“Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.” Working with children teaches us that we are never too old to learn new things. How do we know if the care and experiences that we provide for children are high quality? What guidelines do we use to determine if we need to improve our learning centers or add variety to a child’s day? Is it the brightly colored walls and toys or the hands-on craft projects that the children take home each day? Is it the way the teachers interact with the children or the cleanliness of the facility? All of these things are very important, but what else do we need?
I have been around children most of my life, with four grown children of my own and doing in-home child care while my own children were little. I have also taken every possible class I could on child development. I felt confident that I had a basic knowledge of what children need to be happy and healthy. I became a director of a preschool and an after school program twenty years ago. During that time, I became involved in QRS (Quality Rating System) and Environmental Rating Scale (ERS) classes. These helped me ensure the preschool classroom had all the necessary supplies to provide quality experiences for children.
When I became the director of the facility where I am at now, I realized that I had six individual rooms to furnish instead of one large room. I also had six different age groups of children. In addition, I have thirty-two staff that need to be on the same page when it comes to what our philosophy of care is in this building. When it came to purchasing supplies and setting up the rooms, the ERS training and help from my CCR&R consultants were very valuable.
ERS evaluates the surroundings where children learn and play. The evaluations give us ideas to improve the learning environment. The scales evaluate the following areas:
Each area rates your environment on a scale from one to seven. A rating of one is inadequate and a rating of seven is excellent. The evaluation shows where your program can increase its level of quality. It also gives you suggestions to get to the next level of care. You rate and evaluate all areas of your program.
Debby Cryer, Thelma Harms and Cathy Riley wrote the “All about the ECERS-R” guide. It states, “Many things will affect the care and education that teachers provide for the children in early childhood programs. The cultural preferences or other beliefs of the adults involved, the curriculum approach used, the physical conditions of a building, finances or staffing issues are some examples of variables that affect what a program is able to provide in terms of scores on the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale - Revised Edition. Because of these variables, it is unlikely that programs will do well on all the requirements of the scale. Instead, programs will have both strengths and weaknesses in their scores, which give program staff an opportunity to consider where change is needed and to determine how to create desired improvement.” With thirty-two staff interacting throughout our building with various age groups of children, we needed a guideline to direct our path to the care that we would provide.
ERS shows us what additional supplies, tools or interactions we need in the classroom for the children to engage in high learning experiences. The ratings are not meant to be a negative judgement, but instead a tool to improve the quality of your program. Outside elements such as staffing or room supplies change periodically. It is important to perform these rating scales on your rooms at least once or twice a year, just to maintain routine for the children in your care.
I have been the director of the center for the last seven years. The most important thing that I have come to realize is that no matter what knowledge and experience I have, it means nothing unless I can pass it on to the staff that works directly in those rooms. I soon realized how valuable the ERS training would be to each one of the teachers in our building.
The teachers in the infant through two year old rooms took the Infant/Toddler Environmental Rating Scale (ITERS) classes first. The teachers in the three and four year old rooms will take the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) classes this fall. CCR&R worked closely with us and were able to provide these trainings at our facility. We invited area home providers and other area center staff to attend. Our staff was able to take these valuable trainings locally, instead of traveling long distances. You can visit the CCR&R website about ERS here.
One of my favorite sayings that I have posted in each of our rooms at the center is, “The difference between Quality and Mediocre in Early Childhood Education is Attitude. Mediocre childhood learning centers think they are great and do not need to change. Quality childhood learning centers know they are good, but they realize there is no top to the mountain. They constantly strive to achieve greatness.” With the knowledge that we have received from these ERS trainings, our teachers now have the tools that they need to evaluate their rooms and surroundings too, and we can work together to provide the necessary changes that may need to take place. Because we care for kids so much, we will NEVER stop learning!