Linking Investments in Quality Child Care to Kindergarten Readiness

A child’s most rapid brain development will occur between birth and age 3. The quality of that early brain development is dependent on a child having access to safe, supportive and stimulating early environments (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). For many children in Shelby County, particularly children growing up in disadvantaged households, many of their waking hours in early childhood are spent in child care outside the home. Currently about 19,200 children in Shelby County are in Department of Human Services (DHS) supported care, approximately 5,000 are in public pre-K and around 3,300 children are in Early Head Start and Head Start (DHS, 2008; Memphis City Schools, 2009; Shelby County Schools, 2009; Warr, 2009; CUCP estimate based on CLASP, 2006). Given that reality, it follows that the quality and stability of child care situations will have a large influence on the early brain development and later kindergarten readiness of at-risk children in Memphis.

When we talk about quality in early childcare, what do we mean? Traditionally, there have been various structural aspects of child care, such as teacher/child ratios, furnishings and physical space that have been our main metrics of quality in child care. While these aspects of quality are certainly important to protecting children's health and safety, they do not fully address the issue of helping prepare children for kindergarten and school success. The Infant/Toddler Rating Scales (ITERS-R) used by DHS to observe infant/toddler child care providers do provide guidelines about how caregivers should use language and interact with children (Harms et al, 2006). However, the guidelines are not very specific or directive in terms of helping providers understand children's developmental needs at various points over their first 36 months of life. The Department of Human Services is unique for being the only state DHS in the nation to conduct ITERS-R evaluations of all child care providers on a yearly basis (CLASP, 2006).

According to the National Education Goals Panel, kindergarten readiness includes dimensions of cognition, language skills and usage, gross and fine motor skills, social-emotional development, and interest in learning (Children Now, May 2009). Recent research on improving children’s kindergarten readiness skills indicates that language usage and cognition are two of the most important metrics for improving children’s kindergarten readiness, as demonstrated on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Willms, n.d; St. Pierre et al, 2003). However, it is often precisely in dimensions of fostering language growth and cognition that child care for at-risk children is often lacking (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998, p. 147, Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995, as referenced in St. Pierre et al, 2003).

According to the Child Care Development Fund Plan of fiscal year 2009-2010, all publicly supported child care services in Tennessee, including public pre-K, Head Start, Early Head Start and DHS child care providers are required to learn and utilize the Tennessee Early Learning Developmental Standards (TN-ELDS) as of this fiscal year to tailor their child services to providing developmentally appropriate services (DHS, 2009). All three state agencies involved in creating the guidelines (DHS, the Department of Education and the Department of Health) have worked together to create a training program for providers to learn them and structure their services around them. They contain significantly more guidance for providers about the skills and abilities they need to foster in children from birth forward on all dimensions recognized in promoting kindergarten readiness. Currently 10 different national level curriculums for early child care, including Perry High Scope, have created crosswalks from their curricular models to TN-ELDS. In the next fiscal year, usage of the TN-ELDS will also be incorporated into the Quality Rating System assessments that DHS conducts on all providers in its Star Rating System. We would like to applaud the Department of Human Services, the Department of Education and the Department of Health for collaborating on creating the TN-ELDS and in so doing, striving to make a systematic improvement in the quality of child care available to at-risk children in Shelby County and Tennessee. They also have plans to collaborate with UT Knoxville on a study to determine if their investments in provider education and training opportunities improves children’s kindergarten readiness (DHS, 2009). We eagerly await the findings of their study.


Bredekamp, S. & T. Rosegrant (1995). Reaching potentials through national standards: Panacea or pipe dream. In S. Bredekamp & T. Rosegrant (eds.), Reaching potentials: Transforming early childhood curriculum and assessment (pp.5-14). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Center for Law and Social Policy (2006). Tennessee Child Care Evaluation and Report Card Program, Star Quality Child Care Program.

Center for Law and Social Policy (2006). Head Start by the Numbers. Retrieved from:

Children Now (May 2009). Kindergarten Readiness Data: Improving Children’s Success in School. Retrieved from:

Harms, Thelma, Debby Cryer & Richard M. Clifford (2006). Infant/Toddler Rating Scale – Revised Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Memphis City Schools (2009). Data on Pre-K Classrooms obtained from system school websites by CUCP:

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004). Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships. Working Paper No. 1. Retrieved from:

Shelby County Schools (2009). Data on Pre-K Classrooms obtained from system school websites by CUCP:

Snow, C.E., M.S. Burns & P. Griffin (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

St. Pierre, Robert, Anne Ricciuti, Fumiyo Tao, Cindy Creps, Janet Swartz, Wang Lee, Amanda Parsad, and Tracy Rimdzius (2003). Third National Even Start Evaluation: Program Impacts and Implications for Improvement. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from:

Tennessee Department of Human Services (October 2008). Subsidized Child Care Fiscal Year 2009. Obtained directly from DHS by CUCP in October 2008.

Tennessee Department of Human Services (2009). State Child Care Development Fund Plan 2009-2010. Retrieved from: Also available directly from Gail Crawford, Director of Infant/Toddler Services for DHS.

Warr, Mike (2009). Private communication between Katie Devlin, CUCP and Mike Warr, director of Porter Leath.

Willms, Doug (n.d.). “Wait to Fail”: Presentation of Dr. Doug Willms. Canadian Education Association. Retrieved from: