General Education

How Preschool Works in North Dakota

How Preschool Works in North Dakota
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Noodle Staff September 2, 2015

A 7-minute guide to preschool and child care in North Dakota. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

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Takeaway: North Dakota has several options for licensed care, both in residences and centers, as well as a few forms of legally unlicensed child care. While the state issues licenses, oversight takes place at the level of the county. The state provided funding to early childhood education for the first time in 2015. The percentage of enrolled children in child care has traditionally been low.


Until April 2015, North Dakota did not provide direct funding to early childhood education. This year, for the first time in its history, the North Dakota Congress approved a bill that would give $3 million in grants to pre-K programs serving low-income children. This funding will allow for 2,000 new seats{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} in early childhood education programs in 2016. Given that at the moment, only 30 percent of North Dakota’s districts provide approved child care education options, and classrooms aren’t available in 21 of the 53 districts, this additional funding promises to broaden early childhood education access across the state.

While not funded directly by the state until recently, early childhood education has been supported in other ways. The State of Preschool in 2014{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} guide by the National Institute of Early Education Research explains that there have been several key initiatives backed by the Department of Public Instruction in North Dakota. For instance, early childhood educators are given the opportunity to enhance their credentials through grants provided by the department, and up to $5,000 is available in Early Childhood Environment grants, which allow new or existing early childhood programs to expand or enhance their environments. Finally, in 2013, the state set up voluntary early learning guidelines{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} for providers.

North Dakota State University offers a program called Gearing Up for Kindergarten, which provides resources primarily to parents (but also to educators) about how to prepare children for their transition to kindergarten. North Dakota is part of a consortium of states working to create better methods of assessing K–3 readiness, an initiative that could affect the standards of early childhood education across the country.

All licensed care in North Dakota, and some forms of unlicensed care, are eligible to participate in the federal Child Care Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to low-income families. Some providers are also eligible to participate in the USDA Food Program, which reimburses licensed programs for providing children with nutritious meals, particularly centers that serve meals to low-income children.

North Dakota’s child care provider <a href="{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } requires an account, but it is modern and comprehensive. Results are displayed on both an interactive map and in a list generated based on location. The database search, which hosts the database, also provides several resources to help parents navigate the child care system, as well as an option for parents to receive one-on-one advice from a [parent services coordinator](" target="_blank">Child Care Aware of North Dakota site{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } who can provide personalized recommendations to families.

Center-Based Care

There are three types of licensed center-based child care{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } options in North Dakota: group child care, child care centers, and preschools.

Group child care{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } provides services for up to 30 children and can take place in a residence or other facility. The maximum group size{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } for each provider depends on the capacity of the facility and the age of the children. Providers must comply with one of two options concerning teacher-to-child ratios. The first option requires a 1:7 teacher-to-child ratio, with no more than three children younger than 2, and with up to two school-aged children. The second options requires a ratio of 1:4 for children under 18 months, 1:5 for children ages 12 to 36 months, 1:7 for children ages 36 months to 4 years old, 1:10 for children between 4 and 5 years old, and 1:12 for children between 5 and 6 years old. Mixed-age groups are allowed, though these have their own required ratios.

Group child care supervisors must have an educational or professional background in early childhood education. The licensing regulations provide several options of qualifications, ranging from a bachelor’s degree in child development to two positive referrals from a position in which the person supervised at least three children for one year. Additionally, supervisors are required to participate in a minimum of ten hours of yearly training. Other staff members must take a basic course and additional yearly training provided by the Department of Human Services.

Child care centers{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } must provide services to at least 19 children in a facility, with a maximum total group size determined by the capacity of the location. The providers must comply with the same teacher-to-child ratios as those set for group child care centers, but have specific maximum group sizes depending on the age of the children, which are as follows: up to 10 children under 18 months, up to 15 children between 18–36 months, up to 20 children between 3–4 years old, up to 25 children between 4–5 years old, and up to 30 children between 5–6 years old. Mixed-age groups are allowed, and again, these have their own specifications.

The director of a child care center must have a degree (bachelor’s or associate’s) or certification (Montessori or teaching certificate) in early childhood education, and attend a minimum of 13 hours of training a year. All staff members are required to pass a child care course and attend a yearly training session.

In North Dakota, preschools{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } are defined as programs that provide education and socialization to children between the ages of 2 and 6 for no more than three hours a day. The maximum allowable group size depends on the capacity of the facility. Preschools must comply with a teacher-to-child ratio that is as follows: 1:6 for children between 2 and 3 years old, 1:11 for children between 3 and 4 years old, 1:13 for children between 4 and 5 years old, and 1:16 for children between 5 and 6 years old. Mixed-age groups are allowed, but these have their own specifications.

Preschool directors and teachers must have a degree (bachelor’s or associate’s) or a certification (Montessori or teaching certificate) in early childhood education and must attend a minimum amount of training hours (the quantity of which depends on the amount of time they work at the preschool). While child care centers provide more flexibility in the programs they provide, preschool staff members are required to have a daily written plan of all activities they will do and must follow a written curriculum.

All personnel at any form of center-based care must pass a background check, and all types of center-based providers are required to have at least one staff member who knows how to administer CPR and first aid.

In addition to the qualifications mentioned above, each type of center-based care has its own requirements for to the safety and cleanliness of the facilities, types of programs and discipline provided, and provisions regarding emergency care, all of which are outlined in the relevant state legislation{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" }.

The Department of Human Services issues licenses to all three types of center-based care facilities if they meet the requirements. Licenses must be renewed each year, and facilities must pass one announced and one unannounced visit by the county’s social services office. The county’s social services office will also inspect a facility in the case of a complaint.

Home-Based Care

Other than group child care (described above), which can take place in a residence or in a facility, North Dakota offers a home-based care option named family child care. This program provides care for up to seven children, including the provider’s own children under age 12. Programs can provide services to up to three children under age 2, with additional older children; or they can provide care for up to four children under age 2, and no additional children between 2 and 6 years old. Two school-aged children can be added to either scenario. Only one supervisor is required to care for the children in a family child care program.

Providers of family child care must take a course approved by the Department of of Human Services and complete at least nine hours of training per year. At least one of the staff members present must be trained in administering CPR and first aid. All staff must also pass a background check.

To receive a license, family child care providers must comply with regulations concerning the size, cleanliness, and safety of their home; the types of activities and discipline administered; and emergency preparedness plans. All requirements can be found in the state’s legislation{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" }.

The Department of Human Services issues licenses to family child care providers that meet the necessary requirements. Licenses must be renewed each year, and homes must pass one announced and one unannounced visit by the county’s social services office. The county’s social services office also inspects a facility in the case of a complaint.

Unlicensed Care

In North Dakota, any provider taking care of more than three infants (0–2 years old) or more than five children (0–12 years old) must be licensed.

There are two types of unlicensed child care options for families in North Dakota. The first is called a self-declared provider, who may administer care to five or fewer children, or up to three infants. Providers must take basic safety training and pass a background check, and adhere to only minimal rules. The facility is inspected prior to approval and receives on annual monitoring visit from the county social services office.

The second type of unlicensed care is called approved relative care, and consists of care provided to five or fewer children or up to three infants from a relative. Relatives include those related to the children by blood, marriage, or court order. These providers are not monitored but do receive a background check.

Tribal entities are also allowed to administer unlicensed care, which is referred to as registered care.

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