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Types of Care & 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 of 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,” “preschool,” and “Head Start,” but aren’t exactly sure what that means for 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. Licensing and certification helps ensure that child care and early education programs are meeting basic health and safety standards.

When beginning any child care search, a good place to start is getting to know your 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 the search results. They are also listed below as other types of care. These programs are not legally required to meet health and safety standards. They are not eligible for a Parent Aware Star Rating.

Use these program descriptions to help narrow down your search.

Child Care Centers and Private Preschools

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


Public School Prekindergarten Programs
In-school or school readiness programs are administered by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). They are license-exempt, meaning they are able to provide care without having a license. Public schools, including charter schools, may offer many of these program options, including early childhood education and extended day, family literacy, and school readiness programs. License-exempt programs can become certified by meeting health and safety standards, which allows the programs to serve families that receive child care assistance.

Family Child Care Programs

Family child care programs are licensed and monitored by the county or tribal licensing agency. Family child care providers may care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children in their homes. Some family child care programs are also provided in commercial spaces or places of worship. Many family child care professionals offer planned play and scheduled activities that help children learn.

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 building, like a school, community center, YMCA/YWCA, or parks and recreation program. These programs may be licensed or license-exempt, depending on the setting. License-exempt school-age programs can become certified by meeting health and safety standards, which allows the programs to serve families thatt receive child care assistance.

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 families with low income. 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 early childhood classes and health and social 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.

Drop-In Programs
This is short-term care provided for a few hours at a time. It is usually offered in shopping malls or community centers. Drop-in programs are exempt from licensure and are not eligible for a Parent Aware Star Rating.

Family, Friends, or Neighbors
Provider cares only for related children or children from no more than one unrelated family. These providers are exempt from licensure and are not eligible for a Parent Aware Star Rating.

Types of Care and Education

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