What influences the interactions in daycare centers?

Children’s everyday experiences in a daycare center depend largely on the adults who surround them. Policymakers and sponsors determine the center’s structural conditions, but it is teachers who shape day-to-day activities. A positive relationship with those adults is essential for children’s healthy development. Interactions should foster a sense of security and well-being at an emotional and behavioral level, but also stimulate development by providing active learning support. 

In the QuaKi study, researchers examined aspects that may affect the quality of those interactions. They looked particularly at the role of situational factors (e.g. setting, number of adults present and their responsibilities) and structural conditions (teacher-child ratio, QualiKita certification).

QuaKi study

The QuaKi study was conducted by the Department of Early Childhood Development and Education at Thurgau University of Teacher Education and the University of Konstance, in cooperation with Marie Meierhofer Institute for the Child (MMI) in Zurich (Perren, Frei & Reyhing). Financial support was provided by the Jacobs Foundation. The study used the CLASS Toddler tool to assess the quality of teacher-child interactions in 119 groups in daycare-centers located in several of Switzerland’s German-speaking cantons.

Observers looked at the quality of emotional and behavioral support (e.g. emotional atmosphere, sensitivity of teachers, behavior regulation), but also at the quality of active learning support (e.g. feedback, use of language, encouragement for learning and development).

Selected findings

We found that while emotional and behavioral support was generally good, support for active learning was less satisfactory. Our analyses showed that how everyday situations are structured has a critical effect on the quality of teacher-child interactions. The directors of daycare centers play a particularly important role. In their presence, teachers engage in more positive emotional and behavior-related interactions and provide better support for children’s learning. It was also apparent that the on-paper ratio of children to teachers is irrelevant; what matters is the number of children who are actually present in a given situation.
Moreover, the quality of learning situations differs from one case to another. The highest-quality interactions were observed during guided group work; teachers found it more difficult to provide active learning support in situations of free play. During daily routines and transitions, organizational needs seemed to take precedence; that reduced the level of emotional support that was provided.

Another important aspect was a center’s familiarity with the requirements of a quality label. Supportive interactions between teachers and children were found to be most common in daycare centers that were certified or in the process of obtaining certification. The study also revealed that being guided by QualiKita’s quality standards is not enough; it was only when the center had actually been certified that the quality of interactions improved.


The QuaKi study shows that teachers in German-speaking Switzerland are quite successful at engaging in respectful, sensitive interactions with children. There is room for improvement, however, when it comes to providing active learning support. How everyday situations are structured plays a very important role in this context. The presence of center directors in everyday activities has a positive impact, as does QualiKita certification.

Prof. Sonja Perren is a professor at the University of Konstanz and
Thurgau University of Teacher Education. She has chaired the Department of Early Childhood Development and Education since 2012. Her research and teaching currently focus on the quality of early childhood education and care facilities and on developing and promoting young children’s socioemotional skills.

Yvonne Reyhing is a research associate in the Department of Early Childhood Development and Education at the University of Konstanz and Thurgau University of Teacher Education. She earned a master’s degree in early childhood in 2016. Her research looks at various aspects of the quality of daycare centers and professional development for teachers.