A guide for parents in Canada

Factors that set the stage for quality

Research studies have looked at key factors that contribute to quality in early childhood programs. These include regulation, training in early childhood education, wages and working conditions, staff-child ratios and group size, educational elements and auspice (who owns the program).


Meeting the regulations is an important basis for quality but is considered to be a minimum in all provinces/territories.

High quality centres…

  • Will have their own policies and procedures addressing the key factors of quality. For example, good quality centres will have a clear philosophy and /or pedagogical approach and specific program plans.
  • Go above and beyond minimum standards. For example, they may increase the number of staff, hire staff with more early childhood training than the minimum required, provide professional development, ensure adequate wages and/or benefits to staff, and provide especially nutritious food.
  • May incorporate elements into the program that are not required. For example, a high quality program will encourage community involvement, include children with special needs, incorporate toys and materials from diverse cultural backgrounds, spend a good deal of time exploring outdoor environments in active play or offer a developmentally appropriate music or arts program.

Regulation has an impact on quality, although it does not guarantee quality. Regulation ensures—at minimum—public oversight and that certain requirements are in place.

Generally, American research shows the more stringent the requirements, the higher the quality—and vice versa. This makes sense—a province that requires a college diploma in early childhood education for 2/3 of staff will likely have more staff with this credential than one that requires only one staff in a centre to have a diploma.

Regulation does not necessarily ensure all basic health and safety (for example, supervision, hygiene, food quality and food handling). That’s because –as the research shows—other characteristics such as staff training in early childhood education, ratios, and auspice (who owns the program) also make a contribution to determining the elements of basic health and safety in regulated settings.

Training in early childhood education

Staff training in early childhood education is one of the most important predictors of quality in child care. Research shows that there is a strong relationship between high quality and staff with postsecondary training in early childhood education (college or university).

Training is so important that UNICEF has a minimum benchmark that says almost all of the people (at least 80%) “working regularly with young children, including home-based caregivers” should have at least initial early childhood training before they begin to provide early childhood education and care.

Wages and working conditions

It stands to reason that higher wages and good working conditions attract and retain better educated staff, promote higher morale, and result in lower turnover—all factors at the heart of high-quality child care. At least one study show that the wages of early childhood education staff is the best single predictor of quality.

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Staff-child ratios and group size

Small group sizes and high staff-child ratios also contribute to higher quality in child care; the age group determines what is considered an “adequate” size and ratio.

Provincial/territorial regulations in Canada specify ratios that—based on the research—are generally considered to be adequate, although some provinces/territories do not regulate group size, which also has an impact.

There is also evidence that ratios and training are interrelated—having lots of staff with no post-secondary early childhood training is no substitute for having well-trained educators.

Educational elements

A high-quality child care program has a solid pedagogical approach and curriculum framework. Look for a program with:

  • A clear, descriptive educational philosophy
  • A short general outline setting out how the variety of goals for children will be achieved

In a high-quality program, staff have the knowledge to create the program to fit the specific situation within the overarching philosophy, goals and approach. An “off the shelf”, pre-packaged early childhood curriculum does not usually have this type of flexibility.


Who owns the child care program (auspice) may be an important indicator of quality. Research shows that public and non-profit child care is significantly more likely to be better quality than for-profit child care, even when public funding is the same.

This doesn’t mean all non-profit child care programs are high quality and those set up as businesses are all poor quality. But research shows that auspice has a clear link with factors such as wages, working conditions, training, staff turnover, staff morale, staff/child ratios and group size. This means auspice plays a key role in determining whether program quality will be higher or lower.