Checklist to Start Your Own Early Learning Program
Are you motivated to help young children achieve their potential? Are you disappointed in the early childhood learning options in your neighborhood? Starting a preschool or child care business might be just what you, your family and your community need.
Before starting any business, you need to determine if it is right for you both personally and professionally. Here are a few items to think about.
1. Assess Your Readiness
If you are thinking about starting a preschool or child care center, you should:
- Be passionate about helping young children and their families.
- Be comfortable being your own boss, with the skills and mindset to make your small business succeed
- Have the right education and training or are willing to learn the skills or hire people who have. You will need those qualifications at least on your staff to meet the licensing requirements for preschool and child care providers in your state.
Is there an opportunity? Does your community lack quality preschool and child care programs that prepare them for kindergarten and beyond? Here’s a data source on the number of kids in your area.
Childcare Aware is another great resource for information on starting a preschool or child care center.
2. A Needs Assessment & Business Plan
Once you assess your readiness and are confident in your decision to start a child care or preschool program, conduct a needs assessment for your area. Not only will the answers to the following questions help you make sure you’re planning for success, but they will also help you prepare a business plan.
- How many families with young children live in your area? How many of them need child care?
- Who else is providing child care in your area? Is there a need for child care for a specific age group?
- What is the market rate for child care in your area?
- How much will it cost you to operate a program on an ongoing basis? What do you need to charge to have a profitable program?
- How will you attract parents?
- What will make your preschool or child care program stand out from the rest?
Excellent sources for data to help you answer these questions include your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency, the U.S. Census Bureau and the school census from your local school district, and the Kids Count Data Center.
Use all of this research to build a business plan. Writing a business plan isn’t easy, but it’s a critical step in making sure your business starts on the right foot. From planning for startup costs and advertising to detailing how you will pay for licensing fees and salaries to developing policies and procedures, plan the launch of your business.
The Small Business Association offers excellent resources for starting a business and writing your business plan, including how to start a quality child care business.
3. Develop and Prepare Your Facility
When you are starting a preschool or child care business, you could expand or renovate an existing facility, open a small home-based program, or find a new site. Whichever option you choose, evaluate the site and neighborhood, verify with your city’s zoning laws and preschool licensing guidelines that your location is compliant, and check your state standards to learn how much space you will need based on the number of children you plan to accept.
Depending on type and size of your preschool or daycare and the state it is located in, you’ll need a different type (or types) of insurance. This will include general liability insurance, property insurance, professional liability insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance. Contact an insurance agency or your state insurance commissioner’s office for more information.
Now the fun part.
Transform your center into a place that is safe, clean, comfortable and inviting to parents and children. Purchase child-size tables and chairs, nap mats, art materials, educational toys and games, books, outdoor play equipment, and other furniture and educational supplies for your preschool or child care business. Don’t forget safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and locked medicine cabinets.
4. Prepare a Curriculum
Your business plan should include a mission statement that will guide your curriculum and program philosophy.
Whether you adopt an existing pedagogy or create your own written framework, provide a learning environment that starts children down a road toward academic success and enhances their skills and knowledge.
There is a growing debate about whether the end goal of preschool should be so-called pre-academics or whether the focus should be learner dispositions. Right now, most parents think they want the former, but actually, once they hear about the value of play-based curriculum and learner dispositions many change their minds.
You also have a choice of joining a group or learning philosophy, such as Reggio Emilia. There is a lot of interest in creating outdoor environments with controlled risk-taking and other self managing ideas.
5. Staff Your Center
A preschool or early childhood learning center is only as good as its teachers. Therefore, you should be sure to hire the right personnel. Identify how many staff members you will need. It will depend on your state’s ratio requirements, the ages of the children and your approach. Seek staff who share your program’s philosophy and goals.
Consider hiring staff who surpass the minimum qualifications or are willing to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid and other basic safety and health training and earn the Child Development Associate credential awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition. Verify your teachers’ educational backgrounds and references, and conduct criminal background checks and fingerprinting.
In addition to hiring teachers, you might also consider hiring staff to help with everything from administration and housekeeping to cooking and transportation.
6. Select Tools and Services
There are many resources to help you when starting a preschool and run it successfully. You may need an electronic billing system and you will probably need a learning documentation and parent engagement software like Educa.
If you are not using Learning Stories, this is a time to consider them. Learning Stories are authentic assessment, documentation that engages families and makes it personal for teachers.
Educa offers software for early learning services that helps parents and teachers come together to expand and grow learning. Teachers save time by documenting learning and then sharing with parents in one click.
7. Get Quality Rating or Accreditation
Check out the QRIS (Quality Rating Improvement Systems) movement in your state, here’s a listing by state. It’s a relatively new movement, but getting a rating will help you overcome your newness. By earning a QRIS rating, you will get listed in the State register and it brings credibility. In most cases, it’s a two to three year process, but once you get started, most states will list your preschool. And parents will give you credit for being in the QRIS program.
Once you have a well-prepared and thought-out curriculum, you could seek accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The 10 NAEYC Early Learning Standards and Criteria include relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment of child progress, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment, and leadership and management.
Only one in 10 preschools in the U.S. are accredited. It’s not an easy undertaking. However, accreditation will help show parents you are committed to providing a stellar program.
8. Market Your Program
Now it’s time to let families know about your program. Prepare marketing materials that detail your curriculum and philosophy as well as your background, and your fees and hours.
From there, develop a dynamic online presence. This is a vital step. It lets families know who you are and what is special about your business. One place to consider is Yelp. You can get a free listing, categorized by child care or preschool. Another must is a Facebook page. From there you can think about Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
It could also be useful, although time-consuming, to start a blog on your website. You can use it to communicate your values. And you can educate parents on the theory behind your philosophy.
Promote your preschool or child care program at schools, libraries, grocery stores, pediatrician offices, and community events. Make sure that your program is registered with the local Child Care Resource & Referral agency. Host a grand opening event to attract families and seek applicants.
Other Helpful Resources When Starting A Preschool or Child Care Center
First Children’s Finance Child Care Business Resource Center
Childcare Aware providers guide for people wanting to start a child care center or preschool