Bright & Early Quality-Rating System Helps State’s Child-Care Providers Get Even Better

“No way. I can’t do it.”

Tiffany Watkins was skeptical when North Dakota Child Care Aware Consultant Tasha Lind introduced her to the Bright & Early quality rating improvement system (QRIS). Now that she’s completed Step 2 and started work on Step 3, Tiffany is seeing positive results around her Michigan (N.D.) Munchkins child care.

Bright & Early ND is the name of North Dakota’s Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS). This four-star rating system helps parents and providers assess how a child care program supports a child’s early learning and development. Just as we use ratings to choose restaurants, hotels, movies, schools and universities, Bright & Early ratings also reflect how early- and school-age care and education programs rate on specific standards.

The bottom line: They help parents keep their child’s best interest in mind, while encouraging participating providers to embark on a path of continuous quality improvement.

At first, Tiffany admits she didn’t agree with many of the QRIS recommendations.

“You want me to leave books out for kids to look at on their own? No way, they’ll destroy them. You want me put out Legos? They will dump them everywhere! Leave paper and crayons out on the tables? They’ll scribble all over!”

“I am a little OCD,” Tiffany admits, “So I kept all the toys in bins out of reach. I didn’t want them to wreck stuff. We adults decided what the kids would play with during the day. The idea of the children playing with things on their own stressed me out.”

“We’ll take it slow,” Tasha assured Tiffany. “Give it a try.”

What happened next surprised Tiffany. “We started by leaving out five books for the kids to look at on their own. After that, we gradually took more play materials out of storage and gave the kids permission to play on their own.”

“It was a learning process. Some days were a little crazy, but overall it’s been a very good thing.” Tiffany says. The rule now is that cleaning up is part of being a big kid. If you take something out you have to put it away. The open bins and low shelves around Michigan Munchkins makes cleanup doable for the children.

The use of space and materials emphasized in Bright & Early Step 2 has had a positive impact on the children’s social skills and behavior as well. “There is less fighting, the kids play together better, and are more imaginative,” Tiffany says. “I’ve seen a difference in my staff as well. We now spend less time managing activities and more time interacting with the kids.”

Having paper and crayons available at all times gives children more opportunities to hold and use a writing instrument – a foundational fine motor skill they will need when they start school.

When Tasha suggested family-style dining Tiffany again responded with, “no way.” With Tasha’s reassurance of “take small steps and give it a try,” Tiffany purchased lightweight serving dishes so the children could pass food around the table and serve themselves.

“Again, I was amazed,” Tiffany says. “When we dished up food for the kids there was a lot of yelling as they waited be served. When we implemented family-style dining, the yelling toned down and the kids started having social conversations during mealtime.”

“We used to use TV as a way to keep children occupied while we got out materials for the next activity. No more. Screen time around Michigan Munchkins has dropped dramatically,” Tiffany says. “Drop-offs for parents are also smoother. Kids are less bored and are excited to come here to play and learn.”

To learn more about Child Care Aware of North Dakota and Bright & Early QRIS, including how they help child care providers adopt best practices, go to or