How the Environment Rating Scales Should Be Used During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Debby Cryer and Dick Clifford



ERS assessments should be completed, wherever programs are serving children, to help inform us about the pandemic’s effect on health and safety, but also on the quality of care and learning for children. This information can guide us on how best to maximize the good and minimize the bad within each program. Without information provided by ERS assessments, we are not able to make intelligent, well-informed decisions under these difficult conditions. We want to keep quality standards high, but recognize that it is not appropriate to use the scores on ERS instruments during the pandemic in high stakes decisions about child care reimbursement rates or on program ratings. ERS assessment scores can and should be used to inform and guide best practices.


During these days of fear and hardship it becomes difficult to make the best decisions to protect health while ensuring that life’s necessities can continue as normally as possible. We may ask ourselves whether children should be in child or not. Both parents and child care professionals are asking such questions. But in all states, some children are attending child care. The staff of these programs must consider how to manage the needs of protecting health while continuing to meet children’s developmental needs. The role of the ERS, in examining how well children’s wide range of developmental needs are being met, remains relevant and unchanged in the midst of this pandemic.

The ERS were designed to assess a program and provide information from those assessments to determine how to improve the quality of what children experience. At this time, the requirements of health are more demanding than ever but are often in direct conflict with ensuring that children’s many other developmental needs are met. ERS observations are necessary to help us see what has happened to the quality of programs as they shift priorities. If programs are open and serving children, we cannot stop completing ERS observations, because then we become blind to what is happening to children in programs. Instead, we should use this time to support programs in meeting global quality indicators to the best of their ability during the pandemic. It is possible to continue some level of monitoring of both health and safety and overall program quality without introducing an undue amount of risk to children and staff of the programs. In fact, failure to monitor is not acceptable when we are charged with protecting children’s overall health and safety while providing rich learning environments for them.


The Power of the Cook

One of the many lessons I learned as a teacher of young children was the internal time clock that goes off when it is meal time in a classroom. Children seem to intuitively know when it is time to be fed. If something throws off their predictable schedule life in the classroom can become tumultuous.

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The Disappearance of Block Play

Whatever happened to old fashioned block play? These days many spaces that should be dedicated as a block interest center are filled with lots of colorful plastic distractions— gigantic waffle blocks, a table filled with Duplos, tubs of interlocking manipulatives, and those huge plastic trucks that can only serve one purpose which is to crash and destroy another child’s block structure…

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A Typical Day Through the Eyes of Children

It is 8:00 a.m. and Sean lies in the cozy corner of the toddler room. He is wearing his winter coat and a knit cap covers his face. His arms are tightly folded around his body. He is a large, burly mass of four-year-old boy. A substitute teacher enters the room….

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Beyond a Fish Tank & Dead Fish: Making the Shift to Continuous Quality Improvement

One teacher, Patrick Romero, confides in the process his team used several years ago. He poignantly states, “We put a fish tank with a fish in the classroom for the ECERS, but the fish kept dying. We never stopped to consider how to make this a better place for fish to live. We did not reflect on why the ECERS encourages children to have opportunities to care for nature and living things. Our focus was on earning points and checking off items on our ECERS to‐do list.”

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Creating a Community of Practice

Bright & Early North Dakota is North Dakota’s Quality Rating & Improvement System. Family and Group providers in the state are required to have three hours of training on the Environment Rating Scales.

Last year, they were struggling to facilitate the 3-hour required course for FCCERS-R overview within the QRIS system. They scheduled face-to-face trainings across the state but found themselves cancelling more than they held due to poor attendance.

The problem was geography. There was a definite need for training but the providers that needed it could potentially be several hours apart from each other.

Rather than seeing a problem, they saw an opportunity. By connecting their program with ERS Online Training, Bright and Early North Dakota made the education equally accessible to everyone in the state. They worked with Branagh Information Group to create to communities of practice using the existing FCCERS 101 course.

The entire program lasts 6 weeks. The first few weeks enrollees are asked to complete the online training. Each following week they have discussion questions on the Branagh Group Training Portal – a community board that they are required to answer and to respond to other providers that are also enrolled in the training.

Congratulations to North Dakota’s Community of Practice!

Learn more about ERS Online Training.