Practical Tips for Qualifying for

Higher Paths to QUALITY Levels

Paths to QUALITYTM is Indiana’s statewide quality rating and improvement system for early care and education. It’s a voluntary program that offers a variety of benefits to providers, including increased funding, an enhanced reputation, improved quality of care, professional development opportunities and technical assistance.

Understanding Paths to QUALITY

What is Paths to QUALITY?

Paths to QUALITY is a program that recognizes and rewards child care providers for their commitment to continuous quality improvement. It provides a framework to assess strengths and weaknesses, develop a plan for improvement and receive support and resources to achieve goals. Paths to QUALITY also gives families an easy-to-recognize tool for selecting a child care program.


Paths to QUALITY is divided into four levels, with each level representing a higher standard of quality:


  • Level One: Health and safety needs of children met
  • Level Two: Environment supports children’s learning
  • Level Three: Planned curriculum guides child development and school readiness
  • Level Four: National accreditation (the highest indicator of quality) is achieved

Programs that participate in Paths to QUALITY are eligible for a variety of benefits, including increased funding, professional development opportunities and technical assistance.

Why Higher Scores Matter

Achieving higher Paths to QUALITY scores offers several benefits for both child care providers and the children they serve. Here are some key advantages:


  • Increased funding. Programs with higher Paths to QUALITY scores are eligible for increased funding from the state of Indiana. This can be used to support a variety of program improvements, including hiring more qualified staff, expanding program offerings and improving the quality of materials and equipment.
  • Enhanced reputation. Achieving a higher Paths to QUALITY score demonstrates a program’s commitment to providing high-quality care. This can help attract and retain families.
  • Improved quality of care. The process of participating in Paths to QUALITY helps programs identify areas for improvement and implement strategies to address them. This can lead to better child outcomes, a more positive and stimulating learning environment and increased parental satisfaction.
  • Professional development opportunities. Paths to QUALITY provides a variety of opportunities for child care staff, which can help them improve their knowledge and skills, stay up-to-date on the latest research and best practices and advance their careers.
  • Technical assistance. The program offers technical assistance to child care providers, which can help them overcome challenges related to implementation and build capacity and sustainability.

Children who attend programs with higher Paths to QUALITY scores are exposed to high-quality early learning experiences that promote their cognitive, social-emotional, physical and language development.

Tips for Qualifying for Higher Scores

Staff Training and Qualifications

A well-trained staff is crucial for achieving higher Paths to QUALITY scores. They have the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively support children’s development and are equipped to implement early childhood education best practices.


Well-trained staff can create a safe, nurturing and stimulating learning environment where children can thrive. They demonstrate professionalism and are able to collaborate effectively with colleagues, families and other professionals.


There are several types of training and qualifications that can boost Paths to QUALITY scores. First, staff can pursue early childhood education degrees and certifications. This includes associate or bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, child development associate (CDA) certification and director’s credentials.


There is specialized training, including for infant and toddler care, dual language learners, children with special needs, trauma-informed care and social-emotional learning. Staff can utilize professional development opportunities, including workshops, conferences, online courses and webinars. They can also seek out mentorship and coaching, which provides personalized support and guidance from experienced professionals.

Health and Safety Standards

Meeting health and safety requirements is a crucial first step for child care programs on their journey to quality. By prioritizing the health and safety of children, programs can create a foundation for optimal learning and development.


Here are some practical tips for maintaining a safe and healthy child care environment.


For preventative measures:


  • Encourage frequent handwashing for both children and staff, especially before meals, after diaper changes and after using the restroom.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, toys and equipment with appropriate cleaning products.
  • Follow safe food handling practices to prevent foodborne illnesses.
  • Ensure all staff and children who are age-eligible are up to date on vaccinations.
  • Implement safe sleep practices for infants, including placing them to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress in a crib with no loose bedding.
  • Ensure play areas are free of choking hazards, sharp objects and other potential dangers.
  • Provide close supervision of children at all times, especially during outdoor play and transitions.
  • Regularly provide staff with training on health and safety topics, including first aid, CPR and bloodborne pathogens.

For emergency preparedness:


  • Create a written emergency plan that outlines procedures for responding to fires, natural disasters, medical emergencies and other potential threats.
  • Regularly conduct drills to practice emergency procedures with staff and children.
  • Have readily available emergency supplies, such as first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and evacuation plans.

For communication and collaboration:


  • Inform parents about the program’s health and safety policies and procedures.
  • Encourage staff and parents to report any safety concerns immediately.
  • Collaborate with local health departments and other agencies to access resources and support.
  • Foster a positive and supportive environment where children feel safe, respected and valued.

Curriculum and Learning Programs

Curriculum and learning programs play a vital role in Paths to QUALITY. They provide a framework for learning, promote developmentally appropriate practices, engage children in active learning and support individualized learning. The quality and effectiveness of curriculum and learning programs directly impact a child care program’s Paths to QUALITY score.


It’s crucial to offer an engaging and educational environment that fosters children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Here are some tips:


First, create a play-based environment. Play-based learning is a natural and effective way for young children to learn about the world around them. It allows them to explore, experiment and solve problems in a safe and supportive environment.


  • Provide a variety of open-ended materials to encourage creativity and imagination. This includes blocks, puzzles, art supplies, dress-up clothes and natural materials.
  • Set up different play areas to stimulate different learning domains. This could include a block area, reading area, art area, dramatic play area and sensory area.
  • Plan playful activities, like scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, group games and storytelling sessions. This promotes physical activity, social interaction and problem-solving skills.

Second, focus on developmentally appropriate practices. Recognize that children learn at their own pace and activities should be designed to meet their specific needs and abilities.


  • Observe and assess children regularly. This helps educators understand each child’s unique developmental stage and tailor activities accordingly.
  • Offer a variety of activities at different levels of difficulty. This ensures that all children are challenged and engaged, regardless of their skill level.
  • Provide individualized support. This could include scaffolding, prompting and providing additional resources to help children succeed.

Third, encourage active learning. This involves engaging children in hands-on, minds-on activities that promote critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity.


  • Encourage children to ask questions and share their ideas. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and learn to express themselves.
  • Allow children to experiment with materials and explore their environment. This fosters curiosity and helps them learn about cause and effect.
  • Give children choices and allow them to have control over some aspects of their learning experience. This promotes a sense of autonomy and responsibility.

Finally, foster positive relationships between children, educators and families to create a supportive and nurturing learning environment.


  • Take the time to learn about each child’s individual interests, needs and learning styles. Build trust and rapport with children and tailor your interactions accordingly.
  • Communicate regularly with families. Share information about children’s progress and activities and be open to feedback.
  • Create opportunities for families to be involved. Invite them to participate in classroom activities, volunteer their time and share their cultural traditions.

Family Engagement and Communication

Involving families in the child care process is a win-win situation for everyone involved. It benefits children by promoting their learning and development and supports families in their parenting roles. It strengthens child care programs by improving quality, building strong relationships with families and increasing enrollment and retention.


Here are strategies that can help foster effective communication:


  • Establish clear communication channels. Share information about preferred methods of communication, such as phone calls, emails, parent-teacher conferences or online platforms.
  • Communicate regularly. Provide updates on children’s progress, behavior and learning experiences not just when there are problems.
  • Be accessible and approachable. Encourage parents to reach out with questions, concerns or suggestions and respond promptly and thoughtfully.
  • Practice active listening and empathy. Listen attentively to parents’ questions and concerns without interrupting. Avoid being defensive or dismissive of their concerns.
  • Strive for clear and consistent messaging. Use simple and understandable language and provide specific examples to illustrate points.
  • Promote collaboration and shared responsibility. Involve parents in decision-making processes related to their child’s education and respect their expertise and knowledge about their children. Offer opportunities for parents to volunteer and participate in program activities.
  • Communicate with respect and understanding for cultural differences. Be mindful of parents’ cultural backgrounds and values and use interpreters or translation services if necessary.

Utilizing Your Child Care Advertising Tool

How the Tool Supports Paths to QUALITY

Quality comes first when families are searching for child care. Filtering through Paths to QUALITY levels in the Early Learning Marketplace can help families connect with quality care.


Early Learning Marketplace is modernizing how families find child care. Through the easy-to-use interface, families can search for programs near them, filter based on their needs and claim available seats in real time. Paths to QUALITY level is one of the filtering options, and families can select the level right for them.