Marlys Ann Boschee, Ed. D.
Associate Professor
University of South Dakota

Geralyn M. Jacobs, Ed.D.,
Assistant Professor
University of South Dakota

Copyright/Access Information

Child care has become an essential component of life in our society. Quality child care can make a significant difference in children's development. For many years researchers have been examining the aspects of child care that have a positive influence on children's development. This article will examine some of those elements, including the child care provider, child: staff ratio, the environment, safety, services, and relationships.


Research data has confirmed that the child care provider is one of the most important elements in quality child care. According to Galinsky and Phillips (1988) childcare providers need to be warm and caring, and be attentive to and respectful of children's individual needs. Providers need to be culturally sensitive and accepting of differences in ethnic backgrounds and customs. The provider should discipline children in positive ways, teaching social skills, instead of blaming, criticizing, or punishing. Children need child care providers who will speak to them and actively encourage them to respond. Vandell, Henderson and Wilson (1988) affirm that “children in better quality programs had more positive interactions with their teachers (caregivers), while children in poor quality programs spent more time in unoccupied behavior and in solitary play (p. 1287).” Phillips, McCartney and Scarr (1987) support this theory, stating that one of the real indicators of quality affecting children's social development is the caregiver and the verbal interactions the caregiver shares with the child.


Good staffing ratios are an essential ingredient in quality child care settings. There must be a sufficient number of adults for the number of children. Galinsky and Phillips (1989) recommend a ratio of at least one adult for every three to four infants and an adult for every four to six children under three. The recommended ratio for three to five year old children is one adult for every ten children and one to twelve for school-age children (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993). The study *Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers* found that centers with low child-staff ratios were seen as providing higher quality care. This study also found that centers rated as higher quality had teachers with more specialized training and education in early childhood (Whitebook, 1995).


A quality environment is well planned and invites children to learn and grow. Centers and family day care homes that had a “neat, clean, orderly physical setting, organized into activity areas and oriented to the child's activity” were found to have good child development (Clarke-Stewart, 1987, p. 113). Most states require 36 square feet of room per child for indoor areas, while 100 square feet per child is recommended outside (Gotts, 1988). There should be enough materials and equipment available that are developmentally appropriate for children of different age levels. Activities planned by the caregivers must also be developmentally appropriate and allow for imaginative play. Play opportunities that enhance children's social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development are another indicator of high quality programs (Bridgman, 1988). Children need to be given time to play and explore using concrete materials in order to enhance their natural curiosity and intellectual development.


A key aspect of providing a good environment for children is the safety of the setting. Adults must be vigilant in their supervision of the children at all times. The child care provider needs to know what to do in case of an emergency and know how to reach the parents when necessary. Sanitary procedures such as hand washing and local licensing standards must be followed (Mulligan, et al., 1992). Adequate lighting, temperature, and noise control are also factors that contribute to a safe environment.


Quality child care programs can provide a wealth of comprehensive services which contribute to the overall welfare of the children and their families. These services include: (a) Healthy nutrition, (b) preventative health care, (c) monitoring of child development, (d) provision for sick children, (e) consultation with outside specialists for individual child and family needs, (f) advocacy, (g) provision of services to children with disabilities, (h) parent involvement programs, (i) planned and organized activities, and (j) continual staff growth and development (Gotts, 1988). Provision of these services will help to provide the enriched environment each child needs for positive growth and development. They will also lead to beneficial relationships, another key ingredient in quality child care programs.


Forming positive relationships between the caregiver and the parent and the caregiver and the child is essential to providing quality care. A parent needs to feel free to visit the child care program at all times and needs to be notified and made aware of any problems that arise. A parent must feel free to discuss any concerns with the care giver. Equally important for parents is knowing what happens in the day to day occurrences in the life of their child, and having a sense that their child is important to the child care provider.

In a study conducted to determine which aspects of child care would enhance children's development, Clarke-Stewart (1987) found that “a caregiver whose interactions with the child were responsive, accepting, and informative” was a quality “that predicted good child development (p.113).” Children who have established positive relationships with their child care provider will exhibit happiness and comfort in the child care setting, which can be one of the best indicators of a quality program.

Quality child care has the capability of promoting trust, autonomy, and a true sense of happiness and well being in children. It can lead to positive social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development. Quality child care needs to be a high priority in our nation and be supported by all in our society. Society needs to “increase its investments in child care staff…and ensure adequate financing and support of child care (Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Team, 1995).” In that way we will be investing in our future – our children.


Bridgman, A. (1988). The great preschool debate: When, what, and who? The School Administrator, 45, 8-11.

Clarke-Stewart, K. In Phillips, D (Ed.). (1987). Quality in child care: What does research tell us? Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Team. (1995). Cost, quality, and child outcomes in child care centers: Key findings and recommendations. Young Children, 50, 40-44.

Galinsky, E. & Phillips, D. (1988). The day-care debate. Parents. 63, 114-115.

Gotts, E.E. (1988). The right to quality child care. Childhood Education, 64, 269-273.

Kostelnik, M., Soderman, A., & Whiren, A. (1993). Developmentally Appropriate Programs in Early Childhood Education. New York: Merrill.

Mulligan, S., Green, K., Morris, S., Maloney, T., McMurray, D., & Kittelson-Alrede, T. (1992). Integrated Child Care: Meeting the Challenge. Tuscon, AZ: Communication Skill Builders.

Phillips, D., McCartney, K., and Scarr, S. (1987). Child-care quality and children's social development. Developmental Psychology, 23, 537-543.

Vandell, D., Henderson, L.V., & Wilson, K.S. (1988). A longitudinal study of children with day-care experiences of varying quality. Child Development, 59, 1286-1292.

Whitebook, M. (1995). What's good for child care teachers is good for our country's children. Young Children, 50, 40-44.

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