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Types of Care and Education

It's important to pick a program setting that best fits you and your child

With so many types of programs to choose from, it’s challenging for families to sort through all the options that will meet their child’s specific needs.

Finding the right care and education program for your child can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. You’ve heard of terms like “center” and “preschool” and “Head Start,” but aren’t exactly sure what that means for you or your child. You feel overwhelmed and the haystack gets bigger.

Standards and processes are in place to give you some peace of mind as you make this important decision. The state of Minnesota licenses child care to protect the health, safety, and individual rights of the children in care. To learn about child care licensing requirements please visit the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ website. You can also review the following information:

When beginning any child care search, a good place to start is getting to know the different types of child care and early education program options. When searching online, programs are divided into three broad categories: Centers and Preschools, Family Child Care, and Head Start. School-Age Care programs may appear in the Centers and Preschools or Family Child Care categories. All of these programs are briefly described below.

Some types of programs are not included in search results. They are also listed below as Other Types of Care. These programs are not legally required to meet health and safety standards recommended by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. They are not eligible for a Parent Aware Star Rating.

Use these program descriptions to help narrow down your search. Your needle is still in there, but hopefully the haystack has gotten a little smaller.

Centers and Preschools

Child Care Centers and Private Preschools

These programs are licensed through the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) or tribal human services agency and provide care and education for children in age-based groups, either for full days or part days. These programs are often in free-standing buildings, businesses, community centers, or places of worship.

Public School Pre-Kindergarten Programs
In-school or School Readiness programs are administered by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). They are “license exempt,” meaning they are legally unlicensed programs able to provide care without having a license from DHS. Public schools, including charter schools, may offer many of these program options for children with families, including early childhood education and extended day, Family Literacy, and School Readiness programs.

Family Child Care

Family Child Care Homes

Family Child Care (FCC) Homes are licensed through the county or tribal human services agency. These professionals may care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children in their homes. Some family child care programs are also provided in businesses, places of worship, and schools. Many family child care professionals offer planned play and scheduled activities that help children learn.

School-Age Care

School-Age Care Programs

School-Age Care Programs care for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. They can be offered in a provider’s home or in a center, like a school, community center, YMCA/YWCA, or park and recreation program. These programs may be licensed or license-exempt, depending on the facility. School-age care is not eligible for a Parent Aware Star Rating.

Head Start

Early Head Start (prenatal to age 3) and Head Start (3 to 5-year-olds)

Early Head Start and Head Start and their child care partners serve young children from low-income eligible families. Programs may be based in centers, schools, or family child care homes. These programs have comprehensive services that support the mental, social, and emotional development of children from prenatal to age 5. In addition, programs provide health, nutrition, social, and other services. Program services are responsive to each child and family ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage. Early Head Start and Head Start encourages the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teachers. Programs build relationships with families that support positive parent-child relationships, family well-being, and connections to peers and community.

Other Types of Care

Drop-In Programs
This is short-term care for a few hours at a time. It is usually offered in shopping malls or community centers.

Family, Friends or Neighbors
Provider cares only for related children or children from no more than one unrelated family.

Care in Child’s Home
Families make arrangements to have a babysitter or nanny come to their home to provide care.

Playgroups and Exchanges
These are no-cost, informal groups organized by parents. Playgroups give children time to play together under their parents’ supervision. In exchanges, parents take turns caring for the children.


Types of Care and Education

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