Key findings about day care centers and the impact on our children’s development that I shared on TODAY that all parents and educators should know. And how to use those findings to help your choose the best day care for your child
Over 2.3 million American kids under five are cared for at day care centers. If you’re like most parents, I’m sure you’ve pondered the age-old question: “What impact does child care have on my child?” Well, now there’s an answer.
A federally funded study by the Early Child Care Research Network released results that will have parents and educators alike on alert. Since 1991 researchers have been tracking over 1364 families. Children in the study were randomly selected at birth (all born within 24 hours of each other) from 10 different American locations and have been followed since one month of age. Upper, middle, and lower income families were represented. Investigators examined how differences among families, children and child care arrangements might be correlated to their health as well as intellectual, social and emotional development.
The children were evaluated periodically, most recently at age 15, with a host of measures. The study is significant because it is first to track children representing all demographics and incomes a full decade after they left child care.
Key Findings About Day Care That Parents Must Know
- “Parents have far more influence on children’s growth and development than any type child care they receive.” (YES!)
- Academic and behavior gains from child care that endured until age 15 were slightly higher when children were involved with “high quality child caregivers.” High quality is defined as “caregivers who are warm, supportive and provide high quality cognitive stimulation.”
- Teens who were in high-quality child care settings before age 5 scored higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement.
- Specific academic areas (in order) that showed the highest gains at age 15: Reading, Vocabulary, Verbal Analogies, and Math.
- Teen also reported fewer acting-out behaviors than peers who were in lower-quality child care arrangements during their early years. [Watch the discipline policies of the providers. Are they firm, child-centered, consistent and help children learn healthier ways of behaving?]
- Teens who spent more hours in child care in their first 4½ years of life reported a greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviors (taking drugs, smoking, and alcohol) at age 15 than did peers who spent less time in child care.
- More than a decade after parents stopped those day care payments those behavior differences were still evident.
- Though differences in these measures among the youth were deemed small, researchers still considered them significant since the gains latest until age 15. Translation: high quality care giving in the early years affects children’s social, academic, and behavioral development in the teen years.
10 Questions to Choose a Quality Day Care
OK, you’ve read the results. You recognize know that the study says the key to reap academic and behavior gains for your child’s success is to find a quality care giver. Of course you want a great day care for your child, but how to you know which facility is the best one for your child? How do you know which is a quality care facility? My strongest recommendation: observe a few centers and always observe when children are present. It will help you decide if it’s a place you want your child to spend part of his or her day. Here are ten questions to ask yourself-and the staff-to help you make your final decision.
1. Does this seem like a place my child would like to be?
Use your instinct on this one. Can you see your child fitting in and being comfortable in this environment? Are the children enjoying themselves? Do they appear to be happy and active? Is there a variety of activities that are age-appropriate for the children? You know your child better than anyone, so rely on your instincts!
2. Are there rich, interactive language experiences?
Watch the staff interaction with the children closely. Are they talking with the children? Are the children communicating with the staff? Are there rich language experiences and if so are they “hands-on” (not just paper and pencil)? For instance, is the staff reading, speaking, listening to the children? Are there outings, art, dress up, and play type of activities in which children can communicate with peers? Is there a television and if so, is it being used as a “baby sitter”?
3. Is the staff knowledgeable about child development?
Ask the staff what their philosophy about early childhood education is (don’t worry if you don’t know their answer – make sure they have one). Ask how the staff is trained in child development and how frequently? How many of the staff are credentialed in early childhood education? How do they stay current on the latest child development research (such as this study)? What is the educational background and credentials of the supervisor?
4. What is the daily schedule?
There should be a consistent daily structure where children know what is expected. Is there a balance between physical activities and quieter ones? Watch the children. Are they doing the kinds of activities your child would enjoy doing? There must be rich language experiences and activities that stimulate cognitive growth to reap those gains. Make sure children are actively engaged in creative play, interacting with adults, and are not just sitting and doing paper and pencil tasks. Make sure the television is not used as a baby sitter! Then visualize your child in this setting: Is this a good match for your child’s needs, temperament and abilities?
5. What is the ratio between staff and children?
It’s always best to have a smaller number of staff to children. You want to make sure your child is being closely watched. You also want to make sure there is positive interaction (face-to-face!!) between that caregiver and your child.
6. Is the staff “kid friendly?”
Watch the interaction between the staff and children. Do they enjoy kids? Are they patient and kid-oriented? Are they respectful towards them? And (most importantly) do the children appear to enjoy the staff? The “kid friendly” rule has always been the one I was the pickiest about when choosing a school for my own children. A key to the study was that a “High Quality Caregiver” was warm, supportive and provided quality cognitive stimulation. Watch for those traits!
7. What is the discipline policy?
Ask what their discipline approach is for inappropriate children’s behavior – especially for hitting or biting. Ask, “How do you deal with aggressive children?” Make sure they have a thought-out plan and you agree with their plan. Watch how the children interact with one another: are they caring or aggressive? If you witness an aggressive child, how does the staff respond? The NIH report found that the longer a child was in day care the more likely he would be impulsive at age 15. Habits are formed early. Make sure the facility has a proactive approach to behavior and knows how to replace acting out, aggressive behaviors with more appropriate ones.
8. Is the program within my budget?
Are there any additional costs for the program such as materials or transportation? Find out the entire budget. Is it worth the cost?
9. Will my child fit in and be safe here?
Is it well gated? Are electrical sockets covered? Are fire extinguishers available? How well are they equipped to deal with accidents? Is the staff trained in CPR? Hopefully, there will never be a safety issue, but a good day care makes sure that children’s safety is a primary focus. What do you when my child or other children are ill? Find out what the policy is when children are ill at the center. Is there a supervised location where they can be removed from the other children? Could I see my child in this facility or with this care giver? Is this a place where he would fit in, feel comfortable and thrive? (Use your instinct! Get into the shoes of your child and see the caregiver or facility from your child’s eyes!)
10. Does the staff share the same values as I do?
These people will be sharing their lives with your child, so you want them to hopefully share a few similar values. Think through what are your core beliefs about raising your child and watch to see if the staff models them. For instance: Is the staff respectful? Do they require children to be courteous and are they courteous to children? Are they dressed neatly and appropriately?
Use your instinct! Look around. Ask the parents of the other kids. Visit at a few different times and days. In the end the critical questions to ask yourself are these: “Do I want these people to be responsible for my child’s safety and well-being?” “Would my child feel safe and secure in this setting?” No one knows your child better than you. Right? Right!
For more parenting strategies on this and 101 other issues refer to my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba and subscribe to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check.
For more information about raising mentally and morally strong kids see me website, MicheleBorba.