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Frequently Used Terms in Preschool and Daycare Programs

Frequently Used Terms in Preschool and Daycare Programs

The world of Early Childhood Education can be a confusing one, and many organizations in Philadelphia go by terms and acronyms that parents may not always know the meaning of. Below we have compiled a list of common terms and acronyms parents should know when looking for a provider for their child. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is always growing, so check back or email us with suggestions.


Accessibility: In the child care field, the term refers to the availability of child care when and where a family needs it.

Accreditation: A process through which child care programs voluntarily meet specific standards to receive endorsement from a professional agency. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC) are among the organizations that offer accreditation programs for child care.

Adult-Child Ratio: A ratio of the qualified caregivers to children in a child care program.

Affordability: In the child care field, the term refers to the degree to which the price of child care is a feasible family expense. High-quality care may be available but it may not be affordable for a family with a low or moderate income.

After-School Child Care: Programs for school-age children that occur after the school day ends.

Attachment: A psychological bond between adult and child. It is believed that secure bonding leads to psychological well-being and resistance to ordinary as well as extreme stress experienced throughout a lifetime.

Best Practices: A term used to denote the ways of delivering services that have been found through research or experience as the “best” ways to achieve desired outcomes.

Block Grant: A mechanism for consolidating and streamlining federal funding streams, giving more authority to states and communities for the design, delivery, and oversight of services.

CCIS: Child Care Information Services: CCIS is a cohort of organizations funded by the state to implement Pennsylvania’s child care subsidy system.

CCDF Plan: A plan developed by the designated CCDF child care agency in each state, territory, or Tribe. The plan serves as a guide for the administration of child care services and quality activities under CCDF. States must promote public involvement in the plan development/review process and submit the plan to the federal Department of Health and Human Services for review and approval every two years.

CLF: Comprehensive Literacy Framework: CLF is the School District’s approach to teaching pre-literacy and literacy skills.

CLI: Children’s Literacy Initiative: CLI is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with teachers (Pre-K to 3rd grade) to transform instruction so that children can become powerful readers, writers and thinkers.

Capacity: The total number of children that may be in child care at any one time in a particular program.

Center-Based Child Care: Programs that are licensed or otherwise authorized to provide child care services in a non-residential setting.

Certification: The process by which an individual or institution attests to or is shown to have met a prescribed standard or set of standards.

Child Care Bureau: See Office of Child Care.

Child Care Provider: An institution or individual who provides child care services.

Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R): Local and statewide services including (1) guidance and referrals for parents seeking child care; (2) the collection of information about the local supply of child care; and, (3) provider training and support. Some CCR&R agencies also administer child care subsidies.

Child Care Subsidy: Public or private financial assistance intended to lower the cost of care for families.

Child Care Tax Credit: The federal or a state program that reduces the tax liability for families with employment-related child care expenses.

Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)

Federally funded grant authorized by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, P.L.104-193, to assist low-income families, families receiving temporary public assistance, and those transitioning from public assistance to obtain child care so they can work or attend training /education.

Child Development: The process by which a child acquires skills in the areas of social, emotional, intellectual, speech and language, and physical development, including fine and gross motor skills. Developmental stages refer to the expected, sequential order of acquiring skills that children typically go through. For example, most children crawl before they walk, or use their fingers to feed themselves before they use utensils.

Child Development Associate Credential: A credential earned by an early childhood educator who has demonstrated his or her skills in working with young children and their families by successfully completing an established credentialing process. The CDA credentialing process is administered by the Council of Early Childhood Professional Recognition.

Child Protective Services: An official public agency, usually a unit of the public county social services agency, responsible for receiving and investigating reports of suspected abuse or neglect of children and for ensuring that services are provided to children and families to prevent abuse and neglect.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): A state-administered program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides federal subsidies for meals for income-qualifying participants in licensed non-residential child care centers and licensed or license-exempt family or group child care homes.

Co-Payment: A specific fixed amount for a subsidized service that is the recipient’s responsibility to pay.

Comprehensive Services: An array of services that meet the needs of and promote the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of the children and families enrolled in the program.

Continuity of Care: Provision of care to children by consistent caregivers in consistent locations throughout the day and/or year to ensure a stable and nurturing environment.

DHS: Pennsylvania Department of Human Services: DHS oversees several state grant programs for child care including the CCIS and Pennsylvania’s child care subsidy program. DHS does this work in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Education through OCDEL (see acronyms below).

Developmental Assessment: Measurement of a child’s cognitive, language, knowledge and psychomotor skills in order to evaluate development in comparison to children of the same chronological age.

Developmental Domains: Term used to describe areas of a child’s development, including: “gross motor development” (large muscle movement and control); “fine motor development” (hand and finger skills, and hand-eye coordination); speech and language/communication; the child’s relationship to toys and other objects, to people and to the larger world around them; and the child’s emotions and feeling states, coping behavior and self-help skills.

Developmental Milestone: A memorable accomplishment on the part of a baby or young child; for example, rolling over, sitting up without support, crawling, pointing to get an adult’s attention, or walking.

Developmentally Appropriate: A way of describing practices that are adapted to match the age, characteristics and developmental progress of a specific age group of children.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice: A concept of classroom practice that reflects knowledge of child development and an understanding of the unique personality, learning style, and family background of each child. These practices are defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Drop-in Child Care: A child care program that children attend on an unscheduled basis.

ELECT: Education Leading to Employment and Career Training: ELECT is a program specifically targeted for pregnant and parenting teens in district high and middle schools.

EFI: ELECT Fatherhood Initiative: EFI is a program for teen fathers.

Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS): A research-based assessment instrument to ascertain the quality of early care and education programs. The scale is designed for classrooms of children ages 2 1/2- 5 years. It is used to assess general classroom environment as well as programmatic and interpersonal features that directly affect children and adults in the early childhood setting.

Early Head Start: A program established under the 1994 Head Start Reauthorization Act to serve low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers. This program is family centered and community based and designed to enhance children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development. Early Head Start supports parents in fulfilling their parental roles and helps them move toward economic independence. Participation in this program is determined based on referrals by local entities, such as Head Start programs, to Early Head Start program centers. Programs offer the following core services: (1) High quality early education in and out of the home; (2) family support services, home visits and parent education; (3) comprehensive health and mental health services, including services for pregnant and post-partum women; (4) nutrition; (5) child care, and, (6) ongoing support for parents through case management and peer support. Programs have a broad range of flexibility in how they provide their services.

Early Intervention: A range of services designed to enhance the development of children with disabilities or at risk of developmental delay. Early intervention services under public supervision generally must be given by qualified personnel and require the development of an individualized family service plan.

Earned Income Tax Credit: The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduces the income tax liabilities of low- to moderate-income working families (with annual incomes of up to about $32,000) and provides a wage supplement to some families. One important feature of the federal EITC is that it is refundable, meaning that a family receives, as a cash payment, any amount of the credit that exceeds its tax liability. By definition, only families with earnings are eligible for the EITC.

Even Start: The U.S. Department of Education’s Even Start Family Literacy Program provides parents with instruction in a variety of literacy skills and assists them in promoting their children’s educational development. Its projects must provide participating families with an integrated program of early childhood education, adult basic education, and parenting education.

Extended Day Program: A term that refers to programs for school-age children and provides supervision, academic enrichment, and recreation for children of working parents after school hours end.

FDCRS – Family Day Care Rating Scale: A research-based rating scale of 40 items used to assess the quality of a family child care environment. The scale is divided into 7 categories: space/furnishings, basic care, language/reasoning, learning activities, social development, adult needs, and supplemental items.

First Up/NAEYC: First Up (Formerly Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children) & National Association for the Education of Young Children

NAEYC, and its local chapter First Up, is a professional association for organizations and individuals who work with young children.

Family Assessment: A systematic process of learning from family members their ideas about a child’s development and the family’s strengths, priorities, and concerns as they relate to the child’s development.

Family Child Care: Child care provided for a group of children in a home setting. Most states have regulatory guidelines for family child care homes if they serve a number of children or families over a specified threshold or it they operate more than a specified number of hours each month.

Family Literacy: Literacy for all family members. Family literacy programs frequently combine adult literacy, preschool/school-age education, and parenting education.

Free Play: An unhurried time for children to choose their own play activities, with a minimum of adult direction. Providers may observe, intervene, or join the play, as needed. Free play may be indoors or outdoors.

Gross Motor Development: A child’s development of large muscle movement and control.

HSSA/HSSAP: Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program: HSSA is a state funded component of the Federal Head Start program. In Philadelphia, HSSA supports about 20% of the available Head Start slots.

Head Start: A federal program that provides comprehensive developmental services for low-income, preschool children ages 3-5 and social services for their families. Head Start began in 1965 and is administered by the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start provides services in four areas: education, health, parent involvement and social services. Grants are awarded to local public or private non-profit agencies.

IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: A federal program that provides grants to states and jurisdictions to support the planning of service systems and the delivery of services, including evaluation and assessment, for young children who have or are at risk of developmental delays/disabilities. Funds are provided through the Infants and Toddlers Program (known as Part C of IDEA) for services to children birth through 2 years of age, and through the Preschool Program (known as Part B-Section 619 of IDEA) for services to children ages 3-5.

ITERS-Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale: A 35-item instrument designed to evaluate the quality of a child care setting for infants and toddlers. The scale is divided into 7 areas: furnishings and displays for children; personal care routines; listening and talking; learning activities; interaction; program structure; and adult needs.

Ill Child Care: Child care services provided to a child who has a mild illness. Similar terms include “mildly ill child care” and “sick child care.”

In-Home Child Care: Child care provided in the child’s home by relatives or non-relatives during the hours when parents are working. Non-relative caregivers are sometimes called nannies, babysitters and au pairs.

In-Kind: A contribution of property, supplies, or services that are contributed by non-federal third parties without charge to the program.

Inclusion: The principle of enabling all children, regardless of their diverse abilities, to participate actively in natural settings within their communities.

Informal Care: A term used for child care provided by relatives, friends and neighbors in the child’s own home or in another home, often in unregulated settings. Related terms include kith and kin child care, and child care by family, friends, and neighbors.

Kith and Kin Child Care: A term used for child care provided by relatives (kin), and friends and neighbors (kith) in the child’s own home or in another home, often in unregulated settings. Related terms include informal child care, and child care by family, friends, and neighbors.

Latchkey Program: A term no longer generally used for programs that provide child care for school-age children during the hours immediately before and after the normal school day and during school vacations. More commonly used terms include school-age child care and before- and after-school child care.

Learning Disability: An impairment in a specific mental process which affects learning.

Leaver Studies: Research studies designed to learn about the experiences of families who recently stopped receiving cash assistance, or “left welfare.”

License-Exempt Child Care: Legally operating child care that is exempt from the regulatory system of the state or community. In many cases, subsidized child care that is otherwise license-exempt must comply with requirements of the subsidy system (e.g., criminal records checks of providers).

Licensed Child Care: Child care programs operated in homes or in facilities that fall within the regulatory system of a state or community and comply with those regulations. Many states have different levels of regulatory requirements and use different terms to refer to these levels (e.g., licensing, certification, registration).

Licensing Inspection: On-site inspection of a facility to assure compliance with licensing or other regulatory requirements.

Licensing or Regulatory Requirements: Requirement necessary for a provider to legally operate child care services in a state or locality, including registration requirements established under state, local, or Tribal law.

Manipulative Toys: Small toys that foster fine-motor development and eye-hand coordination, such as nesting cups, puzzles, interlocking blocks, and materials from nature.

Market Rate: The price charged by providers for child care services offered to privately paying families. Under CCDF, state lead agencies are required to conduct a market rate survey every two years to determine the price of child care throughout the state. In their state plans, lead agencies are required to describe how the rates they pay to child care providers serving subsidized children ensure access to the child care market. This should include a description of how payment rates are adequate, based on the local market survey.

Maternity Leave: Paid or unpaid time off work to care for a new baby, either after adoption or giving birth. In the U.S., under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies with 50 or more employees are required to offer eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period after the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.

Mentors: Trusted and experienced supervisors or advisers who have personal and direct interest in the development and/or education of younger or less experienced individuals, usually in professional education or professional occupations.

Migrant child care: Special child care programs designed to serve children of migrant workers while their parents work.

Mildly Ill Child Care: Child care services provided to a child who has a mild illness. Similar terms include “ill child care” and “sick child care.”