What is programming? When you're shopping for child care, one of the terms you'll hear frequently is that of "programming." Programming is the child care centre's philosophy of how children learn combined with the routines and activities the centre provides to help children gain the skills needed for success in school and in life. There are a number of internationally recognized philosophies and approaches to early years learning, all of which are effective in ensuring that children have the foundational knowledge and skills they'll need for the future. You may heard of some of them: Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, High Scope, etc. Most licensed child care centres combine a variety of these approaches to create play-based learning programs, but you may wish to get better acquainted with some of the most common approaches to early years learning before you start shopping. That way, your choice of provider can take into account what you know to be true about your child's personality, temperament and learning style.

Theme-Based vs. Emergent Curriculum Two other terms you'll come across when shopping for child care are "theme-based curriculum" and "emergent curriculum." When most of us were growing up, our elementary school experiences incorporated a theme-based model. Seasonal and cultural elements were an integral part of the classroom environment and were reflected in various displays and in our activities. In the fall, for instance, the stories we read and the projects we did may have centred around Pilgrims, harvest time and Thanksgiving. Additional learning concepts were introduced in a sequence determined by the teacher, with most lessons planned weeks or months in advance. Emergent curriculum requires that the teachers deliver the key learning concepts based on interests and preferences articulated by the children. If the group articulates a keen interest in cars, for instance, the teacher will design activities that incorporate this interest into the lesson plan. The most frequently cited advantage of this approach is the high level of engagement that results from allowing children to learn about what they're most interested in.

What To Look For

No matter what learning philosophy or curriculum-style is used, there are certain factors that reflect quality programming and activities. The list below will help you know what to look for and what questions to ask. They're intended solely as a starting point for discussion with potential child care providers, always trust your own judgment.

  • When you visit the centre, do the children appear busy and involved in what they're doing?
  • During the day, are there opportunities for the entire group to be engaged in activities, for children to play in smaller groups, and on their own?
  • Are the children involved in wide variety of activities, including such as singing, finger plays, pretend play, outdoor play, blocks, puzzles, games, drawing, painting, crafts and reading?
  • Are there toys and books that would appeal to a wide variety of children's interests?
  • Are there enough toys to prevent disagreements?
  • How often are field trips scheduled?
  • How often are interesting visitors invited to the class?
  • Are you satisfied with the themes or skills reflected in the children's or classroom projects?
  • Does the artwork display the child’s own personal creativity?
  • When setting up for various activities, or cleaning up afterwards are the children involved?
  • How are they being taught important life skills, such as hand washing, taking turns, keeping track of their personal belongings, etc.?
  • Do the staff talk as they do things, describe everything for the children, and frequently read aloud?
  • Do the staff answer the children's questions and take the time to engage each child in conversation about the activities?
  • Are parents provided with an outline of the children's activities? 

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