your example. Family-style dining also slows the pace of a meal, creating the space for children to take their time, try new things, learn table manners, gain coordination and increase their food vocabulary. Eating family-style also gives you the chance to share what an appropriate serving size is and what kinds of foods they need to grow up healthy. By supporting a relaxing and calm meal time we encourage a lifetime of healthy eating behaviors.

Can this approach solve mealtime power struggles?

In short, the answer to that is a solid “maybe.” If children see family members, young or old, trying unfamiliar foods, they are more likely to try them as well. Children gain independence as they scoop, use tongs, pour their own beverages and use forks and spoons, all with appropriately sized equipment of course. Sometimes, giving a child that sense of control with the details allows them to feel freer to experiment with new foods.

Family-style dining is about the connection – not about perfection!

Want to make family-style dining successful? A few key practices will make it a good experience for both your child or children and the grown-ups in your family. Removing distractions such as televisions, phones and other screens can help everyone really focus on and engage with the meal time. Conversation around the food can flow easily – is it crunchy, salty, and smooth, where did it grow, what country is it from…the possibilities are endless!

Using sturdy and not-too-heavy bowls, spoons and utensils helps children feel truly included in dishing up dinner. Select bowls with wide lips to make it easier for children to pass the items to their neighbor. Tongs and appropriate-sized tableware encourages small motor development – which are the skills that allow children to color, write and manipulate small objects over time. Moms, dads or grandparents should also be prepared for the inevitable spills and mishaps. Having cleaning supplies close at hand and not losing our cool with spilled milk or a sneeze into the bowl of peas puts everyone at ease.

Try it out! Let us know how it goes – or if you have other tips for mealtime magic!

Bedtime Books to Move Mini-Readers from Day to Night

Beyond helping children gain basic literacy skills, reading can be a huge piece of building warm and loving family bonds. From babies to preschoolers, reading is an important piece of family connections and establishing routines. One of the most important book traditions that we can establish with our children is bedtime book time. Taking time every single night to read a book helps your child settle their busy brain and relax into a blissful sleepy time.

We conducted a very informal survey to find out which books have made a lasting impression on Hoosier families and got some great ideas:

  1. Good Night Moon – Written by Margaret Wise Brown and Illustrated by Clement Hurd
    This wonderful book about a mother rabbit putting her baby down to sleep was hands down the winner in our informal poll. Everyone loves how the words flow and lilt as everything in the room is told “good night.” Good Night Moon is a timeless treasure!
  2. Llama Llama Red Pajama – Written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney
    A cute story from the Llama Llama series came is also beloved. Mother Llama puts her baby down to bed but Baby llama still needs her – a dance familiar to anyone who has managed the long haul of toddler bedtimes. The rhyming words and soothing repetition make this one a got-to bedtime book.
  3. Guess How Much I Love You – Written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram Rabbits are popular characters for sleepy children’s’ books – maybe because they are so cute and cozy – and this very sweet book provides a lovely touchpoint at the end of a day. A parent rabbit and fluffy baby telling each other, over and over and over, how much they love one another in increasingly meaningful ways. Many moms and dads like to repeat the sweet messages to their own little ones as they read.
  4. Good Night Owl – Written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
    When a strange noise disturbs Owl’s rest, he has to investigate! This newer, beautifully illustrated book is as popular at baby showers as it is at bedtimes. The 2016 book recently won a Geisel Honor Books Award from the American Library Association, making it both family and librarian-approved.
  5. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train – Both written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
    Have a little one obsessed with vehicles of all kinds? These books, written in poetic and colorful language, offer the perfect way to wind down for kids who love anything on wheels. Indeed, as these books make clear, sometimes we need to make sure large machinery is properly put to bed as we help our little ones head to dream land.
  6. The Going to Bed Book – Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
    This book is short and sweet, perfect for babies and young toddlers – and it introduces the math concept of opposites like big and small. The sing-song story follows silly animals as they go through their bedtime routine. From brushing teeth to being rocked to sleep, the calming, rhyming story is perfect for bedtime.
  7. It’s Time to Sleep, My Love – Written by Eric Metaxas and illustrated by Nancy Tillman
    From the illustrator of the popular On the Night You Were Born, you can expect the same beautiful illustrations and heartfelt message. This is another lovely selection if your little one love cuddly time or you want to increase your bond, giving your family a great opportunity to relax and share how much you love one another.
  8. Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey – Written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
    This lovely bedtime book comes in both board book and standard story book printings — and either way, it offers beautiful illustrations of boys, girls and fanciful creatures who carry these diminutive dreamers to fantasy locations. Light on text, but heavy on dreamscapes, each page offers a chance to talk and notice the illustrations together.

We hope you and your little ones enjoy these books and that everyone in your home can get good night’s sleep! (We know how difficult that can be in these early years, but we also hear that it gets easier. We can dream, right?)

We’d love to hear your suggestions too – please feel free to share your family’s favorites in the comments below.

Cover image by Flickr user Lars PlougmannCreative Commons license.

Building a Relationship with My Child’s Teacher

I’m one of the few staff at Child Care Answers [Central Indiana’s child care resource and referral agency] who doesn’t have early childhood education experience. So why am I writing this piece about relationships with early childhood staff and teachers? What I do have is this – experience in being a parent who is inexperienced. I needed every bit of help I could get. I learned some things the hard way. Hopefully, sharing some of my stories can help families who are also in the same boat.

When my first son Miles was born, I didn’t have a clue about what was supposed to happen in a child care setting.  Sure, I knew the basics. Caregivers shouldn’t lay babies down to sleep in cribs with blankets or pillows. I should not find a teacher in a room alone with 20 two-year olds. I shouldn’t walk away to hear adults screaming at the children (although my own kid screaming “Moooooooooooommmmmmmeeeeeeeeeee!!!” was going to happen sometimes).

Thankfully, none of the above happened the first day I dropped him off when he was three-months old. Nevertheless, I was uneasy to hand him over to Ms. Sandra (name changed to protect the innocent). In my previous visits, she had been quiet, making as little small talk as possible. Although she had a grandmotherly vibe, she didn’t give off the goo-goo ga-ga baby talk that Miles had seen from his relatives and gray-haired church ladies. How was his day going to go without the over-the-top songs and silliness he was used to? I was nervous about my about my day away from him, my first day back to work, and about my first day pumping as a nursing mom.

Learn more about exploring quality care — which includes how programs support and welcome families — with our guide to finding early childhood program quality.

I was, however, fortunate to be able to go in to nurse Miles twice a week. The first time I came in, Ms. Sandra was just finishing up feeding another baby. Instead of the hustle and bustle of the morning drop-off, I caught a glimpse of her in a lovely quiet one-on-one moment, with just a hint of goo-goo and ga-ga. She looked up and offered me the rocker. At first, I froze, wanting to whisk Miles away to keep him to myself in a private room. I accepted, though, and I’m so glad I did.

That was the beginning of a long series of talks with Ms. Sandra – me at the rocker with Miles, her tending to the other babies, and us chatting about our days. I discovered she had quite the understated sense of humor with an amazing twinkle in her eye when she joked. I got to see firsthand as she changed a diaper on a wiggly worm like a champ or soothed a colicky baby after drop-off. She got to hear (whether or not she wanted to) about Miles’ crazy gas last night or his hilarious new trick. Eventually, the time came for me to wean Miles and for him to move to another room. Even so, I continued to visit at the same time to play and connect with him and his new teacher.


How can you make the best of the time that you have to learn what in going on in your child’s classroom? Keep the following in mind.

  • Connect with the teacher in her “natural habitat.” If a teacher is covering for another teacher in a different classroom or is at a shift change, she won’t be giving you her best self. Set her up for that opportunity!
  • Try different options until you find what fits. Not everyone will have my same fortune to be able to visit twice per week during the day. Look at your own schedule and see what would work best to find time to regularly connect with your child’s teacher. If you can’t connect face-to-face, make sure that each of you have a way to ask questions and get answers. That could mean paper, text, app, phone, or some other way to communicate.
  • Keep the teacher’s needs in mind too. Remember that your teacher is caring for other children and cannot focus her attention solely on you and your child. If you notice you are being a distraction to her or the other children, wrap up your visit or conversation.
  • Don’t forget to make your child the priority. As your child ages, what works one month may not work the next. For example, when my youngest son was going through separation anxiety, I couldn’t come in the middle of the day anymore. So, I built in extra time and stayed a little longer when I picked him up.
  • Be flexible! This is the most important! There are a lot of people and parts to this equation, but remember that you’re doing this for the best interest of your child. If you’re making things difficult for the teacher, child, or yourself, then find a better way to do it!

Preventing Illness this Winter

Welcome to October!  As the weather changes, be sure to take extra steps to help prevent illnesses like the flu.  Wash your hands and the hands of your children often and make sure to scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. Be sure hands are washed after blowing noses and sneezing. You may want to wash pacifiers and toys more often in the coming months as well. Another step is to have your children vaccinated with the Influenza vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine every season. Call your pediatrician today to learn more.

If your child comes down with a fever of 101 or higher please be sure to see your pediatrician and make other arrangements for child care. Many child care programs have a sick policy. You may want to follow up with your child care and refresh your memory of this policy. Some policies include but are not limited to the following:

  • A fever above 101 degrees taken orally (102 degrees taken rectally or 100 degrees taken axillary – armpit)
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or rash of unknown origin
  • Cold or other illness causing breathing difficulties or other symptoms that prevent the child from participating comfortably in activities
  • Positive reaction to tuberculin skin test
  • Ringworm
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

If your child has any of the following symptoms, you will need to wait 24 hours after the symptoms have subsided–without the aid of medication–before returning him or her to child care.

Take additional steps like drinking plenty of water, getting as much sleep as possible and eating a healthy diet along with the vaccination to prevent the flu. You also may want to wash down table tops, door handles, and other surfaces more often to stop the spread of germs.

Click here to view tips for proper hand washing in child care centers. All child care centers follow this policy. View tips for sanitizing toddler and baby toys here.

Cover image by Flickr user Brandon OttoCreative Commons license.

Teaching Children the Art of Giving

Four year old Kennisyn overheard a conversation between her parents discussing donating to the United Way of Central Indiana. Kennisyn chimed in and told her parents that she would like to donate also. Each day for one week, Kennisyn took money from her pink piggy bank to school and donated to the United Way collection jar in her class. Kennisyn even asked other family members to contribute to her classroom jar and help raise money for children in need.

Teaching children the art of giving develops kindness, compassion, and caring for others.  Anne Frank said “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” At any age, we can all make a difference in someone’s life by showing compassion through our giving, acts of service by volunteering, or other forms of community outreach.

When families make giving and volunteering a normal part of their lives they will teach their children strong core values as they demonstrate these values in action. This philosophy is also true for educators who create a classroom learning environment that introduces and encourages children to practice social tolerance and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender, age, etc.  There are many creative ways families and educators can teach children the art of giving. The following are a few thoughtful ideas for families and educators to help children become involved in their local community.

  1. Thinking of You: Have children draw or paint a picture of their choice; frame the picture and give to a local hospital where the patients are fighting a terminal illness. Sometimes knowing that someone is thinking of you gives these patients hope to continue fighting their illness.
  2. Charitable Giving: Children can raise money through a lemonade stand; bake sale, art sale, etc.  Allow the children to choose an organization and donate the proceeds to that organization.
  3. Acts of Service: Ask family, friends, and classmates to donate items to create care packages for the homeless.  Donations may include food such as crackers, packaged fruit, or water; personal hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste; socks, hat and gloves, etc.  Allow the children to help pack the sack lunches or care bags.

A simple Google search will generate many other ideas to help families and educators teach children the art of giving.  So search away and make giving and volunteering fun for the children in your life.  Follow the child’s interest and remember no deed is too small when the act of service stems from a heart full of kindness, compassion and most importantly, love for humanity.

Options to Help You Afford Preschool

Working in the early childhood field, the most common comment I get from parents is how expensive it is to send their child to preschool. I definitely agree that it can be, but there are a few options that may help.

Several of these funding sources for preschool are geared toward low income families:

  • Head Start is a federally funded program that focuses on the healthy development of low income families. To qualify, families must make less than 100% of the federal poverty guidelines ($24,300 for a family of 4 in 2016). Head Start also provides services for families experiencing emergency situations. Programs may be half-day or full-day, depending on the community.
  • On My Way Pre-K is Indiana’s pre-K pilot program. It is offered in five counties in Indiana: Allen, Lake, Vanderburgh, Marion, and Jackson. Families must be below 127% of the federal poverty guidelines ($30,797 for a family of 4 in 2016). There is an application process for families that occurs once a year, typically beginning in mid-January. Funding is limited, so, depending on the number of applications received, a randomized lottery may occur in your county to select families. Children must be four years old by August 1st of that year to qualify, however, Marion County also accepts three-year olds.
  • The Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) is a federally funded program that helps low-income families who work or go to school. CCDF allows parents to select a child care of their choice that participates in the CCDF program. This means parents can research those high-quality child cares that may also offer preschool programing within their curriculum. Unfortunately, several counties may have a waitlist for families to receive funding.

Title I is another federally funded program that is given to public schools that have high percentages of low-income families. Some school districts support their own preschool programs with Title I. Call your local school district to see if they offer Title I to preschoolers and find out their requirements.

For those families that are not officially considered low-income, a few programs are available to help lower preschool costs.

  • Preschool Co-Ops are preschool programs whose tuition can be a little friendlier on your wallet, but it does come with some hard work. Co-Ops keep their tuition low because they look at parents as the key to running the program. If you begin looking into co-ops, investigate every aspect and make sure it will work for you and your family.
  • Tuition Assistance Programs are offered at some preschool programs. Typically the amount of scholarship you receive is based off on your gross monthly income. These types of programs also may require you to be working or going to school. Child Care Answers can help locate programs in your area that may offer tuition assistance.

No matter the funding source that may work best for you, the most important thing for parents is to research and visit the programs they are interested in to ensure a good fit for the family. Several high-quality programs accept different funding sources – Child Care Answers can help you locate programs in your area to help make the search a little less stressful.

Cover image by Flickr user kynan tait. Creative Commons license.

“Are we there yet?!?” – Keeping young children busy on long car rides

Young children can be very impatient sometimes. Keeping them in a happy and content state on long car rides or trips can be tricky! Make sure you are as prepared as possible – the worst thing would be for you to get an hour into a three-hour car ride and realize you didn’t bring enough “stuff” with you to keep them busy. Hopefully you can use these ideas on those long journeys to visit family and friends.

My first suggestion is to create a “busy box”. You can put all types of things in the box (or bag, or container, or whatever works best for you and your children). Some ideas to get you started:

  • Books – Books they are interested in, books they have never looked at before, books specific to the season/time of year.
  • Paper and Crayons/Markers – You may want to include a clipboard as well. You can take this one step further and ask them to draw what they see outside. For easy clean-up, choose marker and paper sets that ONLY draw on the paper and not on anything else. That could save your car seat from being “decorated.”
  • Your Child’s Favorite Kind of Toy – This will vary on what interests your child – cars, dolls, action figures, Duplos.  Be intentional about what kind of toys you put in the box. Lots of little pieces will of course end up ALL over the car and you will be finding them for months!
  • Whatever else you think you need…then add one more  – Pack according to the amount of time you will be in the car…and then add some!  It never hurts to be over-prepared. Also, don’t forget about the return trip!

Of course you always want to make sure you have snacks! Snacks are a very important part of a young child’s day. I have a fun suggestion; buy a small plastic tackle box and fill it with different snacks.  Of course, make sure it is safe and you clean it before you use it. You can put things like fresh fruits and veggies in the larger sections and then put the more “yummy” treats (marshmallows, chocolate chips…) in the smaller sections. This gives them a lot of variety and kind of changes things up a bit.

Like I said, young preschoolers can be impatient and that can make long trips a bit stressful for all involved, BUT, if you prepare yourself, things can go very well. Spending long amounts of time in the car also leaves you with the opportunity to talk to one another. You can talk about where you are going, what you are going to do when you get there, or just about life in general. There is a lot of time when you are in the car to make some very strong connections and communicate with your child. So, take some time to prepare and enjoy that time you have with them. Young children often have some very funny and insightful things to say if you just listen to them. Their view on the world helps put things into perspective sometimes. So go and enjoy your time together –  they are only young once.

Cover image by Flickr user Larkin Family, Creative Commons license.

Pre-K: Which environment is best for your family?

Recently, pre-K has been a hot topic in the State of Indiana. Studies have shown that pre-K can have long term benefits for your child’s development1. It helps prepare them for kindergarten, and it helps their social-emotional growth.

It can be overwhelming to find the right pre-K program for your child. Where to start? Look for one that the State of Indiana considers to be high quality. This means they are a Level 3 or Level 4 on the Paths to QUALITY program. These providers follow certain standards, no matter the type or size of the program. They follow a curriculum, complete 20 hours of professional development, and have certain education levels for their staff.

In Indiana, the search for a pre-K program can also be overwhelming because of our mixed-delivery system. You can find pre-K classes in family child care homes, child care centers, ministries, public schools, and private schools. Through my work as the pre-K project manager for Marion County, I see wonderful learning environments within all these programs. So, how do you know which one to choose?

As a parent, take some time to understand both your child’s and your family’s needs. Then, make your pre-K decision based on which environment fits best.


If your child needs a small group setting, she may fit well in a family child care home. If your child gets overwhelmed in a large group, consider a home. Some people think a family child care home can’t prepare your child for kindergarten because it is not in a “school setting.”  However, if the program is a Level 3 or 4,  they are following a developmentally appropriate curriculum.  Family child care homes can have up to 12 or 16 children, depending on the type of license they have. Homes usually run a year-round program.

Family child care homes can have mixed age groups, which means you may have an infant and a pre-K student together. When meeting with the owner/director, ask how he or she manages such a wide age-range. Mixed age groups can be a great learning environment if it’s done appropriately.  Children can develop skills and learn from one another.


Many Level 3 and 4 child care centers wrap their pre-K programs in with their all-day services. This is meant to help working families. Child care centers have classrooms separated in age groups. The ratio of teacher per student is one teacher to 12 students. Programs may have up to 24 children with two teachers.  Child care centers usually run a year-round program.


Level 3 or 4 ministries are on the Voluntary Certification Program (VCP), therefore meeting the same guidelines as a licensed child care facility. Ministries are housed in a facility operated by a religious organization. They follow the same ratios as a child care center and usually run a year-round program. Many ministries offer part-time programs. This may be ideal if your child may not be ready to be away for a full day program.


Many public school systems in Marion County offer pre-K and can also participate in Paths to QUALITY. Lawrence, Warren, Wayne, Perry, Decatur, and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) all have Level 3 or 4 programs. Most public school programs require their pre-K teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. Some even require a teaching license. For most public schools, there is a weekly fee for pre-K services. If you live in the IPS school district, they offer pre-K for no charge. If you are interested in your district pre-K, call to see what type of programs and services are offered.


Many private schools offer pre-K. An approved On My Way Pre-K private school is not required to be on Paths to QUALITY, but the pre-K program must be accredited by a regional or national approved state board of education. If they are an accredited program, they must follow developmentally appropriate standards.  Private schools tend to be smaller in size than public schools. If you are looking for that “school” environment, but are hesitant to be in a large setting, then a private school may meet your needs.


No matter the type of program you choose, a quality program should foster your child’s development. It should also integrate learning in a developmentally appropriate environment. All the programs we discussed should have learning centers and developmentally appropriate learning materials. Preschoolers need to feel that they are in a safe, comfortable environment that allows them to explore and grow. If you see that in your child, you can feel comfortable in that pre-K program and know that you chose the right path for your child’s future.

1 Center for Public Education:

Cover image by Flickr user Donald MaxwellCreative Commons license.