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Special Tax Credits More Widely Available to Child Care Programs and Teachers

In 2016, Nebraska became just the second state (after Louisiana paved the way) to create tax credits for early childhood education programs and teachers.

“I’ve traveled all over the country to conferences and have visited with experts in the early childhood education field from all over, and I can tell you we are fortunate in Nebraska to have such broad support for early childhood education in our state,” said First Five Nebraska Deputy Director and Public Policy Manager Elizabeth Lopez Everett. First Five Nebraska is an advocacy organization focused on changing public policy by changing the public conversation about the importance of quality early childhood education.

Making the Law More Inclusive

School Readiness Tax Credits give Nebraska child care and preschool programs incentives based on their Step Up to Quality rating, and give teachers personal tax credits based on their education levels, training and experience. The tax credits are determined based on different levels. For individuals, this means anywhere from $532 to $1,597 that can be credited back on state taxes, depending on the amount of points achieved.

“It’s hard to deliver quality child care services while making ends meet,” Elizabeth said. “The revised tax credits are intended to make that a little easier for providers.”When LB 889, the School Readiness Tax Credit Act, became law and was implemented in 2017, it was found that the bill was written in a way that unintentionally excluded some child care providers, most commonly certain kinds of family home child care business owners. Nebraska’s tax code is complex, and the bill didn’t account for a specific classification of businesses. In its first year of being implemented, just $500,000 of these tax credits were used out of a $5 million cap.

First Five Nebraska and other early childhood education advocacy groups recognized this oversight and got to work to make the law more inclusive. They collaborated with the Nebraska Department of Revenue to make the wording align with the tax code, and partnered with State Senator Brett Lindstrom to introduce a “clean up bill” to make it law.

Three days before the legislature adjourned in August, LB 266 was passed, which clarifies the language of the School Readiness Tax Credit Act and makes it possible for all programs and providers to benefit, as long as they meet the basic requirements, which are now completely in their control.

Start Your CDA Today

Unfortunately, the tax credit it not permanent. Qualifying providers can apply the tax credit to their upcoming 2020 and 2021 tax returns, after which the program expires. The more providers who use the credit, the more likely policy leaders will be to extend the program in the future – so now is the time to take advantage of it.

For early childhood education programs, this means enrolling in Step Up to Quality. Individuals must work for a Step Up to Quality-rated program to qualify for this tax credit.

In addition, individuals must have earned a degree or certification in early childhood development. The base requirement is the Child Development Associate (more commonly referred to as the CDA).

Jill Garrett, Early Childhood Program Director at Kids Can in Omaha, encourages all of her full-time staff members to earn their CDA – and all nine have achieved that goal.

“Obtaining a CDA boosts confidence in care givers,” she said. “It’s achievable and tangible to most educators that are dedicated to making a positive difference in children’s lives.”

Jill said most of her team members have been able to earn the certification in less than a year, making it possible to earn the tax credit quickly, too, because Kids Can is a Step 5 program. She said the tax credit has been meaningful to her entire team, especially during the difficult times related to the pandemic.

“It’s a wonderful recognition of the job they do that often goes unappreciated,” she said. “Child care workers are essential workers. The tax credit shows their work is valued.”



Meet the Step Up to Quality Team: Jenny Fleming

The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers moving through the process – and they can also connect providers with other early childhood education resources. As a part of the State of Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, the Step Up to Quality team works closely with their colleagues within the government and with partner agencies across the state.

To help providers get to know the people behind Step Up to Quality better, we’re featuring each of the team members and their role. Let’s get to know Quality Specialist Jenny Fleming a little better!

Generations of Learning & Educating

Teaching might very well be in Jenny Fleming’s blood. Her aunts were teachers, her sister is a teacher, her daughter is on the cusp of becoming one, and Jenny herself taught for many years.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and she’s spent her entire career in various roles in the field, including as a program director.

“I love all ages, but I am always drawn to the baby room. I love seeing how fast they grow and how much they change,” she said. “When I retire, I want to go rock babies.”

Even at that baby stage, she experienced the strong bonds that can develop between the caregiver and the child.

“It reaffirmed to me how important those early years are,” she said. “And no matter your role in early childhood education, you have an impact.”

Acute Observations

Jenny joined the Step Up to Quality team in May 2016. She knew about Step Up to Quality because she had participated in a pilot for it as a director of a center, and was eager to contribute to improving the quality of care children receive on a bigger scale.

“The investments we make now and the emotional support we provide early on in children’s lives, we see pay off when they’re grown adults,” she said. “That strong social emotional support system is so important.”

As the Quality Specialist on the Step Up to Quality team, Jenny’s role is mainly centered around the observations, which start at Step 3. She coordinates a team of about 10 early childhood education professionals who are experts in the observation tools and who are contracted to conduct observations at programs who want to continue learning more about improving the quality of their care.

Step Up to Quality uses three versions of Environment Rating Scales (ERS), and three versions of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). Those versions exist to address the differences in various age groups and type of providers being rated, so not all tools are used for every program. Each of the observers have specialized expertise in a certain tool, so Jenny works to match the provider with the most appropriate observer.

Continuous Improvement

Something that not everyone realizes is that the observers must continuously verify their knowledge of the tools. On every tenth observation, or once a year, an “anchor” accompanies the observer, to make sure the observer’s and the anchor’s scores are aligned.

“We want to make sure the data is as accurate as possible, and that the observers are using the tools to fidelity,” Jenny said.

Providers are matched with an observer once they submit the Rating Readiness Tool after they reach Step 2. Once the form is filled out, Jenny contacts the provider to schedule the observation within three months of the form’s submission.

Jenny knows that providers may be nervous about the idea of someone coming into their space.

“I hear the hesitancy in their voice sometimes,” she said. “I understand that they can be nervous and overwhelmed, but I want them to know this is their opportunity to shine and to show off.”

Above all, she wants providers to know that it’s not about the resulting score.

“Step Up to Quality is about progress. It’s about making these practices second-nature. It’s about growth and support. No matter where you are on the path, there’s always room for improvements,” she said. “And, our whole team has the utmost respect for the work they do. We’re here cheering them on.”



What is a QRIS?

Step Up to Quality is Nebraska’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).

Back in early 2013, when the Nebraska Legislature introduced LB507, the Step Up to Quality Act, not every state had a QRIS. Now, nearly every state does.

QRIS History

The QRIS framework was developed in the 1990s as a way for states to reward accredited providers with higher subsidy reimbursement rates. Because of the large difference between state licensing and national accreditation standards, few providers chose to pursue accreditation. States saw the need for steps that lead to accreditation to help providers bridge the gap, so they developed the QRIS model.

QRIS Basics

All QRIS programs assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education settings. They offer a formalized way to:

  • Increase the amount of high-quality early childhood education programs
  • Provide ongoing professional development opportunities to providers
  • Educate parents on the importance of high-quality care

Nebraska’s QRIS program is inclusive of child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start programs and school-based preschool programs. These providers are awarded quality ratings for meeting a defined set of program standards.

But there are some differences among the QRIS programs. Not every state’s program operates in the same way nor are they all organized through the state’s government, like Nebraska’s. Some larger states, like Florida, have regional systems.

Some QRIS programs are mandatory, some are voluntary, and some have requirements that programs accepting public funding are required to participate (this is true of Step Up to Quality).

The programs across the country have different names, but many of them have “quality” included, like Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY or Idaho’s Steps to Quality.

QRIS Effectiveness

QRIS programs are relatively new to early childhood education, but studies have been ongoing about their success in achieving outcomes. Research about North Carolina’s QRIS program, the second-oldest in the nation, was encouraging about the effectiveness of rating systems – the results offered evidence that they do spur improvements among programs and adequately educate parents about the importance of high-quality early childhood education.

While each QRIS program is unique to its state, all are united by the importance of high quality early childhood education. QRIS programs can be a critical component to continuous improvement for providers.

Step Up to Quality is proud to offer our state a strong support system to improve the care our youngest Nebraskans receive.



Meet the Step Up to Quality Team: Lynne Cook

The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers going through the five Steps – and they can also connect providers with other early childhood education resources. As a part of the State of Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, the Step Up to Quality team works closely with their colleagues within the government, and with partner agencies across the state.

To help providers get to know the people behind Step Up to Quality better, we’re featuring each of the team members and their role. This time we’re highlighting Lynne Cook!

A Teacher at Heart

Lynne Cook always knew she wanted to be a teacher, even as a child.

After spending her entire career in a variety of early childhood education roles, she landed at Step Up to Quality nearly five years ago as the Coach Specialist. While the coaches support the teachers, she supports the coaches.

“I love teaching and I am drawn to it knowing how many lives you can enhance over the years,” she said. “But knowing how many hundreds and thousands of lives we impact across the entire state, makes it very rewarding to be on the Step Up to Quality team.”

Providers have the opportunity to be matched with a coach once they complete the coach interest questionnaire, after they complete Step 2 in the process. While having a coach is optional, Lynne shared it’s one of the most important benefits of the program.

 

“Our entire Step Up to Quality team, from our staff to the coaches, is here to support the providers,” she said. “We understand that they have an incredible responsibility and a huge role to play in children’s lives, and we want to encourage them on their journey.”

Step Up to Quality contracts with 20 experienced early childhood education professionals from around Nebraska to serve as coaches. The group has grown from 12 coaches in 2016 when Lynne started, illustrating the growth Step Up to Quality has experienced. The coaches meet regularly for professional development training, program updates and camaraderie.

“Every six weeks, it’s like a college reunion,” Lynne said. “We’re always excited to see each other. They are truly the best of the best.”

Currently, 143 programs are assigned to coaches. Once Step 2 is achieved it’s time to complete the coach questionnaire, and a common misconception is that this is a form to fill out, but in fact it’s a phone call with Lynne. It’s perhaps her most favorite part of her job.

 

“I ask them about what they are looking for out of the process, what they love about their job, what their journey has been so far,” she said. “I love hearing their stories and it always makes my heart so happy to hear from these providers who have the best intentions for the children they serve.”

Instilling a Lifelong Love of Learning

When Lynne thinks about how important early childhood education teachers are, and how necessary quality care is at early ages, a little boy named Andrew always comes to mind.

Lynne was a preschool teacher in Kansas when Andrew was assigned to her classroom. He came with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and a stack of paperwork about his special needs. Lynne was nervous.

“The first two weeks were rough,” she said. “He had challenging behaviors. He would bolt out of the classroom, he would toss chairs, he would scream. I had to remind myself what my job was: to instill a love of learning.”

Through some trial and error, and a lot of patience, she and Andrew began to understand each other.

“He learned to trust me, and I learned how to bring out the best in him,” Lynne said.

Andrew’s sweet personality began to shine. At the end of the school year, Lynne remembers Andrew’s mom in tears, telling Lynne that Andrew only hugged three people in his life: his parents, and Ms. Lynne.

“I wrote a letter to his kindergarten teacher, sharing strategies for how to teach him and what his likes and dislikes were,” Lynne said. “I wanted to set him up for success.”

Lynne lost touch with Andrew – both families were in the military and moved often. But she’s hopeful he grew to love learning.

“Their little brains absorb everything at that age,” she said. “It’s prime time for learning and it’s up to the early childhood professionals to make the most of this opportunity.”

 



Step 2: Training

Even Olympic-level athletes train.

New technologies are always sprouting up, new techniques are always being discovered and new records are always being broken. The pursuit for excellence never ends – which means it’s more about the journey than the end result.

The same applies to Step Up to Quality.

“We want all providers to know we celebrate every Step they achieve. Every task they complete throughout the process means they are deepening their commitment to quality care for the children they serve, and that’s our ultimate goal,” said Program Coordinator Morgan Krull.

In this second of a three-part series, we’re outlining each part of the Step Up to Quality path. Here’s all about Step 2!

Take Your Time

If you are continually inspired by learning new things and often seek out development opportunities, you’re going to love Step 2.

Step 2 is all about training – and lots of it. The important thing to remember about Step 2, and about the whole Step Up to Quality process, is that it’s self paced. It’s not a race, so don’t feel pressure to get through these training sessions in a hurry.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of our training is being offered through distance learning. In-person training is resuming in parts of the state in August and can be found on the NECPRS Training Calendar. If you have any questions about distance learning, please reach out to your regional Early Learning Connection Coordinator for more information.

 

The Steps Within Step 2

Beyond training, you’ll be required to finish a few more tasks to complete Step 2. Please note that if you’ve already taken one or more of these training courses, you won’t need to repeat them, but you’ll need to verify completion through the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS).

Here’s the breakdown of Step 2:

      1. Complete the required training sessions:
        1. Safe with You Series (4 hours)
        2. Early Learning Guidelines Domain Series (42 hours)
        3. For child care centers or preschool programs with a license capacity of 13 or more children, select the Management Training Program (45 hours)
        4. For family child care homes and preschool programs with a license capacity of 12 or fewer children, select the Getting Down to Business program (20 hours)
      1. Complete Go NAP SACC (Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care) orientation and pre self-assessment — this involves watching a video and completing a form that covers five areas: nutrition, physical activity, outdoor play, screen time, breastfeeding and infant feeding.
      2. Complete the coach interest questionnaire — as you near the end of Step 2, if you’d like to have a professional coach help you through Steps 3-5, we’ll happily work with you to find a coach who fits your needs. While optional, we think this is one of the best benefits for providers on the entire Step Up to Quality journey, so we hope you’ll take advantage of this free support! You can request this questionnaire by contacting our office.

 

Step 2, Check!

You did it! You’ve reached Step 2 when you’ve finished all the training outlined above, completed your Go NAP SACC training and self-assessment and applied in NECPRS. The coaching questionnaire is optional, but we think our professional coaches help providers stay motivated on their Step Up to Quality path.

Now that you’ve reached Step 2, you’ll start receiving financial incentives and other benefits, too. Congratulations!



Meet the Step Up to Quality Team: Morgan Krull

The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers going through the five Steps – and they can also connect providers with other early childhood education resources. As a part of the State of Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, the Step Up to Quality team works closely with their colleagues within the government, and with partner agencies across the state.

To help providers get to know the people behind Step Up to Quality better, we’re featuring each of the team members and their role. First up is Morgan Krull!

Friendly Greeter

As the person who processes the applications for Step 1, Program Coordinator Morgan Krull is often the first person child care providers connect with from the Step Up to Quality team.

Her role encompasses a lot more, though. She also handles the documentation for Step 2, as well as the Rating Readiness Tools for Steps 3-5. She manages the incentive bonuses and sends out reports when ratings are finalized.

“I communicate with programs to let them know what to expect throughout the rating process,” she said.

Morgan said she spends a lot of her day responding to emails – but she appreciates being that central place for questions. And a lot of times those emails make her day.

“I love it when I’ve been communicating with providers, and they email me when they’ve accomplished a goal. I want them to know we’re cheering them on every step of the way,” she said.

Knowledgeable Navigator

While Morgan’s background isn’t in early childhood education, she sees herself more as a  resource on the technical side of the process versus the programming side of the process. If she can’t answer a question, she knows who to ask.

“Each of us on the team has our areas of expertise, and we all come together to focus on our main goal, which is to help our providers continuously improve the quality of their care,” she said.

She has become more passionate about the importance of high quality early childhood education, and appreciates how the Step Up to Quality team believes in “learning through play” for themselves, too.

“We have a lot of fun together,” she said.

Cheerful Encourager

Morgan wants every child care provider to know that the entire Step Up to Quality team celebrates every step in the process, starting with the first.

“When programs start their journey with Step Up to Quality, we celebrate that,” she said. “And if their goal is to reach Step 2, that’s great! We will cheer them on as far as they want to go.”

Seeing the growth and impact the Step Up to Quality program has had on young children in Nebraska has been rewarding to her, she said.

“Early childhood education is such an important area, and I love that I get to be a part of that,” Morgan said.

She remembers her own teachers as being an influential part of her life. Morgan was an only child who was able to be with family during her first few years. When she first attended child care, she wasn’t used to being around lots of other children.

“I remember how the teachers took me under their wing. They made me feel welcome and comfortable in a new setting,” she said. “They showed me a lot of kindness and I remember that so many years later.”

Morgan said her teachers instilled a lifelong love of learning and showed her that learning can be fun. To this day, Morgan is an avid reader and loves learning new things.

“Knowing that your teachers care about you is important,” she said. “In those early years, your brain is wide open and you carry those interactions with you for the rest of your life.”



How to Talk to Young Children About Race

Research has proven again and again: the first five years of a person’s life are the most formative.

The first several years of life build a base for future health and life success, including how to relate to the rest of the world. It’s up to the adults in a child’s life as to whether that foundation is strong or unsteady.

This is the period where our brain develops the most. It’s when our personalities start to emerge; it’s when we learn how to learn. It’s when we begin to cultivate empathy, compassion, respect and other emotional intelligence traits that are important later in life.

Which is why it’s never too early to start teaching young children – even babies – about the world around them. This includes talking to them about race.

Talking to Babies About Race

While infants are born without bias, they do notice skin color, and racial bias has been shown in babies as young as six months old. Experts say one of the best things adults can do is expose babies to a variety of people, situations, environments and cultures.

In other words, normalize diversity.

If you live in a homogenous area, be intentional about the media you and your child consume. Do the shows you watch, the books you read, the music you listen to, the news you pay attention to, the art you display, the food you eat, the people you follow on social media, etc. represent a variety of voices, perspectives and ethnicities?

Another way to introduce babies to people who look different from you is to travel. This may mean to a different neighborhood or another country or anything in between. Think about the places you go and the faces you see every day. If they all look the same, your baby might think the only color of skin in the world is the one in the mirror.

Talking to Toddlers About Race

Toddlers are naturally curious about the world – so let your child know it’s OK to ask questions. It’s OK to notice skin color and race. In fact, these conversations should be encouraged, and, even more so, it’s important to convey that differences are good, interesting and fun to learn about.

Children this age are also little mimics, so it’s especially important to role model your words and behaviors for them.

One way to start a conversation about race is to begin with your own. Talk about your culture(s) and what makes your family special. Start a self-love journey with your child and emphasize that all people have similar stories about their own families.

Talking to Preschoolers About Race

Preschoolers tend to create sets of rules and connect ideas to begin to make sense of the world, and sometimes these rules and ideas are incorrect. Watch for statements that link race with value judgements and gently ask questions to correct them, like “Why do you think that?” or “What makes you say that?” You can talk about stereotypes and come up with examples with your child to prove they aren’t true.

Talking about race isn’t a one-time event. Look for teachable moments in everyday life and be prepared to not have all the answers. It’s OK to pause conversations to find more information. It’s also important to teach humility and teach-ability – learning about people (including ourselves) is a lifelong pursuit. Being open-minded is crucial to growth at all ages.

 



Step by Step…You’ll Get There!

They say the hardest step for a runner isn’t the last one of a marathon, as you might imagine. It’s actually the first one out their front door.

Gathering the gumption and courage to take action and do more than just dip your toe into something is universally hard.

At Step Up to Quality, we’re here to help. Once you have reached your goal and experienced your first rating, you may look back and wonder why you didn’t take the leap sooner. The process is definitely hard work, but it’s completely achievable, and the journey itself is more than worth the effort.

We’re examining each step to help make Step Up to Quality less overwhelming. In this first of a three-part series, we’re outlining Step 1.

First Things First: Orientation

The great news is that you can complete all the things required for Step 1 online.

We recommend going through the orientation first. Just like your first day at a new job, orientation will help you get acquainted with the Step Up to Quality program. We’ll go over the history of the program, the goals of the program and all five steps. And we’ll introduce you to the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Records System (which is the next part of completing the requirements for Step 1).

Orientation is offered free online. Please refer to these instructions if you have any difficulties while registering.

Part 2: Officially Enroll

After you’ve completed our orientation, it’s time to officially enter your program’s information into our system. The Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System — NECPRS for short — tracks your progress in Step Up to Quality, and, even better, it keeps the professional development milestones of your staff organized in one place. Directors can now use NECPRS to share relevant training opportunities with staff, add training certificates to staff records and invite employees to sign up.

The first part of the online application process is entering your program information. After your program has been set up, each staff member completes their own record in the system. Staff members just have to have an email address; it takes each person about 10 minutes to complete the process. If your staff members are pursuing a career in early childhood education in Nebraska, this record keeping system is invaluable.

Step 1, Check!    

That’s it! You’ve reached Step 1 when you’ve completed orientation and entered your program’s information into our online system. It’s really that simple, and now you’re on your way to receiving financial incentives (after Step 2) and other great benefits of being a part of the Step Up to Quality family.

 

 



What Happens When a Program Reaches Step 5?

The Step Up to Quality process consists of five steps. Once programs have made it to the fifth step, they’re rated every five years to maintain that level.

But first, celebrations are definitely in order.

“It’s a big accomplishment!” said Lynne Cook, the coaching specialist at Step Up to Quality.

Lifelong Learning

They’re not just kicking back and relaxing at that point, though.

“Just because you’re at a Step 5 doesn’t mean the learning ends,” Lynne said.

For programs at a Step 5, and even at any point, it’s time to keep on top of what it means to be a high quality early childhood educator.

“Step Up to Quality is all about continuous quality improvement,” she said.

This could mean achieving the Child Development Associate credential, attending a training seminar or even listening to a new podcast.

Quality Tips

Jen Nelson, who operates a family child care program out of her home, was one of the first providers to reach a Step 5 in Nebraska. Jen has also gone back to school to earn her degree, and loves taking advantage of development programs and conferences.

“What’s next?” she asked Lynne.

Lynne had some tips for Jen – view their conversation below and share on your social media feeds!



A New Emphasis on Quality Child Care

With many parents working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with many child care providers temporarily closing or reducing the number of children they care for during that time, we are seeing a new level of appreciation for high quality care.

Grateful Parents

Parents have always appreciated their child care providers – after all, these teachers are taking care of a mom and dad’s whole world. Most parents previously recognized how important early education is on a surface level. However, now many families are articulating and demonstrating a greater understanding of how difficult it is to be a good teacher. It’s a deeper and more compassionate level of respect for their kids’ teachers.

Celebrity singer-songwriter John Legend, father to two-year-old Miles and four-year-old Luna with his model-cookbook author wife Chrissy Teigen, expressed his appreciation for educators on The Late Late Show with James Corden.

“You gain a new respect for what preschool teachers do for five, six hours a day,” he said. “They find ways to keep them active and stimulated and we’re struggling.”

It takes skill, training and discipline to provide an environment conducive to learning and growth, and to provide the empathy, attention and energy young children deserve. The effort is worth it – high quality early childhood education has been proven to catalyze achievement in reading and math later in childhood, among many other benefits.

Focused Providers

The pandemic, while a difficult time for all child care providers, has been an opportunity to renew their commitment to high quality care and to evaluate each aspect of the child’s experience while in their care.

With new guidelines from the state of Nebraska and from the CDC, implementing new procedures is a given. But for providers enrolled in Step Up to Quality, improving processes is a common task and state of mind.

One of our Step Up to Quality providers, Angie Lange, described the mentality as this in her blog:  “We often talk about how we want to raise the bar on child care, because we believe that our kiddos deserve the best.”

For quality-focused child care providers, they’ll do anything necessary to make sure the children in their care are given the environment to be safe, to grow and to succeed. Because succeeding is a never-ending journey…but square one has to be a solid foundation in order to accomplish all the goals and achievements each child is capable of.

High quality early childhood education closes opportunity gaps that are in place because of poverty, trauma, and all the unfortunate circumstances that stem from those, like poor nutrition, lack of sleep and less time spent reading, for example.

By giving each child the opportunity to succeed, we are setting in motion a generation of intelligent, compassionate, kind, energetic, happy, hardworking Nebraskans. High quality child care is where it starts.



5 Tips on How to Find High Quality Child Care From a Distance

A common piece of advice when parents are searching for child care is to “trust your gut” when meeting with the director or owner, and touring the facility.

But what can parents rely on when they can’t tour a facility in person?

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way a lot of things are done, and searching for child care is no exception. The good news is that parents can find high quality child care without going on a tour. It’s not ideal, but families have been in this circumstance before. For example, families who are moving to a new town, members of the military who are stationed away from their children and people who are immunocompromised all have had to choose child care providers without meeting in person.

Here are five tips on finding high quality child care, even when you’re unable to take a tour:

    1. Start with Step Up to Quality. Your first step in finding high quality child care providers in Nebraska should be referencing Step Up to Quality’s list of providers who are enrolled in the program. This list can help you narrow down your choices – programs that are participating in Step Up to Quality are going above and beyond normal licensing requirements to continuously improve the quality of their care.
    2. Ask your network. Check with friends, co-workers, neighbors, family members and even your pediatrician to see if they have any recommendations. Search on social media, including ones like the Nextdoor app, to see if people have referrals. Google and Yelp reviews can also sometimes help.
    3. Take a virtual tour. Most people have smartphones with video capabilities, so ask potential child care providers to take you on a live video tour of their facility. Whether it’s by FaceTime or Google Meet or Zoom or any number of free video conferencing tools, a live view of a child care’s rooms and surroundings is important to see. Don’t be afraid to “direct” the tour by asking to see specific corners of a room or areas like the director’s office or their kitchen.
    4. Check your priorities. Make a list of “must-haves” and “nice to haves” and take notes about the different child care providers you are considering.
    5. Consider relationships. How accommodating is the child care director to your questions and your needs? Do they seem flexible and eager to work with you? Developing a relationship with the director or owner is important right off the bat, and can be a key factor in deciding what provider to choose.

While searching for a child care provider from a distance can involve a few extra steps, with careful consideration and using the resources available to you, your child can end up in a place where they’ll grow and thrive.



What is it Like to Go Through the Step Up to Quality Process?

When you ask people for advice, the most valuable insights often come from peers who are in the same situation as you.

Sometimes that extra empathy and a “I really get it” mentality helps to provide additional clarity and wisdom. Others who might not have walked in those shoes don’t have the benefit of those lived experiences.

Child care providers who are thinking about participating in the Step Up to Quality program are encouraged to talk to other providers who are in the process or who have reached Step 5.

A Challenging but Attainable Goal

Even though the benefits of going through all five steps are many, it’s not an easy process. It’s time consuming, but more than worth it in the end.

As any provider in the process will attest, it’s a self-paced program and Step 5 is attainable by anyone who sets their mind to it. Going through each step in the process is a great goal for those providers looking to continuously improve the quality of their care. It’s easy to get started: interested providers can enroll on Step Up to Quality’s website and the orientation is all online.

Insider’s Point of View

Becki is a director of a busy, established child care center in Omaha. She’s been thinking about enrolling in Step Up to Quality, and asked Suzanne, who was a director of a preschool in Lincoln at the time, about the process. Suzanne now works for an early childhood advocacy group.

“I’ll be honest, it’s hard. But I would do it all over again because we are a better program for it,” Suzanne said.

See more of Becki and Suzanne’s conversation below, and please share on your social media channels when you’re done!



Gratitude Ideas for Provider Appreciation Day

It takes a village to raise a child: parents, families, teachers and child care providers all contribute to shaping the next generation.

With more than 75 percent of both parents in Nebraska homes working outside the home, children sometimes spend more of their waking hours with child care providers and teachers than with parents and family — meaning it’s important to find quality care to nurture their development. Children who receive quality early child care and education are more likely to be on track for life-long success, and those who are committed to establishing this essential foundation deserve recognition.

Child care providers are often with our children through the highs and lows, the good days and challenging days. Friday, May 8 is National Provider Appreciation Day, and it’s a great time to recognize those who go above and beyond to help educate Nebraska’s kids.

Gratitude Goes a Long Way

When asked on Step Up to Quality’s Facebook page about some of the most memorable ways families have said “thanks” over the years, many child care professionals had something to contribute. Here’s a selection:

  • “I recently had a parent send a handwritten Christmas card, noting very specific things that she appreciated I had done to help her child. That is a card I will keep. It made me want to cry.” —Lindsay Ferguson
  • “I often think the biggest gift is not necessarily something of monetary value. When seeing kids later in life, and they stop to talk or share hugs, or when I receive an invite to their graduation or even weddings, speaks volumes about how they feel about me.” —Melloney Tenopir
  • “I had a family buy me a tree last year. When their child and I would go for walks, we would see this beautiful tree with purple flowers on it. We would talk about the colors, flowers, smell and how I loved that tree. On our last week together, they brought me my own purple flowering tree. Every time I look out my front door I think of little Henry!” —Angie Kaup

Other Gratitude Ideas

A small act of kindness can mean the world to our providers. Here are a few more gift ideas:

  • Classroom materials and supplies
  • Gift cards (coffee shop, nail salon, restaurants, garden center)
  • Delivery of lunch or coffee
  • Relaxing items like candles, lotions or bath bombs
  • Framed pictures
  • Art made by your child

There are so many ways to show appreciation for the work that goes into educating kids. Emotional burnout is real in all fields, but especially in early childhood education. It is important that we uplift our child care teachers every day, and we encourage you to use this holiday as a special reminder of your thanks.



Why is Play Important for Kids?

Kids naturally love to play, and parents often love to join in on the fun, too.

But is there more to play than what meets the eye?

Awesome Adventures

Jene and her husband love to take their toddler on little adventures and they love to spend time with him and play. But like a lot of parents, Jene wants to make sure their son is developing and learning.

“Why is play so important for early childhood development?” she asked.

Jenny, a program quality specialist with Step Up to Quality, offered her expertise.

“Play is an important part of a child’s early development – they learn to communicate, they develop their motor skills, and they learn problem solving, along with many other benefits,” she said.

Silliness at School (and at Home)

Play should also be a big part of a child’s day at school, too. Kids should have a lot of room to run around, and they should be given time to interact with their classmates and choose activities that most appeal to them.

When looking for a child care provider or preschool, make sure the children have time in their schedule for independent play, and make sure there’s space for them to move, be active – and be silly!

Even at home, play should be encouraged.

Use Step Up to Quality as a Resource

Child care providers who are enrolled in Step Up to Quality place an importance on play. These providers are going above and beyond normal licensing requirements to ensure the care they offer is truly high quality – and that includes scheduling play every day.

Step Up to Quality maintains a list of providers who are enrolled in its process on its website. When searching for child care, check Step Up to Quality’s list of enrolled providers.

No matter where providers are at in the Step Up to Quality process, parents can have more peace of mind knowing that those providers are prioritizing the quality of their care, and prioritizing play.

View (and share!) Jene and Jenny’s conversation in the video below:



We Want to See Those First Steps!

That first step.

It’s a milestone moment. It signifies a whole new chapter, a new way of living. It’s hard to overstate what a big deal it is — you may not even realize it in the moment.

We could be talking about any first step — the first training run for a marathon, the first application completed for college, the first audition for a play. Or even the first action parents take when looking for child care.

The person or people who will care for your child while you’re at work is one of the most important decisions you’ll make, so that first step when researching is equally important, too.

The first step parents should make when looking for high-quality child care in Nebraska is referencing Step Up to Quality’s list of enrolled providers. Parents can rest assured that these child care providers are all committed to quality, no matter if they are at Step One or Step Five in the process. (Even child care providers have that important first step to make when pursuing a higher level of care!)

A Baby’s First Step

But back to a baby’s first step. It’s one of childhood’s most revered moments, and even though it happens at different ages, it’s something parents have in common.

Usually parents can sense that first step is about to happen. Babies get a little more confident while they’re cruising along furniture, and they probably will try and fall a few times before they take that true first step on their own. Because there’s usually a build-up before that first step happens, and especially now when video cameras are within arm’s reach at all times on a smartphone, lots of first steps are being captured and shared on social media.

We want to see your baby’s first steps! There’s nothing we love more than seeing babies develop, and there’s nothing quite like that first step. Can you imagine what that must feel like for a baby who is used to leaning on things, to be independent for that first time? You can see the pride and joy in their eyes. Or the surprise after falling. Either way, it’s magical and we can’t wait to celebrate your baby’s achievement.

Share your videos by using the hashtag #FirstStepUptoQuality, and we’ll share them on our channels. It doesn’t matter if your baby just learned to walk, or just learned to drive, we love those first steps no matter how long ago they happened. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for these first step videos, plus more great content on parenting and child care!