5 Criteria for Choosing a Childcare Curriculum

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A well thought out childcare curriculum lays the foundation for a high quality program. The childcare curriculum you implement at your center will serve three equally important purposes. It will:

  1. Guide your planning
  2. Ensure you are meeting the developmental needs of the children in your care
  3. Facilitate engaging interactions and a stimulating environment

What is a curriculum?

The word curriculum is often used in different ways, but for our purposes, we’re working off of the established definitions from Child Care Aware of America and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

A high quality childcare curriculum should contain the following elements:

  • Lessons and activities
  • Materials and equipment
  • Interactions with other children as well as with care providers

As a care provider, you need to fill the day with lessons and activities that are engaging, age-appropriate, and sequenced, and that facilitate progress towards meeting developmental milestones across all domains. Your families are relying on you to provide a safe, nurturing, stimulating environment. This is an incredibly important job, considering the fact that 85% of brain development happens in the first three years of life.

Some providers prefer to build their own curriculum from the wealth of resources to be found on the internet, but some elect to buy something prepackaged to build on. Whichever route you choose, your childcare curriculum should meet a few essential criteria.

Includes core subject areas.

The learning that take place before kindergarten is crucial to creating school readiness. Even for infants, your curriculum should include exposure to these core subject areas.

  • Literacy: Infants will be exposed to books, spoken language, songs, and repetitive rhymes in a print-rich environment. As they get older they work towards learning letters and sounds, and eventually writing.
  • Math. Infants are offered opportunities to interact with different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns to build number awareness, especially through toys and books. Toddlers and older children will begin to understand number sense and be able to categorize.
  • Arts, music, and movement. All age groups benefit from opportunities to experience and explore visual arts, music, dance, and dramatic play.

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Is research-based.

This is what sets a quality childcare program apart. You’ll want a curriculum that aligns with a research-based set of standards, whether this is provided by your state or another organization. Each U.S. state provides early learning frameworks that outline a developmental continuum of desired skills from infancy through kindergarten entry. Most states have both an infant/toddler and preschool framework to align with. Head Start also has a highly respected and utilized learning outcomes framework that aligns with child development research and teacher best practices. If you are purchasing packaged curriculum, be sure to find out how the lessons and materials were developed, and whether they align with an early learning framework.


Includes observations and assessments.

Lessons and activities are only half of the core of your childcare curriculum. As you move through your planned activities, you’ll need to record observations and administer assessments to track progress towards mastering skills. In California, for example, the state has developed a framework called the Desired Results system, more commonly referred to as DRDP, which refers to the assessment piece of the framework, the Desired Results Developmental Profile. A good childcare curriculum provides ample opportunities to closely watch and document development that is directly tied to the day to day happenings at your center.

Allows for flexibility.

A quality curriculum allows for flexibility informed by child progress. Based on your observations and assessments, you will make ongoing adjustments to your daily plans. You can also choose to let relationships with your children drive your planning with an emergent curriculum. You will have best laid plans, but if your children are suddenly excited by something new, you should be flexible enough to shift focus to build on their interest. Planning based on monthly themes is very common in early childhood education settings, but if you also allow for your children’s input, you may see higher levels of engagement and progress.

Incorporates DAP.

DAP stands for developmentally appropriate practices. This concept is rooted in a deep knowledge of child development and builds off of individual relationships with children. Your curriculum should be informed by child development research and incorporate ways to engage in ways that are uniquely appropriate for each age group in each of these domains:

  • Cognitive: problem-solving, thinking, and information processing
  • Language: communicating verbally and nonverbally
  • Social and Emotional: relationship building and awareness and regulation of emotions
  • Movement: large and small gross motor skills

Your childcare program will only be as good as the curriculum that you put it place. Whether you are just getting started or are looking to update your center’s offerings, using these criteria as you plan activities and incorporate resources will ensure you are offering your families the level of quality that they deserve.

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