Parents frequently ask me what they should look for when they are selecting care for their youngsters when they must be away at work. The answer to this question depends on their expectations, requirements, scheduling needs, and budget for care. In this article I have composed a list of parents’ most commonly asked questions along with answers from a professional standpoint. I will also provide some basic information about early childhood so that parents can make an educated decision about who they choose to care for their children when they must be away from them.
First, it must be noted that there are two types of care for young children: 1) There is care that is meant to keep children healthy and safe; and 2) There is care that is meant to keep children healthy and safe while simultaneously providing educational opportunities that prepare children for formal educational settings (K-12th grade) and everyday life. Second, parents need to understand that at birth the brain is not fully developed. In fact, a tremendous amount of learning occurs during early childhood (birth to age seven years). Consequently, the type of care parents choose, whether the care is for the health and safety of children or whether the care is to include educational opportunities, the primary caretaker should, at the very least, understand and use “best practices” for developing healthy children.
Child development specialists view and use empirical research to describe best practices. Best practices are shown to be those that address the developmental needs of the “whole child.” The “whole child” consists of 5-distinct selves, and each of the selves must learn specific skills in order for children to reach their full potential. These selves include: 1) the cognitive self – the part of the child that thinks, solves problems, makes judgments, and perceives or interprets information. Each of these tasks requires specific skills that are developed during early childhood; 2) the creative self – the part of the child that creates something new out of already existing materials. Today, in America, creativity is grossly undervalued, yet cures for diseases, solving our nation’s most complex problems, and every convenience used by mankind are the result of creativity. Children must be given materials that allow them opportunities to create their own masterpieces, without being criticized, if adults want them to grow up and think outside of the box; 3) the emotional self – the part of the child that feels (sad, happy, frustration, anger, etc.). Children learn to control their emotions, or they fail to learn to control their emotions, during early childhood. The primary caretakers of young children have much to do with whether they develop appropriate emotional regulatory skills; 4) the social self – the part of the child that interacts with others. Children learn both appropriate and inappropriate social skills from their primary caretakers during childhood; 5) the physical self – the part of the child that navigates the body through the physical world. Physical skills include crawling, walking, running, writing, coloring, drawing, etc. These skills begin in infancy and build on each other. Therefore, the early physical skills are critical to developing the physical skills of tomorrow. Naturally, young children also have physical & biological needs such as nourishment, medical care, adequate grooming, and a safe and warm environment.
The various skills associated with each of the five selves begin developing during early childhood. These skills are developed through the opportunities that primary caretakers provide to children during the early years of development. Primary caretakers are the models for children and the ways in which primary caretakers respond to the various needs of young children, including their misbehaviors and their mistakes, actually deliver powerful messages to children. These messages can have positive or negative effects on the brain development of children; AND these effects have long-term consequences for children. The information children learn about themselves (e.g., I am competent versus I am incompetent) from their primary caretakers during early childhood development become hard wired into their brains and set the foot print for their entire life span. A common mistake that is made by parents is to believe that their young infant only needs someone to feed them, change their diaper, and keep them safe while parents are away. While these caretaking tasks are important for the physical needs of children, these behaviors alone do not provide appropriate care for the cognitive, creative, emotional, and social needs of developing children.
Q1. What is the difference between childcare and preschool/educare? While these definitions may vary slightly most will agree that childcare is primarily designed to care for the health and safety of children. Preschool/educare is meant to provide care for the health and safety of children while simultaneously providing carefully planned curricula that prepare children for formal educational settings (grades K- 12th grade) and real life situations. Many people believe that preparing children for formal education means teaching youngsters the alphabet, numbers, and simple shapes, yet this is only partly true. Youngsters need to learn appropriate social skills and emotional regulation in order to succeed in formal classrooms settings, educational institutions, and in everyday life. To the extent children are able to master cognitive (thinking), creative, emotional, social, and physical skills is the extent to which they are able to successfully navigate through formal educational settings.
Q2. Who qualifies to work as a preschool/educare teacher? Each state is different so it is important to contact your state’s local branch of the Office of Education to learn about the specific requirements for the state in question. In the state of California those who earn a California Pre-K Credential, also referred to as a, Permit, qualify to work as preschool teachers by 1) earning a degree in Early Childhood Education; or 2) completing specific coursework in Early Childhood Education and completing a specific number of days/hours of work experience in a licensed Early Childhood Education facility.
Training and education of Pre-K Teachers is expected to foster knowledge on several fronts: 1) child development, typical & atypical; 2) identify long-term & short-term educational goals for children’s cognitive, creative, emotional, social, and physical development; 3) write monthly, weekly, and daily lesson plans; 3) design curricula that is interesting to children, fun, and educational; 4) use appropriate forms of positive child guidance to set boundaries for children; 5) work with families as a member of a team; and 6) develop a profound sensitivity and ability to work with children of various abilities, temperaments, and personalities. In all of these areas teachers are taught those empirically supported strategies that are shown to promote rather than impede children’s learning, even when children become frustrated, have difficulty, or engage in misbehaviors.
There are 4-levels of Preschool Teachers in the state of California. Levels 3 & 4 also require coursework in general education.
· level 1 – Assistant Pre-K Teachers have completed 108 hours of education in early childhood studies.
· level 2 – Associate Pre-K Teachers have completed 216 hours of education in early childhood studies.
· level 3 – Pre-K Teachers have completed 432 hours of education in early childhood studies and approximately 287 hours in general education coursework (e.g., college level English, college level math, etc.)
· level 4 – Pre-K Teachers have completed 432 hours of education in early childhood studies, approximately 287 hours in general education coursework, and additional coursework in a specialized area of early childhood studies (e.g. infant/toddler, children with special needs, school age, etc.). Note: Level 2 and beyond are allowed to be alone with the children enrolled in their classrooms, and are responsible for curricula development and implementation in Pre-K settings.
Q3. Why is the level of education and training important when selecting or interviewing a Pre-K teacher for your child? School readiness curricula is carefully planned, implemented through playful activities, and designed to provide opportunities for young children to develop effective: 1) cognitive, 2) creative, 3) emotional, 4) social, and 5) physical skills. Skilled Pre-K teachers understand how to help children view their mistakes as opportunities, and how to use children’s misbehaviors as chances to facilitate children’s development of appropriate social behaviors, and emotional regulation. Well educated and trained Pre-K teachers understand that adults who interact with children actually shape their brains for their entire life span.
Q4. What is the relationship between parent-child interactions and teacher-child interactions and the child’s developing brain? A child’s brain develops mostly between the ages of birth and age 7 years. During this time period the young developing brain is similar to the hard drive of a computer. Those adults who spend the most time with young children (e.g., parents, caretakers, teachers, etc.) have the most influence on the developing brain. It is these adults who teach the child, intentionally or unintentionally, that he or she is lovable, worthy, and capable of success in a variety of situations and settings. In other words, the adults who spend the most time with children are the programmers of the developing brain. Due to the nature of the brain, it is nearly impossible to deprogram early learning. Parents, caretakers, and teachers who are punitive (e.g., shame, blame, humiliate, embarrass, and degrade children) are hard wiring them to believe that they are useless, worthless, bad, and that something is wrong with them. To sum, the hard wiring of the brain, sets the footprint for the child’s entire life span!
Q5. What is the difference between positive child guidance and punishment? First, it is important to recognize that when children misbehave there is a goal for their misbehavior. Whether children have a physical or emotional need that is not being met or whether they are exploring their environment because they want to learn about it, these are all reasons that children’s behaviors are, at times, unsafe, annoying, or inappropriate. While caretakers of children need to keep them safe, help them learn appropriate social behaviors, and assist them in developing emotional regulation, it is important that adults accomplish these tasks while protecting children’s self-esteem, self-worth, self-concept, efficacy, autonomy, industry, and a host of other characteristics that children must develop and maintain to become their best possible selves.
Hint 1: Using positive child guidance rather than punishment assists children in developing emotional regulation and appropriate social behaviors without delivering the message to children that they are unlovable, inherently bad, worthless, and will never be able to achieve their own goals in life, or be successful in life.
Hint 2: The consequence of positive child guidance is that children develop appropriate social skills, learn the appropriate ways to regulate their emotions, develop healthy self-starting behaviors, and hone healthy effective cognitive skills while establishing healthy self-esteem and self-concept. Punishment does the opposite of positive child guidance.
Q6. Can you give us an example of positive child guidance versus discipline? Yes. In positive child guidance we simply tell the child what we want them to do. In punishment we tell the child what we don’t want them to do, and often times, even without physically harming a child, adults may make statements that leave children feeling badly about themselves. Psychological abuse is defined as behaving in a manner that leaves children feeling worthless, and perhaps fearful of making mistakes. Children who are fearful of making mistakes are afraid to explore, create, or think outside of the box for fear of being put down. Exploration, creativity, and making mistakes are all a part of life and learning, and have led to virtually every convenience used by mankind.
Imagine a young child climbing up on a chair. He stands there and the entire room looks very interesting. Perhaps he begins to jump off of the chair and onto the floor. “Wow” he thinks to himself, this is fun. The teacher or parent walks in and becomes upset for a variety of reasons. The chair isn’t to be used as a jumping board; the child might get hurt; and perhaps the adult is already upset at something else in life that has nothing to do with the child’s behavior. Nevertheless, the adult snaps and begins asking the child “What’s wrong with you? How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t you know how to listen?” These types of statements imply that there is a problem with the child.
Using positive child guidance, allows adults to assist children in constructing knowledge that is useful at other times in their lives. In positive child guidance boundaries and limits for children are set, and the reasons for the boundaries and limits, depending on the age of the child, may also be discussed. This process allows children to develop cognitive skills about safety or appropriateness of behaviors, and allows children an opportunity to make better choices for themselves. When children make better choices the environment (adults, other children) respond in positive ways and these responses send the message that the child is competent, worthy, & lovable. When humans believe that others have positive perspectives of them, healthy self-esteem, self-concept, and self-efficacy are established.
The primary problems with punishment and time outs are that children are berated for their choices and, worse, children are often not told why their choices are inappropriate and are not given opportunities to make better choices. Some adults feel that they should not need to explain anything to children because “after all I am the adult and the child is just a child.” But this thought actually reflects the failure of adults to respect children’s feelings, needs, temperaments, frustrations, and natural inclination to investigate the world they live in. In addition, this thought and other similar thoughts assume that children are miniature adults who understand the world and know how to effectively and appropriately deal with their emotions and exploration tendencies.
Examples of punishment versus positive child guidance: 1) A child is standing in a chair. Using punishment adults make statements such as: “What is wrong with you? You know that is unsafe. How many times do I need to tell you not to stand in the chair. You aren’t listening you need to go to the time out chair. Don’t stand in the chair you’ll get hurt.” 2) Using positive child guidance adults make statements such as: “I need you to sit in the chair so you will be safe. You can sit down on your own or I can help you.” While making these types of statements the adult is walking over to the child, ready to help the child sit down if the child doesn’t make the choice to do it on his own. Next, adults may say something such as, “I know it is fun being up high but I want you to be safe. If you want I can stand next to you while you stand on the chair and look around.”
There are many statements that can be made that help children do what we want them to do yet do not destroy their inquisitive nature. Parents should observe caretakers and teachers to make certain that they use positive child guidance rather than punishment. Observations should be for long time periods and during different times of the day. This will give parents an idea as to whether caretakers and teachers use positive child guidance with all of the children all of the time, even when several children are “misbehaving.”
Q4. How do I select a high quality preschool/educare or childcare facility? Today approximately twelve million children receive care outside of their family homes, yet, only 1 in 7 preschool and childcare facilities are considered to be high quality. In the state of California, both Family in Home Care Providers and Preschool Centers are required to have a license which is issued by Community Care Licensing. This license is provided to a Home or Preschool once minimum health & safety guidelines have been demonstrated (each person living in the Home or employed by the Preschool has passed a criminal background check by the FBI; sharp objects, toxic items are locked away, etc.). Family providers must have a current CPR training completion card, and Health & Safety training Certificate, but there are NO educational coursework, certificates of completion, or work experience required. Preschools are mandated, however, by the state to hire Pre-K Credentialed Teachers if the teacher will be left alone with children.
Although it is not required by the state of California at this time, there are a growing number of nannies and Family Providers who hold Pre-K Credentials and/or Degrees in the field. This is great for families who are in need of care and/or education for their youngsters because there are many more choices available to them. With more options, parents have a better chance to find the care and or education that fits best with the needs of their family.
Whether families select a Family Provider, Preschool Center, or Nanny to care for their families’ needs they should ask those who will spend the most significant time with their children some questions about their training in Early Childhood Education; knowledge about the effects of adult behaviors on early brain development, and whether the teacher or adult spending time with their children uses positive child guidance or punishment (pose questions such as, “What would you do if my child stood on the counter?”).
Below are some sample questions:
· What level of the Pre-K Credential/Permit do you hold?
· What is the effect of punishment on the developing brain?
· What are your long-term goals for my child (what does the teacher expect your child to be able to do cognitively, creatively, emotionally, socially, and physically by the end of the year?
· What types of curricula do you use to develop each of the above skills?
· What will you say to my child when his or her behavior is seen as inappropriate?
· How many parent-teacher conferences will be given within a year?
· How many authentic assessments is done on my child each day or week? Are these included in the parent-teacher conference?
· Will there be an electronic version of the parent-teacher conference sent to me?
· Will I receive samples of my child’s work with interpretations that explain my child’s development?
Parents should write down the responses to the questions they pose to caretakers or teachers and then observe often to determine whether they practice what they reported about their behaviors. Parents who have a desire to help their children develop a profound respect for different cultures should review the books and curricula used in the home or facility. Some issues to consider include:
· Are there families with different abilities portrayed in books?
· Are families and people of different sizes portrayed in books?
· Is the art work on the walls reflective of a multicultural world?
Q6. How do I know whether it is best to hire a Nanny, place my child with a Family in home provider, or select a Preschool Center? Children are different from each other and families should understand that there is not a one size fits all when it comes to selecting appropriate care and/or education for their youngsters. First, each family must decide whether they prefer childcare only, or childcare and education. Second, each family must decide whether their child has the temperament to do better in their own home, a small family environment, or a larger preschool setting. Sometimes families do not know what works best for their child until the child begins this journey. Relax, nothing is set in stone. Families who discover that the selection they made does not work as well as they anticipated are able to change. Sometimes, children outgrow a situation that has worked well for a long time.
Sometimes the choice between hiring a nanny, selecting a family in home provider, or selecting a preschool center has nothing to do with a child’s temperament but everything to do with the parents preference, work schedule, and/or finances. Remember, there are high quality nannies, family providers, and preschool facilities. And the opposite is also true. To know what you are getting parents should ask questions of the primary teachers or caretakers of their children; parents should drop in often and observe the behaviors of teachers or caretakers before enrolling their child in any settings.
After enrollment occurs, parents should initially stay with their child in the setting they have chosen to assist their child in building “trust” with their primary and secondary (assistant teachers) caretakers and/or teachers. Children who have a difficult time in a larger setting may do better in a smaller setting or with a smaller group of children.
Final Comment: There are those who have completed coursework in early childhood education but choose not to use the strategies they have learned. There are those who have not completed any early childhood education coursework yet are naturally gifted when it comes to working with children. I would not, however, choose to have my children cared for by persons who are not extremely knowledgeable about the effects that adult behaviors have on developing brains; nor would I choose to have my children cared for by persons that use punishment rather than positive child guidance.