Early Care and Education and School Age Expanded Learning

Choosing early care and education experiences for your child is one of the most important decisions a parent can make.  Finding the program most suitable for your child will take time, but learning about the types of programs available and how to determine quality will help your search be successful.

Steps to Finding a Quality Program

1.  Determine what is important to you and your family.

a.  In addition to location, hours, and tuition, there are other things to consider such as:

  • Is connection to your faith important in an early learning experience?
  • Does your child have special needs to consider?
  • Are you looking for a certain philosophy such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, or Play Based curriculum?
  • Would your child thrive best in a home or in a center environment?

b.  Learn about the types of early care and education available.

State-Licensed Family Child Care Homes

Child care and education are provided in a small group setting in an individual’s home, providing a home-like atmosphere for a child and greater flexibility to match non-traditional schedules.

State-Licensed Center-Based Programs

Child care and education are provided in a commercial child care center such as a free-standing building, retail space in a shopping center, a location within or on the campus of an elementary school, a religious institution, cultural center, or university.

License-Exempt Child Care

California’s child care regulations are intended to promote children’s health and safety in licensed child care facilities. However, families and providers should understand that state regulations exempt certain types of providers from licensure, meaning they can operate legally without a license. To learn more about State requirements and types of programs that are exempt from obtaining a child care license please, click here.

2.  Identify programs in your area.

a. Irvine Early Care and Education (for children 0-5 years old) and School Age Expanded Learning Listings (before and after school care for children ages 4.9-12 years old)

b. Interactive map of Early Care and Education and School Age Expanded Learning programs.

c. The information provided above is a referral, not a recommendation. The City of Irvine does not license, screen for quality of care, or endorse any provider. The City of Irvine does, however, offer the educational information on selecting quality child care and encourages parents to visit child care providers before making their decision.

d. For assistance, please contact the City of Irvine’s Child Care Resource and Referral line at 949-724-6632, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

e. The Children’s Home Society also provides child care resource and referral services. The Orange County hotline numbers are 714-543-2273 and 949-364-6605; assistance is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You may also click here to fill out a child care referral request form, and a program specialist will contact you directly to provide referrals. For your convenience, you may also search their online child care referral database for referrals that meet your family's unique needs. Please note: Speaking to a program specialist often results in a referral list that more closely fits your needs.

c. For more information and resources specifically for children having special needs, please click here.

3. Check them out.

a.   Visit the State of California Community Care Licensing Division to search any programs you are interested in, and view the most current data on state visits, inspections, and license status.

  • Enter nine-digit facility number or select “child care.”
  • From “child care” screen, enter the type of program you are seeking. Options include:
    • Child Care Infant Center (0–2 years)
    • School Age Child Care Center (kindergarten–sixth grade)
    • Child Care Center Preschool (2–5 years)
    • Family Child Care Home Large
    • Family Child Care Home Small (must list exact name of licensee to search)
  • Under “City,” type “Irvine” and click “search” at the bottom of the page.

b.   Call to find out if your top choices have openings, and schedule a visit or tour. Please note: in order to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, licensed child care programs are required to limit visitors that enter any child care program. Be prepared to ask as many questions as you can over the phone and inquire with the provider about current procedures for visiting/touring the site.

c.   Prepare for your visit:

  • View the age-specific “What to Look for In a Program” guides developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
  • Look for hallmarks of quality such as NAEYC Accreditation or participation in the QualityStart OC program. To learn more about the QualityStart OC rating system, click here.
  • Use a list of questions and a checklist when you visit each program.
    • It is recommended you make the first visit alone. Then, once you narrow down your choices or choose a provider, bring your child in for a visit.
*The information provided is a referral, not a recommendation. The City of Irvine does not license, screen for quality of care, or endorse any provider. The City of Irvine does, however, offer the educational information on selecting quality child care linked above and encourages parents to visit child care providers before making their decision.