Understanding Quality Early Care & Education

At Early Learning Shelby County, we are strong believers in the ability of our children and their families to succeed.  We believe high-quality early childhood care and education programs pave the way for that success.  Research shows that high quality early childhood, preschool, and school-age programs prepare children for future success in school, work, and life. Children’s experiences play a significant role in the way their brains develop, and the way a child’s brain develops plays a significant role in the future success of the child. High quality early care and education programs are essential not only to Shelby County children, but also to their families and to the neighborhoods in which they live.

Paths to QUALITY™: Indiana’s Quality Rating System

States across the nation are using Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) to improve the quality of child care, preschool, and school-age programs.  In Indiana, providers participate in Paths to QUALITY™, a rating system for early child care and education programs. Families can look for the Paths to QUALITY™ sign or decal to determine what quality level (1-4) a provider has achieved. Each level builds on the previous one, resulting in higher quality at each stage:

  • Level 1: Meets the health and safety needs of children

  • Level 2: Provides an environment that supports children’s development and learning

  • Level 3: Uses a planned curriculum to guide child development and prepare children for kindergarten

  • Level 4: Has achieved the highest indicator of quality, national accreditation


A high-quality program is defined as a Level 3 or Level 4 on the Paths to QUALITY™ scale. To see a list of all rated programs in Shelby County by Paths to QUALITY™ Level, click here to start your search.  

How to Recognize High-Quality Programs

Early Learning Shelby County will work to connect families to quality care environments, and to update helps professionals improve the quality of their program through professional development opportunities, one-on-one coaching relationships, and other free resources.  Using developmentally appropriate practice, high-quality programs provide a foundation for school readiness. At each age, early childhood educators provide: 

  • Supportive Relationships between children, teachers, and families

  • Safety, Health, and Nutrition are reinforced throughout the facility and among staff and children

  • Dedicated Staff and Teachers with early childhood certifications and degrees that engage with children individually to enhance learning

  • Curriculum with age-appropriate experiences to support learning and skills through exploration, experimentation, and play

  • Ongoing Assessments of the progress that children make in all areas of development, including cognitive skills, language, reading, social-emotional, and physical

  • Family Engagement that encourages participation in the program and opportunities to reinforce learning at home



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