Child Care Quality from the Children's Perspective

A Hypothetical Account and Research Review
Lyda Beardsley
Trio Foundation


This monograph represents an attempt to consider the growing body of research on childcare quality in a new light. Over the past decade, early childhood educators and researchers have begun to identify a number of characteristics that most would argue are essential in providing quality out-of-home care for young children. Some researchers have focused on the relative salience of a particular aspect of care as an indicator of quality; important factors include adult-child ratio, group size, or caregiver training. Usually, the quality of adult-child social or verbal behavior is the measure examined. Others have investigated the effects of overall childcare quality on specific outcomes for the children enrolled—for example, on language or social development.

Regardless of whether quality was measured as a dependent or an independent variable, no study or review of research has yet been able to describe the conjoined or cumulative effects of specific quality indicators on the overall character of the child's experience in childcare. It is one thing to say that a particular practice, or set of practices, has a certain effect on children's attitudes or behaviors; it is quite another to imagine ourselves as witnesses to the child's felt or understood experience of those practices.

This monograph seeks to examine the current quality issues in childcare from a child's point of view. I introduce a group of fictional preschool-age children and contrast their experiences throughout a hypothetical day in each of two very different child care situations. I describe how the children's childcare experiences vary as a function of different quality indicators. Events described in the narrative are explained in italicized sections that provide detailed interpretations of the issues illustrated. These annotations also include references to relevant research in each area discussed.

Although the characters and incidents described here are purely fictional, they are based on real observations and experiences accumulated across my more than fifteen years as a teacher, director, parent, educational consultant, and teacher trainer in a variety of early childhood programs in California. I have taken a sampling of real events, those which I believe exemplify conditions in poor and good quality child care, and condensed them into what I believe represents a fairly typical day in each kind of program.

As a doctoral student in early development and education, I have become increasingly distressed by how infrequently educational practices are informed or affected by the growing body of research in child development and early education. With this monograph, I have synthesized my accumulation of information from the field with those research findings that I believe are vitally relevant to the recognition and promotion of quality early childhood programs.

This monograph does not by any means represent an exhaustive account of all childcare situations or conditions. Most notably, I have chosen to focus only on preschoolers in childcare centers. Although many similarities exist, significant differences between center­-based preschool care and both infant-toddler care and family day care demand separate analyses that are not attempted here.

I have also chosen to characterize California programs that adhere to at least the minimal childcare licensing regulations imposed by this state. I do this in order to illuminate some of the potentially disastrous outcomes for children that can occur even when a childcare center is in compliance with all required health and safety standards. (Most state-subsidized programs, which represent approximately 11 percent of all licensed care in California, must adhere to far more stringent regulations.) Neither do I attempt to address here the multitude of even more serious issues that surround unlicensed care (unlicensed family day care and license-exempt care), which many experts estimate may still be the predominant form of childcare in California, as well as in other states.

Finally, neither of the hypothetical programs I present can begin to exemplify the myriad possible combinations of quality factors discussed; there are much better programs than I have invented here—and, most unfortunately, many far worse.

Suggested citationBeardsley, L. (1989, April.) Child care quality from the children's perspective: A hypothetical account and research review [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.