Creating the ideal space for children to learn and grow can be a challenge. Depending on the State in which you reside, the requirements for daycare environments vary.
The Early Childhood Rating Scale (ECERS) and the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale were published by the University of North Carolina and provide a scale of items that are organized into 7 subscales which are:
- Space and Furnishings
- Personal Care Routines
- Program Structure
- Parents and Staff
The ECERS and ITERS also provide an expanded score sheet and work sheet to help childcare organizations and daycare facilities ensure that the appropriate minimum required equipment, space per square foot, ADA accommodations, and curriculum are present. An effective daycare facility will provide learning and sensory experiences in an enriched environment to stimulate young minds and cultivate positive social behaviors. The following guidelines can help achieve that.
Space and Furnishings
1. Indoor space
Children need sufficient space that is well lit and has a comfortable temperature for learning and playing. Indoor space that is well maintained and in good repair sends a message to the young child that is welcoming and inviting.
2. Furniture for routine care, play and learning
Children need appropriate furnishings to meet the demands of their daily schedules. Basic furniture such as cots, tables and chairs should be sturdy and appropriate to the size of the children in the group in order for children to be comfortable, have proper body support, and focus on learning, playing, and routine activities rather than their own discomfort. Caregivers need easy access to routine care furnishings, such as cots, in order to maintain proper supervision and provide smooth transitions between activities.
3. Furnishings for relaxation and comfort
Children need space and opportunity to relax and rest. Soft furnishings and toys allow children opportunities for relaxation and comfort. Cozy areas provide a space for quiet activities to occur and should be protected from active play so children can snuggle, daydream and lounge.
4. Room arrangement
Creative room arrangement promotes a child’s positive self-image and encourages a wide variety of age appropriate activities. Well-defined interest centers where materials are accessible help children to understand about organization and returning materials to their proper place.
5. Space for privacy
Some children experience unacceptably high levels of stress when exposed to constant activity and interaction. Places where children can escape from the pressures of group care promote positive self-esteem. Providing a child with opportunities, space, and time to be alone can contribute to positive classroom behavior.
6. Child related display
Every child needs to know that others value his/her play or work. Artwork or other individual work that is created by the children should be displayed in the classroom at the child’s eye-level. This promotes feelings of positive self-esteem and sends the message to the child that his/her work is valued and appreciated.
7. Gross motor play
Children need daily opportunities to exercise large muscles, run in open spaces, and practice gross motor skills. (Safety is always a number one priority.) Space to develop children’s large muscles through a variety of play experiences should be made safe by providing adequate cushioning for fall zones. All play equipment should be safe and effective monitoring should be implemented to teach children safe play behavior and to safeguard against accidents.
8. Gross motor equipment
Children need age appropriate stationary and portable equipment to promote a wide variety of skills that exercise large muscles while developing confidence and abilities. Equipment should be sound, sturdy, safe and accessible to children daily.
Personal Care Routines
Parents and children need a warm, welcoming, and pleasant atmosphere to make the daily greeting and departing routine a happy one. Positive greetings help to promote the children’s self-esteem and create a welcoming environment for parents.
Meals and snacks that follow USDA guidelines contribute to the health of children and provide a model for good nutritional habits for life-long practice. Proper hand washing, along with careful food preparation, teaches children proper hygiene and promotes sanitary conditions.
Nap and/or rest time should be appropriately scheduled and supervised for the children in the group. Adequate separation of cots helps to prevent the spread of germs. Soft music or a soothing story helps to facilitate a peaceful rest time that is important in helping children to balance the day and renew their energy.
Young children need appropriate supervision of the toileting process in order to care for basic needs and to teach the importance of good health habits. The schedule should be individualized. Provisions, such as soap and steps near the sink, should be convenient and accessible so that children can wash hands after toileting; this promotes self-help skills and good personal hygiene. Diapering should always be managed in a manner that promotes safety and good health practices.
13. Health practices
Practicing preventive measures, such as washing hands after handling pets or wiping noses, help to educate children to achieve life-long health practices. Taking appropriate action when children are sick will minimize the spread of germs.
14. Safety practices
Protecting children is critical in providing quality care, whether through adequate supervision or minimizing hazards both inside and outside. Caregivers should anticipate potential safety problems and demonstrate, model, and teach children safe practices.
15. Books and pictures
The use of books and pictures is an important means of learning for children as they make sense of the world around them. Books, pictures, and language materials should be available in sufficient number both for independent use in a reading center and for use by a teacher with children in formal and informal settings.
16. Encouraging children to communicate
Activities and materials that promote language development should be available for use throughout the classroom and the daily schedule. Teachers should establish an environment where language exploration and usage is encouraged.
17. Using language to develop reasoning skills
Logical relationships and concepts should be presented in appropriate ways. Children learn through interaction with materials and people, both peers and adults, in the context of play and daily routines. Language provides the key tool for success and problem solving, as children are encouraged to talk through their thought processes.
18. Informal use of language
Language is a way for children to expand understanding. Caregivers should engage children in give and take conversations for enjoyment and learning. They should support child-to-child conversations as well.
19. Fine motor
Children need a variety of age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate toys and materials that they can manipulate with their hands and play with at will. These activities strengthen fine motor control while encouraging skill development that contributes to academic readiness.
Children benefit from exposure to child-initiated art activities that are open-ended and process oriented. Children’s art should be respected and appreciated as individual, creative expression. Materials and opportunities to create art projects at a beginning and more advanced level should be available as children are developmentally ready for them.
Music and movement are valuable means of learning. Children need a supportive environment that includes a teacher and a variety of tools to encourage their self-expression through music and related activities.
Block play, with a variety of blocks and accessories, allows children the opportunity to explore spatial, mathematical, and role-play possibilities. Powerful block play requires sufficient space in a protected area and time to expand on concepts and ideas.
Sand and water play gives children the opportunity to learn concepts through active exploration with their senses. The addition of interesting props extends the learning potential offered through sensory play.
24. Dramatic play
Dramatic play gives children the opportunity to discover an array of roles and responsibilities. It provides a vehicle through which they make sense of their world. Dramatic play is enhanced by space, time, props, materials, and supportive teachers.
Science and nature activities and materials foster curiosity and experimentation benefiting the young learner through direct experience and application to other areas of learning. Concept and observation skills are strengthened through science procedures.
Math skills, when introduced through appropriate hands-on methods, form a foundation for school readiness and later academic success. Math skills can be taught effectively through routines, schedule, and play activities.
27. Use of TV, video, and/or computer
TV/video viewing and computer use tend to be passive in comparison to active involvement with materials and people. The use of each should be confined to subject material that is age-appropriate and mentally stimulating. Time limits encourage more active learning. Participation should not be required.
28. Promoting acceptance of diversity
Children need to be exposed to the similarities and differences of people in positive ways through books, pictures, toys, materials, and interaction. This exposure encourages respect for others and lessens misunderstandings.
29. Supervision of gross motor activities
Caregivers should use gross motor activities as learning opportunities to promote positive social interactions and to encourage the development of skills and new experiences Diligent supervision of gross motor activities, whether indoors or outdoors, is critical to preventing accidents and insuring safe, active play.
30. General supervision of children (other than gross motor)
During activities, caregivers must balance the level of supervision and control based upon the ages, abilities, and individual needs of the children. Adequate supervision and awareness of the whole group is required for children’s health and safety and in the recognition of accomplishments, which is necessary for children’s emotional well-being.
The set-up of the environment, teacher expectations, available materials and opportunities, and daily schedule significantly impacts children’s behavior in childcare. A classroom and curriculum geared toward developmentally appropriate practice will lead to generally good behavior that is the product of self-motivation rather than the result of punishment and control.
32. Staff-child interactions
Caregivers, who are nurturing and responsive, promote the development of mutual respect between children and adults. Children, who trust adults to provide for their physical, psychological, and emotional needs, develop their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
33. Interactions among children
Because self-regulation, proper emotional expression, and positive social relationships are such essential skills for later schooling and life, teachers must encourage children to develop acceptable behaviors by providing a setting that encourages real opportunities for initiative taking and competence building. Providing opportunities for children to work and play together, to solve conflicts in productive ways, and to participate in group activities are ways teachers promote positive social relationships.
Children thrive on having a consistent routine that provides a balance of activities designed to meet individual needs and foster physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. Best practice promotes a daily schedule with large amounts of time for play, smooth transitions between activities, and a balance between child-initiated and teacher-directed activities.
35. Free Play
When children are permitted to select materials and companions, and, as far as possible, manage play independently, they practice making decisions and having control of their world. Caregiver intervention should be in response to children’s needs, an invitation, or an opportunity to expand play activities.
36. Group Time
In group-care situations, the focus needs to be on meeting individual needs and guiding children as they interact in small groups. Whole group activities should be kept to a minimum and limited to gatherings that follow the interests and involvement of the children.
37. Provisions for children with disabilities
Meeting the needs of children with disabilities requires knowledge of routine care needs, developmental levels, individual assessments, and the integration of the children in ongoing classroom activities. It also requires the involvement and establishment of a partnership between the parents and staff in setting attainable goals that will assist the child in reaching his/her full potential.
Parents and Staff
38. Provisions for parents
In order for parents to serve as partners in a child care program, they need to be well informed and feel their input is respected. The beginning of a partnership with parents begins prior to enrollment when they are urged to observe in their child’s classroom. The parents should receive a parent handbook including administrative information, the philosophy of the program, approaches practiced, discipline policy, and descriptions of activities. Appropriate parenting information should also be regularly available. Staff should refer parents to other professionals for special parenting help.
Parents should be encouraged to stay in involved in their child’s program through periodic conferences, parent educational meetings, newsletters, and opportunities to serve as parent representative on the board. Parents should also be asked for an evaluation of the program annually. This can be done through parent questionnaires or a group evaluation meeting.
39. Provisions for personal needs of staff
This item evaluates the availability of provisions to meet the personal needs of the adults who work within the child care facility. It is important for the personal needs of staff members to be met, as unmet needs can contribute to poor staff morale and eventually staff turnover.
The provisions to be observed include:
- a separate adult restroom
- an adult lounge furnished with adult sized furniture
- convenient storage for staff’s personal belongings with security provisions if necessary
- facilities provided for the staff to have their own meals or snacks
This item also looks at break times for staff. There should be someone available to cover unscheduled necessary breaks so staff can make phone calls and/or use the restroom. Staff should have the ability to take morning, afternoon, and lunch breaks. If possible, these break times should be flexible to meet the needs of staff.
40. Provisions for professional needs of staff
It is important for staff to have a space in which they can meet with co-workers or discuss confidential issues with parents. This subscale item requires private conference space to be available throughout the day. The space should have adult-sized furniture and be welcoming for the adults who use it. For example, the space should have comfortable furnishings and provisions for refreshments.
41. Staff interaction and cooperation
Staff interactions should be positive and add a feeling of warmth and support to the classroom. An environment of cooperation is developed and modeled for the children when responsibilities are shared and clearly defined. This also insures that both routines and activities are handled smoothly.
Staff should share child-related information daily. For example, they should communicate how routines and play activities are going for specific children. Staff should also have a time when they can get together to plan activities and discuss classroom issues on a weekly basis.
Lastly, the program needs to promote positive interactions among staff members. Some possible ways this can be done is through the organization of social events or by encouraging group attendance at professional meetings
42. Supervision and evaluation of staff
Staff members need to receive appropriate supervision and evaluation to be effective professionals in the classroom. Observations and feedback need to be frequently provided for staff. It is important for the feedback to be given in a helpful and supportive manner.
Written evaluations of performance should be shared with staff at least yearly. Staff should have an active role in evaluations such as completing a self-evaluation. Strengths of staff as well as areas needing improvement need to be identified in the evaluations. Opportunities should be made available to implement the recommendations of the evaluations.
43. Opportunities for professional growth
In order for staff members to continue to grow professionally they need access to different types of resources. This item evaluates the availability of some of these resources. Opportunities for professional growth begin when a new caregiver begins to work in an infant/toddler program. They should receive an orientation that addresses appropriate classroom practices as well as administrative issues. These opportunities should continue with staff meetings that occur at least once per month and monthly in-service training that includes workshops and courses available in the community as well as in-house. Staff should be paid for meeting and planning times.
Further support should be available to staff attending in-service training in the form of release time, travel cost reimbursement, and/or scholarships. Finally, there should be an adequate professional library containing current materials on a wide variety of early childhood topics. These materials should be readily available to staff members so they can continue to learn about and research topics on their own.
Also under this item (in the ITERS only), formal observations of the caregivers are addressed. Observations of caregivers should be completed by the director and occur at least once a year. The information gathered during the observations should be used in planning staff development opportunities.