What are the Different Types of Early Childhood Programs?

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There are a number of options to choose from when considering an early care and education program for your child. Programs can differ in a number of ways, sometimes making your choice confusing. Generally speaking, child care is either home based or center based. Differences that you can find in each of these two categories include setting or place where the care is provided, schedule options, age groups served and educational philosophies. The following information describes many of the options you will find and is intended to help you choose a program that best fits the needs of your child and family.

Home Based Care includes:

Relative Care is provided by a close relative such as a child's grandparent, aunt or uncle either in the home of the relative or child. The State does not regulate this type of home care.
In-home care is provided by a caregiver in the child's home, i.e., a nanny or an au pair. The State does not regulate this type of home care.
Licensed Family Child Care is an individual approved by the Connecticut State Dept. of Public Health to provide care in their own home. Generally, up to six full time children may be cared for, plus three additional school age children.

Center Based Care includes:

Group Home is care licensed by the Connecticut State Dept. of Public Health that provides care for seven to twelve children.
Child Care Center is care licensed by the Connecticut State Dept. of Public Health that provides care for thirteen or more children.


Programs are operated from private homes, schools, religious organizations, community centers and commercial buildings.

Schedule Options:

Weekend and evening hours

Age Groups Served:

Some programs accept children as young as six weeks old through twelve years old. Others may choose to offer care to a more limited age range, for example three and four year olds only, or school-age children only. Whatever ages are being served, the program's license should indicate State approval to serve those ages.

Common terms that typically refer to programs for three and four year old children include:

Head Start
Nursery School
School Readiness

Specialized Philosophies:

A program may use one or a combination of early childhood learning philosophies to guide the care and education they offer. Examples include:

High Scope
Reggio Emili

An important word about QUALITY ...One of the biggest differences you will find between options is in the quality of care and education the program offers. The term a program uses to describe itself does not indicate its level of quality. For example, a "preschool" is not necessarily more educational than a "child care center" or two separate "nursery schools" may not offer programs of the same quality. Because programs have the option of choosing whether they will call themselves a child care center, preschool or nursery school etc., every program you visit must be evaluated on an individual basis. Choosing a program for your child is a very personal decision. There is no "right' or "best" type of care. Quality matters most. Please call us for more information on determining program quality.

Additional information on early care and education is available by calling 2-1-1 Child Care Infoline.
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