Choosing Center-Based Care & Preschools
Children who have rich learning environments during their early years are better prepared for school and are more likely to have the social skills needed for kindergarten and beyond.
Look for a place where your child is warmly welcomed, where safety and health are priorities and where learning happens through play. Choose a center or school where children experience words and develop pre-reading skills through books, songs, and meaningful conversations with their caregivers.
Make appointments to visit each place on your list and plan to stay for a while to watch what goes on. An overview of what to look for and questions to ask can be found in Points to Consider During the Decision-Making Process.
The state of Illinois rates all licensed early childhood programs with a quality rating system called ExceleRate Illinois.
Gold, silver and bronze ratings all indicate that a center or a preschool exceeds the basic state licensing requirements. The ratings indicate increasing levels of program quality based on the physical environment, staff education and training, and curriculum and activities for the children. This print edition specifies if a center has been given a gold, silver, or bronze ExceleRate rating as of December 2015.
In order to be licensed, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) requires that child care centers and preschools meet minimum standards of health, safety, and appropriate practices for group care of children. The summary of DCFS licensing standards for homes and centers can be found on the DCFS website, illinois.gov/dcfs. These standards are also available at the Oak Park Public Library. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has developed voluntary measures of quality that show that a center has met higher standards that go beyond state requirements. For more information about NAEYC accreditation and quality standards, visit their website, families.naeyc.org, or call 800-424-2460.
License-Exempt Child Care
Preschools that are part of an existing school system – public, faith-based, or Montessori – as well as government programs, are not required to meet DCFS standards; these centers are noted as “License-exempt” in the Early Childhood Resource Directory.
If You Cannot Afford Child Care
If you cannot afford long-term child care, Action for Children can help, 312-823-1100. This state agency oversees an assistance program for low-income working families. Action for Children will send you the necessary application forms if your family qualifies.