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Early Childhood Education: Types & Quality Providers

Types of Early Childhood Programs in Philadelphia

Quality Early Childhood Care

We know quality is important for parents searching for early childhood programs, so GreatPhillySchools has set out to make identifying a quality provider as easy as possible. All providers with a full profile on GreatPhillySchools.org must meet at least one of the following requirements in order to be featured:

  • Have a Keystone STAR 3 or 4 quality rating
  • Be accredited by NAEYC, NAFCC, PAIS, or Middle States
  • Operate an Early Head Start, Head Start, Bright Futures, or Pre-K Counts program
  • Operate a Pre-K program that is approved by the Mayor’s Office of Education as a PHLpreK provider. Learn more about PHLpreK.

To learn more about these programs and accreditation, click here.


A provider’s accreditation are listed in the top panel of each profile, and are sometimes displayed through icons appearing on a provider’s listing. Providers which do not meet the above criteria are identified as not meeting the GreatPhillySchools quality bar on their listing.

We encourage parents to compare and contrast high quality providers near their home and work using the search features on GreatPhillySchools Early Childhood site. To learn more about choosing a quality program, click here.


If you are a provider who meets the above requirements but do not currently have a profile, email us.


Types of Early Childhood Care


There are many different types of early childhood care in Philadelphia. Learn more about them below, then use this information to search and choose the right option for your family. Concerned about paying for child care? Subsidy or scholarships might be available.


Child Care


A regulated child care program must have a certificate of compliance (license or registration) from the Bureau of Certification Services under the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) in order to operate legally. Regulated care is inspected by OCDEL and must adhere to PA licensing requirements and health and safety standards in order to remain in compliance.

There are three types of regulated child care providers available to parents including: Child Care Centers, Group Child Care Homes, and Family Child Care Homes.

Child Care Centers are certified by OCDEL and inspected yearly for compliance with state regulations. Child Care Centers provide care for 7 or more children. Each staff person must meet educational and child care experience requirements.

Group Child Care programs are certified by OCDEL and inspected yearly for compliance with state regulations. Group homes may care for up to 12 children. A group may be located in a private residence or another facility.

Family Child Care Home is any person who cares for more than 3 children but no more than 6 children unrelated to the provider and must register the home with OCDEL. A Family Child Care Home is located in a private residence.


Unregulated care is typically provided by relatives or neighbors in their home. This caregiver cares for up to three children who are not related to the caregiver and up to three additional children who are related to caregiver. Relative/Neighbor care providers participating in the state subsidized system are required to participate in 12 hours of training every two years and successfully complete a federal criminal clearance.


Income-eligible Enhanced Programs

In addition to the types of care described above, there are several enhance options available to low-income, high risk children and their families.

Head Start/Early Head Start is a comprehensive preschool program for low-income children ages birth through five year olds. It provides children with a developmentally appropriate early childhood education. The program ensures that young children get health checkups and treatment, oral health screenings, and that they are fed a nutritious hot meal every day. Some Head Start programs operate as a stand-alone program while some operate as a blended model in child care program. In a blended model, a child will participate in Head Start for part of the day and remain in the child care program for the full day. Head Start services are free to income qualifying families. Head Start and Early Head Start operate in several different organizations in Philadelphia. Find a Head Start program near you:

Using GreatPhillySchools search tool, select “Preschool/Daycare” on the School Finder page, and under the “ECE Programming” category, select “Head Start.”

Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts serves at-risk children in the commonwealth. Eligible children live in families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level ($67,050 for a family of four), are between the age 3 and younger then the entry age for kindergarten; and who are at risk of school failure, either because of language (English is not your first language), or special needs issues. If your child falls into these categories, you may be eligible to apply. Pre-K Counts is offered in Keystone STAR 3 & 4 child care centers or group homes, Head Start programs, school districts and licensed nursery schools. Programs provide high quality pre-kindergarten with early childhood-educated teachers, small class sizes, approved curriculum, and assessment of children’s progress throughout the year. PA Counts is free to families. However the program may charge for additional portions of the day not funded by Pre-K Counts, before and after the “school day”. The School District of Philadelphia is the lead agency and partners with 50 community agencies at 64 center locations through Pennsylvania’s new Pre-K Counts program. Find a Pre-K Counts program near you:

Using the GreatPhillySchools search tool, select “Preschool/Daycare” on the School Finder page, and under the “ECE Programming” category, select “PreK Counts.”

Bright Futures is a School District designed Pre-K, school-readiness program that is part of the Pre-K Counts public/private partnership. The program is primarily funded by state Pre-K Counts funds and complies with all the requirements of that funding. The program is provided for free to families who meet eligibility requirements– primarily that family income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level. Find a Bright Futures program near you:

Using the GreatPhillySchools search tool, select “Preschool/Daycare” on the School Finder page, and under the “ECE Programming” category, select “Bright Futures.”


Continuous Quality Improvement Initiatives

In addition to maintaining licensure, a child care program can volunteer to participate in a quality improvement program. In Pennsylvania the most common initiatives are Keystone STARS or accreditation through a nationally recognized accrediting body.

Keystone STARS

Keystone STARS is a statewide continuous quality improvement rating system for early learning and school age programs. Similar to rating systems for hospitals, hotels and restaurants, programs earn 1, 2, 3 or 4 STAR(S) determined by research-based standards for quality, such as staff qualifications and professional development, learning activities, working with parents and the community, and best business practices. Programs must meet increasingly vigorous standards in order to move up a STAR level. For more information on Keystone STARS click here. To find a Keystone STARS 3 or 4 facility near you:

Using the GreatPhillySchools search tool, select “Preschool/Daycare” on the School Finder page, and under “Keystone Rating” category, move the slider so that it reads, “Keystone Rating of 3 or higher.”

Accreditation is another way to increase the quality of a child care program. Programs can choose to get accredited by a child care accrediting organization. They have to meet higher standards set forth by the accrediting body. The program must offer the kind of care, attention, and educational activities parents look for in quality child care programs. It must offer activities and experiences that will aid in a child’s growth and development, and that will help them prepare for school. The most common accreditation organizations are listed below.

More information

Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.

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