Well-trained, experienced caregivers and small staff-to-child ratios are two important characteristics of good child care, says child development expert Sandra Scarr in her book, "Mother Care/Other Care." While finding the best arrangement for a particular child will depend on a variety of factors -- including the child's age and the resources available -- Scarr cites the following requisites for good care, adapted from a list compiled by Yale pediatrics professor Sally Provence:
*Good physical care. This includes feeding, diapering, ensuring safety, and wrapping and unwrapping as the temperature demands.
*A supportive physical environment. Child-size furniture and other objects should accommodate the youngster's interests and needs for group play and personal space.
*Responsiveness to individual needs. There should be a rich variety of social and individual activities.
Opportunities for the child to act on his or her environment. For children to feel effective and competent, materials and opportunities should be available for them to hammer, paste, color, sweep, wash, build, mash, throw, kick, mix, stir, dance, strum, skip, button and zip.
An enriching emotional atmosphere. Caregivers should be consistently available, affectionate, patient, good listeners and good talkers who are enthusiastic about the child's achievements.
*A speaking social partner. Babies and children need responsive adults who make conversation with them. Even 1-year-olds learn how to take turns in a communication between two people. They may not have words, but they listen and then respond; they initiate and wait for a partner to respond.
*Experiences with consistency and repetition, variety and contrast. Everyone's world needs comforting consistency and interesting variety. Too much of the former is boring; too much of the latter is fearsome.
*Toys and other playthings appropriate to the developmental levels and interests of children.
*Limits, prohibitions and expectations for conformity. Just as children need opportunities to express themselves, they also need to learn limits on their behaviors that will make them acceptable members of their society. Adults must teach them these social rules, especially those that affect safety and others' rights.