Child Care Age Groups: Understanding the Differences

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Emily runs a popular daycare center in her hometown of Phoenix, AZ. As such, she’s intimately familiar with the various child care age groups and the differences between each.

How could she not be? She cares for two infants and three toddlers on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A pair of six-year-olds on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. She even watches an 11-year-old on Friday afternoons after he gets back from school.

All this experience allows her to plan appropriate activities, snacks, etc. for the children she cares for. Want to learn how to do the same? Keep reading! We’ll teach you everything you need to know about child care age groups so that you can become an expert like Emily.

Why Do Child Care Age Groups Matter?

Age groups matter because different ages require different approaches to child care.

Obviously, you wouldn’t plan the same daily activities and menu for an infant as you would for an eight-year-old kid. These children are at completely different stages of development and need different approaches to ensure a positive experience at your center.

While this is an extreme example, many children who are closer in age have different needs, too. A four-year-old and a six-year-old, while only two years apart, require varying approaches to child care, which is vitally important to keep in mind.

The Main Child Care Age Groups

Below, we outline the four main age groups you need to be aware of, appropriate care techniques for each and the ideal child ratios for every bracket.

1. Infants

Infants can be defined as any child between the ages of 0 and 18 months. Children go through an incredible amount of development in this stage. They’ll learn to roll over, crawl, walk and smile. They may even begin talking.

Your center should encourage these important milestones via age-appropriate educational curriculum, social interaction with other children, new experiences and more.

At the same time, all this development takes a toll, which means your care center’s schedule for infants needs to include plenty of time for babies to rest. Just keep in mind that young infants rarely keep to a consistent schedule and tend to sleep at all times of the day.

The Ideal Group Size: For infants, we recommend a 1:3 child ratio. That means every three infants your center cares for, you should employ at least one trained staff member. Check your local regulations to ensure this child ratio is adequate for your area and as a bonus, leverage child care management software to track ratios, ensuring you’re always in compliance.

2. Toddlers

The next child care age group, toddlers, can be defined as any child between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Children at this stage work toward important milestones, too. Some of them include learning to speak, sharing with other kids and becoming potty trained.

Your center should help children reach these milestones, as well as others, by planning engaging activities that stimulate their minds and ensure proper development.

These activities can include story time, exercise, meal time or anything else that encourages the development of social skills, gross and fine motor skills and language skills in a safe way.

Unlike infants, most (if not all) of the toddlers you watch should be able to keep to a daily schedule of planned activities. This means that you can plan a much more predictable day for yourself and your kids, which many family child care providers appreciate.

The Ideal Group Size: For toddlers, we recommend a 1:4 child ratio. For every four toddlers your center cares for, you should employ at least one trained staff member. Connect with your local licensing agency to ensure this child ratio is adequate for your area.

3. Young Children

After toddlers comes the young children stage, which can be defined as kids between the ages of three and five years old. Young children can be given more freedom than toddlers and infants. This independence often leads to increased confidence and skill sets.

For example, young children should be acquiring physical skills like jumping, climbing stairs with alternate feet and properly holding crayons. They should also learn social and mental skills like how to play with other kids, count five to 10 things and follow simple directions.

To help the young children you care for learn essential skills, plan activities such as story time, block play, creative art sessions, music time and more.

The Ideal Group Size: For young children, we recommend a 1:6 child ratio. So, for every six young children your center cares for, employ at least one trained staff member. Check your local child care agency to make sure this child ratio is in line with regulations.

4. School-aged Children

Once kids reach five, they graduate from the young children stage to the school-aged children stage.

This is also a major milestone for your child care center because it means you won’t be watching kids in this age bracket full time. Instead, you’ll be caring for them before and/or after school and maybe during the summer if you host camps or other summer programs.

Programs for children should include structured time for homework, fun physical activities and games, healthy meals and the occasional field trip when possible.

Don’t forget, the school-aged children age group is quite large, as it includes kids between the ages of five and 12. And there aren’t many 12-year-olds who want to do the same things as five-year-olds.

Because of this, it’s important to provide a wide range of activities for the children you care for and allow them to choose which ones they take part in based on their personal interests. Examples include STEM, art, PE and community-building activities.

Note: You should still build in time for kids to do their homework, regardless of a child’s personal interests.

The Ideal Group Size: For school-aged children, we recommend a 1:8 child ratio. For every eight children your center cares for, you should plan to employ at least one trained staff member. And as always, check your local regulations to ensure this child ratio is adequate for your area.

Every Child is Different

It’s important to remember that no two children are the same. While the child care age groups outlined above are good guidelines, not every kid fits perfectly into them. That’s why it’s so important to be in regular contact with the parents of the children you look after.

Give them regular updates on the development of their child. If necessary, work out custom development plans (within reason) for children with specific needs.

Better Child Care

Understanding the differences between each of the child care age groups outlined above is essential. Without this knowledge, you won’t be able to provide proper care to the children you watch and ensure they’re meeting important developmental milestones.

Another way to help you provide top-quality child care is by using child care management software like Procare.

Our easy-to-use platform helps you track state early learning standards so you can make sure your kids are getting the education they deserve and parent engagement tools to keep parents apprised of their kid’s learning progress. Plus, Procare gives users an easy way to track attendance, invoice families and manage the books.Request a free demo of Procare

About The Author

Mike Braun

Mike Braun is the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Procare Solutions, where he focuses on product positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and enabling the Sales and Support teams to give our customers an exceptional experience.

Procare is here to help.

We know the business of child care. For more than 30 years we’ve been guiding child care professionals just like you to help stay connected and in control.