“Is This Only a Day Care Center?

Sometime watch an early childhood professional when she’s asked, “Is this a day care center...or do the children learn something, too?”  Does she start to massage the bridge of her nose and reach blindly for the aspirin?  If so, it’s not because of the person asking the question.  It’s because she realizes that an opportunity lies before her.  She now has a chance to expound on how children learn and what quality care really is!  (Most early childhood professionals keep a soapbox nearby for just such moments.)  Yet, she also knows that the questioner is waiting—eyebrows raised in anticipation—for a quick uncomplicated answer about future academic success. 

She might consider giving this short answer: “We know that young children are learning all the time and we plan for it here.”  If there were time, she might want to add:  “Just as children grow all the time, they learn all the time.  You can’t stop them from growing between the hours of, say, three and six.  In the same way, children don’t stop learning just because they're here for an extended day.  Quality child care centers like ours (indeed, quality early childhood programs of all kinds) know that young children learn all the time, not just during special group activities or teacher-planned lessons.  They learn while they’re eating, talking, playing, and getting up from a nap.  And it’s the quality of all these experiences put together that makes an impact when it comes to later academic success.  Learning then doesn’t depend on whether this is a day care center, a child development center, or a pre-kindergarten program.  Learning depends on our thoughtful understanding of—and attention to—everything that’s happening.” 

Or, the child care professional could give a short answer something like this: “Our goal is to have them learn about themselves, others, and the world they live in.”  If there were only time, she might want to add: “Whether they attend a part-day or full-day program, children come with important questions.  They may look at us wondering, “Are you a trustworthy adult?  What do you think of me?  What do I think of me?  How will you treat my family?  What’s the world like?  Will you help me figure it out?”  No matter whether it's part-day or full-day, if it’s a quality program the staff will be sensitive to these questions.  And sensitive, therefore, to the needs of the whole child.  They won’t neglect children’s intellectual and physical needs and they won’t underestimate the importance of social and emotional learning.  What children learn about themselves, others, and the world they live in, doesn’t depend on whether or not this is a day care center.  It depends on what we believe, what we do, and all that happens while children are with us.  High-quality early childhood practices can be found in all kinds of settings.” 

“Is this only a day care...or do they learn something, too?”  There’s so much to say and sometimes only a few seconds to say it in.  Like children, these answers take time.  And, like children, they matter greatly.

Reprinted with permission for The Well-Centered Child, a reproducible newsletter.

Gretchen’s House Child Care Centers
Curriculum Principles

    • Curriculum is relevant, engaging and meaningful to children.
    • Curriculum content reflects and is generated by the needs and interests of children.
    • Teachers support and encourage positive relationships with children’s families.
    • Content meets NAEYC recognized standards of appropriate subject matter for each age group.
    • Curriculum allows all children to engage actively, not passively, in the learning process.
    • Curriculum provides opportunities for children to make meaningful choices.
    • Curriculum addresses and meets children’s physiological needs.
    • Curriculum helps children feel secure, relaxed and comfortable.
    • Curriculum helps children make connections between what they learn at home, school, and in the world at large.
    • Curriculum emphasizes exploration and experimentation.  It encourages creativity, reasoning, and problem solving skills.  It gives meaning to process.
    • Curriculum emphasizes the value of social interaction and provides opportunities to learn from others.
    • Curriculum strengthens children’s sense of competence and enjoyment of learning by providing experiences for children to succeed from their point of view.
    • Curriculum encourages respect for the environment, property and people.

    Long-Term Study of Adults Who Received High-Quality Early Childhood Care and Education Shows Economic and Social Gains, Less Crime

    Washington, DCNovember, 2004—A landmark, long-term study of the effects of high-quality early care and education on low-income three- and four-year-olds shows that adults at age 40 who participated in a preschool program in their early years have higher earnings, are more likely to hold a job, have committed fewer crimes, and are more likely to have graduated from high school. Overall, the study documented a return to society of more than a $17 for every tax dollar invested in the early care and education program.
    The High/Scope Perry Preschool study was conducted over 4 decades by the late David P. Weikart, founder of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation; Larry Schweinhart, High/Scope's current president; and their colleagues.
    "These findings can be expected of any Head Start, state preschool, or child care program similar to the program High/Scope coordinated and then studied," said Schweinhart. "Our teachers were well-qualified, they served no more than eight children from low-income families at a time, they visited these families as part of the program to discuss their child's development, and the classes operated daily for children three and four years old."
    What makes the study unique is that the children in the study were randomly assigned either to receive the High/Scope Perry Preschool program or to receive no comparable program and were then tracked throughout their lives to age 40. At earlier stages, High/Scope Educational Research Foundation staff studied these same groups of children every year from age 3 to age 11, and again at ages 14, 15, 19, and 27.
    Among the study's major findings in the educational area are

    • More of the group who received high-quality early education graduated from high school than the non-program group (65% vs. 45%), particularly females (84% vs. 32%);
    • Fewer females who received high-quality early education than non-program females required treatment for mental impairment (8% vs. 36%) or had to repeat a grade (21% vs. 41%); and
    • The group who received high-quality early education on average outperformed the non-program group on various intellectual and language tests during their early childhood years, on school achievement tests between ages 9 and 14, and on literacy tests at ages 19 and 27.

    "The preschool program's long-term effects were due to its shorter-term effects on children's educational commitment and success," said report coauthor Jeanne Montie, senior research associate at the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.
    Weikart began the study in 1962 by identifying 123 young African American children living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The researchers randomly assigned 58 of the children to a high-quality early care and education setting; the rest received no preschool program.
    Among the study's major findings in the economic area are

    • More of the group who received high-quality early education than the non-program group were employed at age 40 (76% vs. 62%);
    • The group who received high-quality early education had median annual earnings more than $5,000 higher than the non-program group ($20,800 vs. $15,300);
    • More of the group who received high-quality early education owned their own homes; and
    • More of the group who received high-quality early education had a savings account than the non-program group (76% vs. 50%).

    In the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, children participated in their own education, by planning, carrying out, and reviewing their own activities as part of their learning experience.
    One of the reviewers of the study, Nobel-Prize-winning University of Chicago economist James J. Heckman, said, "This report substantially bolsters the case for early interventions in disadvantaged populations. More than 35 years after they received an enriched preschool program, the Perry Preschool participants achieve much greater success in social and economic life than their counterparts who are randomly denied treatment."
    Among the study's major findings in the crime prevention area are

    • The group who received high-quality early education had significantly fewer arrests than the non-program group (36% vs. 55% arrested five times or more); and
    • Significantly fewer members of the group who received high-quality early care than the non-program group were ever arrested for violent crimes (32% vs. 48%), property crimes (36% vs. 58%), or drug crimes (14% vs. 34%).

    "This study proves that investing in high quality pre-kindergarten can make every family in America safer from crime and violence. Law enforcement leaders know that to win the war on crime, we need to be as willing to guarantee our kids space in a pre-kindergarten program as we are to guarantee a criminal a prison cell," said Sanford Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization made up of 2,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and victims of violence.
    A complete report on this study, Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40*, is now available from High/Scope Press. The final chapter of this report, which includes a summary and frequently asked questions, is available for download in PDF format at www.highscope.org/Research/PerryProject/perrymain.htm. A transcript of an audio press briefing on the study results is available at www.highscope.org/PressRoom/PerryTranscript.htm. To view slides showing the Perry results through age 40 using Microsoft's PowerPoint Viewer, click here. (You may need to download and save the presentation to view it. After each slide opens, click on the slide to bring up the graphics.)
    Fifty-state data on state support for preschool programs can be found at http://www.nieer.org/yearbook/.