Choosing the right fit when it comes to early child care just got easier for parents in Alaska.

The state now has a way to measure the quality of early child care and learning programs, called Learn and Grow. Child care centers and programs who sign up are evaluated on numerous standards, like health and safety, family engagement, the center’s leadership and its learning environment.

“We know that about 55 percent of our kids under 6 [years old] are in some kind of care outside of the home, and that quality varies drastically,” says Meghan Johnson, director of Learn and Grow at Thread Alaska, the state’s child care resource.

Having a quality recognition and improvement system is part of a national trend, says Johnson. Alaska joins 43 other states with such a system.

Learn and Grow is a phased approach, meaning programs are encouraged to target their weaknesses and strengthen them, Johnson says. Available for child care centers who sign up, is coaching for teachers and administrators and activities to advance program quality in various areas.

Also available through Learn and Grow is funding for professional development of the child care center’s faculty, to improve professional development and encourage career advancement, Johnson says, noting Alaska’s high turnover rate among early childhood educators.

“If we can retain teachers and keep them in the profession, then that’s another way to increase the quality [of child care],” said Johnson. “Then there will be accessible, highly skilled professionals that programs can have access to.”

Bright Horizons, a child care center in Anchorage, was one of the first programs to sign up for Learn and Grow. The center’s director, Jen Clark, says her center has already been set up with a professional development specialist.

Alaska child care crunch is complex, Johnson says. When it comes to the availability of childcare in Anchorage and Alaska, there’s only half the supply available to meet the demand, according to numbers provided by Thread. Clark’s center, along with many others around the municipality, have a wait list for admission. Her hope is that more programs committed to improving quality through Learn and Grow will ultimately improve the sector as a whole.

“For our staff, it will help them to be recognized as professionals within their field and also give them a living wage,” said Clark. “Because if your staff can’t make a living wage, they’re going to move on.”

The opportunity to recognize the hard work her staff is already putting in, plus being able to “work on areas where we might need a little bit of improvement” is one of the reasons enrolling in Learn and Grow was important to Clark.

learn and grow

Learn and Grow’s importance lies in the future success of Alaska’s youth, says Johnson, adding high quality care results in healthier children who are better prepared when they enter school age.

Thread encourages Alaska parents to look for the Learn and Grow symbol when they’re choosing early learning care options for their kiddos.

“It’ll help families be able to recognize and then find quality, affordable care,” Clark says, adding that because she’s often forced to turn families away from Bright Horizons, she knows families are looking for recommendations on child care centers.

Contact Sierra Starks at and on Facebook and Twitter, @SStarksKTVA