How to Identify a High Quality Program

Choosing a High Quality Early Childhood Program

Choosing an early care and education program is one of the most important decisions a family can make. At QUALITYstarsNY, we know that finding quality care can be a time-consuming, complicated, and sometimes difficult process. Follow our guide to find the best possible program for your child.

 Use QUALITYstarsNY’s resources to search for local early childhood program options

Explore your early childhood program options

Start your search for an early care and education program as far in advance as possible. No matter what type of care you are considering—a center or someone else’s home—finding the right option can take some time. Programs also might have waiting lists. To get started and help inform your search, learn more about the types of options for your child available to families in New York State.

Types of early childhood programs

Search QUALITYstarsNY’s interactive map of participating early childhood programs

Start by searching QUALITYstarsNY’s interactive map of participating programs. You can locate programs in your area using the city and zip code filters. You can also search by program setting–center-based, Head Start/Early Head Start, school-based (pre-k), or family child care—as well as the age groups the program currently serves to find the program that fits your family’s needs.

Find a program in your area

Contact programs and schedule visits

Once you’ve found a prospective program, contact them to learn more and make an appointment to visit. Visiting a program is the best way to judge if it will be a good fit for your child and family. If possible, you may want to visit at least three programs before making a decision.

Things to keep in mind for your visit

  • Visit during regular business hours when children are present
  • Plan to stay at least an hour
  • If possible, have your child come with you to see how they respond to the program staff and environment
  • Bring materials to take notes and have the QUALITYstarsNY Child Care Checklist and Guide on hand to remind yourself of questions you want to ask and things you want to observe.

QUALITYstarsNY Quality Care Checklist and Guide

It can be difficult to remember what to look for and ask about on your program visits. Arrive prepared with QUALITYstarsNY’s Quality Care Checklist and Guide. Keep these questions and considerations in mind when speaking with a provider, visiting a site, and reviewing your options.

Things to consider and questions you can ask before visiting a program


  • What hours is the program open?
  • Are the hours of attendance flexible?
  • What dates is the program closed for holidays or staff trainings?
  • What happens if I’m running late?


  • What is the fee for the program?
  • When is the payment due and are there any late fees?
  • Are meals and snacks included in the fee?
  • Are there field trips or additional costs?
  • Is the fee charged when my child is not there?
  • What payment options are accepted? (credit card, check, Venmo, etc.)
  • Are subsidy payments accepted, if applicable?


  • Is the program near home or work?
  • How will I get my child to the program?

Considerations for children with special needs

  • What are the guidelines and procedures for involving children with special needs?
  • Are activities based upon a child’s level of functioning and development?

Additional consideration

  • Is the program licensed or regulated?
  • Is there a spot available for my child? If not, is there a waiting list?
  • Do I need to bring diapers, extra clothes or other supplies?
  • Does the program have access to medical, behavioral and other specialists?
  • What is the program’s policy on illness?
  • How will the child be introduced to the adults and other children?
  • Does the program accept children who are not yet walking or toilet-trained?
  • What languages are spoken?

Questions to ask about quality when visiting a program

  • What is your mission or educational philosophy?
  • What education, experience and ongoing training does your staff have in working with children?
  • Will the same people be taking care of my child each day?
  • How will my child spend his/her day? What is a typical day like?
  • How will I hear about my child’s day and what my child is learning?
  • Are there ways for me to volunteer or participate in the program? Are families encouraged to make suggestions about the program, activities and meals?
  • How does the program help children and families transition into, within, and out of the program?
  • How many children are in each classroom or home? What is the staff to child ratio?
  • What is your plan in case of health or safety emergencies?

Things to look for during your visit

Health & Safety

  • Equipment, toys and furniture are in good condition and regularly cleaned and sanitized
  • Electrical outlets are covered
  • Emergency route and emergency numbers are posted.
  • The doors are locked and visitors are required to sign in
  • Outdoor space has safe surfaces, secure boundaries, and has both sun and shade

Daily Activities

  • Nutritious meals and snacks are served
  • There are planned activities as well as opportunities for children to choose their own activities
  • TV or screen time is minimal; No TV time for children under age 2
  • Activities are varied and include both indoor and outdoor play
  • A daily schedule is posted using pictures and visuals so that children can understand what will happen next

Learning Environment

  • The space is warm and inviting
  • Children seem happy and engaged with staff and other children
  • There are plenty of developmentally-appropriate materials that are easily accessible by the children
  • Different cultures and traditions are seen and represented in materials around the learning environment

Teacher/Children Interactions

  • There is shared respect between teachers and children
  • Teachers are at children’s eye level when talking with them
  • Staff smile, listen to, talk with and enjoy interacting with children
  • Teachers listen closely to each child and use responsive language
  • Children are asked open-ended questions and not just given directions
  • Staff respond compassionately to children who are upset.
  • Materials to request from the program/provider to help you review your options
  • Parent/Family handbook
  • Program brochure
  • Parent-family/provider agreement
  • Contact information of a current parent(s) in the program or a short meeting so you can ask about their experience with the program and how they like it

Compare your options and choose a program

You’ve done the research, spoken with providers, and visited programs—now it’s time to weigh your options and select a program. Review your notes, checklists, and materials you gathered from the programs. Think about what you observed and how you felt at each visit. Use this information to help compare options so you can make the best choice for your child and family.

Trust Your Instincts

One of the most important things you can do when interviewing programs is to pay attention to your instincts. Our instincts often tell us things that we cannot define or put into words.

Ask Yourself:

  • What is your reaction to a place or provider?
  • Do you feel comfortable around the people you met?
  • Will my child enjoy coming here?

Staying involved with your child’s program

Selecting a program that will best support the needs of your child and family is an important step to celebrate. Early childhood care and education is an investment in your child’s well-being, development, and future.

As much as possible, it helps to stay connected with your child’s teachers to monitor your child’s development and evaluate the quality of the services your program is providing to your child and family. Every parent wants the best possible care and education for their child, however, many families juggle busy schedules and may not have time to stay involved regularly in their child’s early childhood program. High quality early childhood programs will find ways to keep you informed about your child’s day-to-day activities and development as it fits with your schedule. We encourage you to discuss your needs with your child’s program so they can create a plan for how to communicate with you and keep you involved and informed while your child is enrolled.

Learn more about how to stay involved

Already have an early childhood program?

If your child is already enrolled in an early childhood program, encourage them to participate in QUALITYstarsNY! By joining QUALITYstarsNY, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your child’s program has access to a range of resources and expert guidance, at no cost to the program, to implement high quality practices that will have a life-long impact on your young learner.