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Child Care: Options for the 21st Century

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I'm Susan Turben and this is the story of a shopping tour - not for goods or services for yourself or your home, but for child care. Families have different needs than the traditional families years ago. Today, adults and their young children are concerned about career choices, life styles, as well as basic decisions about family life.

Child Care options are among the basic decisions that must be made when we expect 5-6 million preschoolers will need care outside the home.

Know About Child Care Options

On the bright side … having babies is back in style.  Adults may wait longer to have children, or be single parents through choice or divorce, or have to work two jobs to make it, but they care very much about childbirth, child-rearing, and childhood.

There is new prestige associated with parenthood these days! Adults and their children are demanding consumers! They want information that is accessible, practical, and useful. Adults want to be good at what they do, including being parents.

Shopping for Child Care is a major expenditure of time and effort - not to mention money. It might be compared to trying to get around in a strange, unfamiliar place. As I drive around town, I can find a day care center in a church, a child care center in a school, and several family day care homes.

How does an adult, say a single parent, begin to choose? This program is your guide through the child care maze - the wonderful, but confusing world of options for child care.

Research on Children

Child development research coming out of colleges and universities today offers reassurance to families. The good news is there is no one right way to care for or rear young children. Most experts seem generally positive about the benefits of placing infants and young children in quality group care.

Other experts favor individual home-based care for children in the early months of life. These varying opinions exist because we no longer view infants as passive, but as active competent little people. Research on infancy seems to show that babies and toddlers get strong feelings of independence and self-importance from being with caring adults and other children. Older preschoolers gain social and intellectual skills from participating in group activities.

What is best, then, for one infant or toddler may be to stay at home. For another, quality group care may work miracles, enabling the family to cope in the best way for that child.

The Perfect Match

Day care is the fastest growing option for child care, because there is so much energy and interest being focused on the increasing need for it. Today even businesses and industries have begun to pay attention to the importance of child care services.

Besides day care, other child care options include play schools, nursery school, preschool programs, pre-kindergarten, special education programs, Head Start, family day care, or stay at home care.

There were 73.9 milliion children in the United States in 2011. Only 4.4 percent of preschoolers today are cared for by their mothers, 46% of the workforce today is comprised of women.  Overall in 2005, 36.1% of children from birth through age five were enrolled in center-based programs, of which Head Start programs made up about a sixth. Head Start was notably more in use for 4 year olds (13.2%) and 5 year olds (10.4%). Center-based care of some kind increased for older children. While only 12% of children under one were in some sort of center-based program, 69.2% of 4 year olds and 68.7% of 5 year olds were in center-based programs.. As a result of more numerous and flexible options, parents can combine their options in ways that "match" the needs of the family, both adults and children.

Choose your child care options with care! Infants, toddlers and preschoolers can be helped to learn many personal, social and cognitive skills early in life. They can also learn to feel secure and confident about themselves and others.

The big "idea" behind all this is the importance of achieving a good match between the child's needs, the family situation, and characteristics of the program or school. It's a little like the story of "Goldilocks and The Three Bears" - the match should be just right.

"Terri" Talks About Child Care

Many moms and dads want their children to stay at home and choose home-based options to begin the child-rearing process. We're going to stop at Terri's house. This mother is not interested in group care, day care, or early preschool because she wants her children to start out learning at home, with mom as the teacher!

Terri: "I know some parents like or even need day care. For me, I made the choice to stay home for a few years, while the children are at home. I realize, though, they need to be with other kids. We go to the park, they have their neighborhood friends, and we go to church. I like the decision I made, at least for now."

When Terri is not at home with her children, she makes arrangements for Kerry and Kevin right in the neighborhood, with family, friends, or neighbors. This is an important option for many families, who are all too aware of the potential for child abuse and other violent responses to children.

Grandparents, too are definitely back in style! Since so many women work, mothers and fathers have a growing need for reliable, good old fashioned "caregiving." More working mothers rely on relatives than any other group, but other parents prefer to have outside-the-family care.

Early Intervention

Laurie: "For me, I like day care. I need the time away from the children to do the things I want to do, and the children need to have friends of their own and a change of scene. I think that day care is very important to their development.

Dr. Price: "I can assure parents that it is healthy for children to have the benefit of many kinds of early education. Different environments and competent teachers and caregivers and richness to a child's early years. If a child has a developmental disability or a handicapping condition, it is especially important that the family begin an early intervention program just as soon as they can find one - early in infancy. This is important because the parents get support and learn that they are not alone, and the child gets specific training in order to modify the effects of the problem."

Observing Child Care Centers

When parents do need a child care program, there is no substitute for taking the time to visit several neighborhood centers. If you have never visited a child care center, you may feel strange at first, but a meeting with administrators and staff is as important as any other kind of business meeting. Talk. Ask questions. Be a curious observor.

Ask to see every room. Centers are arranged according to the learning activities planned for individual children. Tour the outside of the center, as well as the kitchen, sleeping spaces, and bathrooms.

Are the toys and materials accessible, plentiful, and clean? Is the furniture in good condition? Are there plenty of games and activities visible and attractively arranged on shelves?

Each center should have a wide selection of equipment that will keep children busy and happy all day long. This is important because no mom or dad wants to pick up children after a long day at work and find the child has spent the day being bored and frustrated.

Tom: "I'm looking for daycare that fits Brandon's needs. He's a very active child. I want to be sure Brandon has the best start in life, so I've taken the time to look around at different centers just to see for myself how they operate."

Regulations for Child Care

An interview with the child care administrator is the best way to judge the effectiveness of a program. Is there evidence of good planning and good record-keeping?

Is the administrator experienced in curriculum and program development, as well as early childhood education? How does she supervise the staff, the children, the cooking, the cleaning, the health and safety standards? How does the administrator relate to parents and the families she serves?

There are different state-monitored regulations for infants and toddlers than for three-to-five year olds. The younger the child, the smaller the ratio between teachers and children. Health and safety standards, as well as sufficient space for each child, are required. For preschool-age children, as well as babies, licensed centers much have a written developmental program of tasks and activities that are appropriate for the ages of all children enrolled. This is part of the licensing procedure.

Visit centers and inquire about licensing and state standards. Quality day care and child-care centers are happy to have visitors at any time during working hours. A child care center with an "open door" policy is the only kind to consider.

Teachers Are The Heart Of Any Program

Teachers are the heart of child care, day care or preschool. Talented teachers are trained and experienced. They energize, motivate and educate young children's minds as well as their bodies. While parents are the first teachers of their children, teachers can significantly enrich and increase the desire to learn.

Different teachers have different styles! Consider "teacher style" in choosing a program or center. Observe teachers in action and see how their styles match with your child's needs.

Preschool Education

A quality preschool, setting focuses on social and intellectual abilities in children who are 3-to-5 years of age. Look carefully for key factors in the preschool setting: materials and equipment; attitudes of administrators and staff toward parents and children; curriculum; safety and health measures.

There are many types of preschools. Montessori schools appear to be open and unstructured. They are, in fact, meticulously organized. The environment is arranged with great attention to each child's capacity for self-discovery, self correction, and self-learning. Parents who favor the Montessori method of learning think this approach makes young children more intellectually aware of their world.

Head Start has become the major preschool education plan funded by the Federal Government. Research shows Head Start has a positive lasting effect on the social and intellectual development of young children.

Early Education programs for infants and children with disabilities are highly valued in both urban and rural communities! Delayed development and average development do belong together. In many communities there are "mainstream" programs where young children go to school together regardless of disability of handicap. Integrated education has several advantages, including small class-size and a nearly one-to-one ratio of teachers to infants and young children. Be sure to ask if the programs you visit have these positive features.

Beth: "Children who have handicaps enjoy being with others who are both like themselves and different. There are basic skills all children learn, no matter what the problem, yet there are very special things children with handicaps must learn, separate from anyone else. I find that most children can lead pretty much normal lives at home and at school if they get a good dose of stimulation and education early in life!"

Infant research has helped families realize that the earliest years are important ones. Today quality centers and programs provide intellectual and social tasks for infants and young children because research tells us that even if infants think differently than adults, they are in fact, thinkers and curious information gatherers.

Community Resources for Parents

Can we agree that there are many options for child care? Adults need to investigate these options and realize that a child and her family are constantly changing. Family circumstances will vary from the moment of birth through the lifespan. This means that adults, especially parents, need practical information in order to think through the developmental process and plan accordingly. None of us can do this without support and help. Contact your children's librarian or early childhood education department at a local college or university for help in locating important community resources:

  • Preschool and nursery schools
  • Parent education programs
  • Home and family day care centers
  • Head Start programs
  • Special education programs
  • Mental Health Centers
  • Well-baby clinics
  • Associations for the Education of Young Children
  • Public libraries
  • Community colleges
  • Counseling services
  • Domestic relations and family court
  • Cooperative extension services
  • Information and referral hot-lines
     

Your community has the resources to make your job easier. Now that you have observed how development occurs in childhood, don't you agree the process is amazing? There is so much to learn about each age of growth during the important early years.

Between 1974 and 1984, Dr. Turben designed and implemented seven different programs designed to serve families with infants and toddlers, including programs, which have received continuous federal, state and local funds. She created the Stepping Stones Home Visitation and Curriculum Project, Albany, New York, the United Labor Agency Branching Out Preschool and After-School Program, Painesville, Ohio and  Prevention-Intervention program model each representing a "first" in the field of early education and intervention.

Ask Dr. Susan