The games, lessons and other activities led by child care providers can make the difference between a child who is ready for kindergarten and one who is not. Yet as working parents consider where their child will spend the day — typically assessing a provider’s atmosphere, cleanliness, hours, cost and references — early learning practices are harder to evaluate.
Fortunately, a newly improved resource called ParentAware.org is increasingly taking the guesswork out of finding high-quality child care that contributes to kindergarten readiness. At the website, which features a voluntary “star” rating system, parents can learn which providers have undergone recommended training and are using what state officials call “research-based best practices for school readiness.’’
The site rates Head Start programs, school-based prekindergarten programs and a growing number of in-home providers and child care centers. The Parent Aware program has existed for a handful of years. But its website recently underwent a muscular upgrade that expanded the programs in its database, improved navigation and provided additional information of value to parents. The improvements are noteworthy and deserving of public support.
The upgrade is a joint effort of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota Department of Education, Child Care Aware of Minnesota, the Nerdery and Parent Aware for School Readiness (PASR).
PASR is an “independent, business-led nonprofit” dedicated to school readiness, according to its website. The organization, which donated $200,000 to the site’s upgrades, grew out of the Minnesota business community’s admirable commitment to and energetic funding of early childhood education initiatives.
Parent Aware’s expanded database now includes more than 12,000 programs. Parents can easily identify which child care programs or providers in their area have gone through the star rating program. More than 1,600 providers or early learning centers in Minnesota have done so, though the rating system won’t be fully operational in all Minnesota counties until 2015. (Legislators wisely have provided a financial incentive for the voluntary ratings. Providers with three- or four-star status receive higher rates through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program for low-income families.)
Ads touting the site are airing in the metro. Working parents who care about a quality environment for their children and kindergarten readiness shouldn’t need much of a nudge.
ParentAware.org is a valuable tool to help find quality caregivers willing to give the youngsters they watch a head start on education. It also should start conversations between parents and day care providers who have not gone through the star rating system.
Kids will benefit as more providers embrace best practices for kindergarten readiness. But so will all Minnesotans. The state’s educated workforce has long been a potent economic asset. The improved Parent Aware website will help Minnesota maintain its edge into the future.