Provider Spotlight: Frederick Family Child Care Provider Prepares Children for Kindergarten and Beyond

A group of diverse children play with colorful sticks together during circle time at A&D Stars.

Li Zhou, registered family child care provider, often works late into the night, translating curriculum from English to Chinese so she can prepare the children in her care to be ready for kindergarten and to be citizens of the world.

The preschoolers who attend Zhou’s program in her Frederick home are greeted in Mandarin Chinese. The children spend at least half of their day interacting in the world’s most widely spoken language.

When Zhou opened A & D Stars in 2015, she focused on offering high-quality child care while providing a bilingual and bicultural foundation.

“I want to deliver the best quality care, but I know this is not a traditional way,” Zhou said. “It’s not just about giving a good experience—it’s the opportunity to acquire another language and be exposed to another culture.”

Because she understands parents are seeking high-quality care as well as the unique program she offers, Zhou tells them about her participation in Maryland EXCELS and commitment to high standards. Zhou, currently published at a Quality Rating of 1, is steadily working toward her goal of reaching a Quality Rating of 3.

Zhou, who grew up in China and moved to the U.S. to pursue her Master of Business Administration, realized there would likely be a demand for such a program in Frederick County after she became a mom to her two boys, who are now in first and third grades.

She heard about the popularity of lottery-based Chinese immersion programs for school-age children in nearby Montgomery County. She did her own research and learned about how children quickly absorb a new language in the first four years of life. Zhou decided to pursue opening a child care program that would allow young children to naturally learn a second language while simultaneously learning their first.

“If they’re 2 or 3 [years old], that’s a prime time to pick up languages. Even children that young can pick up so much in their first week,” Zhou said.Children sit at small tables playing with bins of sand.

Some of the children in her care already have at least one parent who speaks Chinese, so Zhou’s program offers those children the opportunity to strengthen both their Chinese and English skills. She tries to balance families’ expectations by incorporating both languages in activities throughout the day and by encouraging families to supplement at home in their non-primary language.

“[For] the kids who don’t have any Chinese at home, the parents expect more Chinese here. Parents who speak Chinese at home expect more English here,” Zhou said.

For Zhou, teaching the children in both languages has been rewarding, especially when she can see the children’s growth in embracing both cultures.

“[The best part of my job is] to watch the kids learn so quickly and see the parents so proud of them,” she said. “And when the kids come to me–and they always do that–and hug me and say, ‘I love you,’ it’s all worth it.”