Maryland EXCELS Toolkit Offers Child Care Providers New Interactive Resources

The Maryland EXCELS Toolkit launched on July 26 is a new collection of resources developed to help child care professionals enhance the quality of their programs and navigate the system’s standards, as well as to offer fresh ideas and activities for children.

While the Toolkit is designed specifically with participants of Maryland EXCELS in mind, its resources can benefit anyone interested in quality child care and early learning. The Toolkit’s enrichment resources section hosts video tutorials, articles, and interactive activities for children, with even more resources to be posted in the coming months.

Sonya Odum, of Sonya’s Family Daycare in Hanover, is looking forward to enhancing her program with these resources.

“I just started using the Creating Curriculum by Teaching Strategies,” she said. “[I think] it’ll marry well with [the Toolkit resources] to help me to develop my program to where I really want to be.”

The Toolkit also contains an urgent prep section, which is intended to walk providers through publishing or republishing their ratings when they are within 45 days of their quality rating’s expiration date. Perhaps one the most exciting elements of the Toolkit for providers are the quality ratings checklists. These help providers meet their goal of achieving a specific quality rating through user-friendly checklists, as well as contain content that informs better child care practices.

Providers can reference these step-by-step guides for outlines of the requirements for each standard. The checklists also include a Policy and Statement Builder tool to develop or revise policies, handbooks, and documentation that may be required for providers to improve their quality rating.

“The Policy and Statement Builder tool is designed to help providers formulate their policies with a ‘story-starter’ approach that breaks down what the requirements are through a series of prompts and questions,” said Christine Alexander, a member of the Maryland EXCELS Team at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education.

When providers have questions about Maryland EXCELS standards, they may reach out to their Program Coordinator or Quality Assurance representative for more information and clarity. Now, the Toolkit offers a self-guided resource for providers to explore the criteria as well.

“It can also serve as a tool to facilitate a dialogue with a provider’s Program Coordinator or Quality Assurance representative by giving the providers a starting point for their policies,” Alexander said.

Bridgette Lawrence, owner of Little Scooters Childcare & Preschool in California attended several Maryland EXCELS support group meetings with her local resource center and held many email conversations with her Program Coordinator for help and advice. While she said these resources were helpful, she occasionally felt overwhelmed by exploring the criteria and the time she spent on these.

“The Toolkit is really targeted to advancing through the different levels much more so than when you just had the [Maryland] EXCELS [online system],” Lawrence said. She added that while there were always Program Coordinators who were happy to answer her questions, she loves the independence that the Toolkit offers. “It’s nice to be able to go in and answer my own questions on the Toolkit,” she said.

Odum also appreciates the clarity that the Toolkit provides. Though she said her Program Coordinator guided her through “a thousand” questions in an effort to reach a quality rating of 5, Odum still desired other ways of self-evaluating her materials.

“Sometimes [providers] need a broader explanation of what Maryland EXCELS wants,” Odum said. “I kind of felt my way through the process, and I didn’t do too bad. … But I would have been able to work with more ease if I’d had the Toolkit and would have finished preparing my evidence a lot faster.”

Odum said she loves the Toolkit, and now understands which materials were missing that prevented her from achieving a quality rating of 5. Both Odum and Lawrence have already begun revising their paperwork, and expect to bring their current quality ratings of 3 up to 5 very soon.

“I believe the Toolkit will help me to enrich my program and live up to my accreditation standards as well,” Odum said. “I wish we could have gotten it sooner! … My friends are already finding it very helpful to help them get their initial paperwork put together.”

The Maryland EXCELS Toolkit currently includes the standards and requirements for Child Care Centers, Family Child Care, and School-Age programs, including Head Start, Montessori, and Military programs. Public prekindergarten standards will be added in the coming months; in the meantime, these programs may find the toolkit’s resources and ideas helpful.

Lawrence is excited about the value of the Toolkit not only for herself, but also for programs newly participating in Maryland EXCELS who need to learn about the standards. “Having [what I need to achieve the next level] all right there on one screen will save me time,” she said. “And the language used to explaining things is really great for everyone to understand.”

“It makes people feel like, ‘I can do this. This is possible.’”

The Maryland EXCELS Toolkit is available for anyone, even if a provider is not yet participating in Maryland EXCELS. How do you plan to use to toolkit? Feel free to submit your feedback about the toolkit using the Contact form on the Toolkit website – we want to hear your comments and questions!