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The Great Day Care Debate

Does Day Care Influence a Kid's Success in School?

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Welcome to the latest version of The Great Day Care Debate. This isn't the first time, and most certainly won't be the last, that studies are conducted on day care and how a tot's time spent in a day care center impacts learning when the child begins school.

The research this time around come from the latest study of child care and development conducted in the United States. Just over 1,350 children in the analysis were tracked from birth as part of a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. Since 1991, researchers followed these kids from infancy through various child care settings (at home with mother, home with another relative or a nanny, or at a day care) and into elementary school.

The researchers indicate that children who spent time in "high quality" day care centers as youngsters had better vocabulary by the fifth grade. That's the good news. The bad news, if you believe the findings, is that day care kids also have a higher incident of behavior problems. This finding holds up regardless of the child's gender, family income, and quality of the day care center.

Media reaction to the study (released in late March 2007) had headlines blaring about the "Day care debate being re-ignited," "Day care creates bad-behaving school kids," "Poor behavior is linked to time in day care" and even suggestions that day care is only for those families who are left without other care options. Defense of quality day care (also called early education centers) was equally as swift. Defenders talk about the array of early learning and socialization that children learn among their peer, and how the training and education of early educators has vastly increased through the years. In addition, many kindergarten-2nd grade teachers applaud quality day care settings of being an optimal way to prepare kids socially for kindergarten and elementary school.

"I always ask my kindergarten students about their care prior to coming to school," says one Texas teacher. "Based on their responses, I may change my approach to socialization and early school skills at first, because some kids who have stayed home with a parent and haven't interacted with peers much don't know general school rules such as sharing, waiting in line, not touching others, and not talking when someone else is. Day care kids typically have all the social rules down pat. It all evens out by a few months, but a quality care setting has provided preschoolers with the opportunity to develop strong social skills before they enter my classroom."

Early educators also point to the lesson plans and early hands-on learning that day care participants get to experience. Most quality day care centers teach the ABCs, early reading, simple math and science, and even general hygiene skills to their students. Behavioral issues and patterns are hard to pointpoint, and giving "day care" the rap may not be fair or even accurate.

The general advice continues to be that parents should feel comfortable in their care decision for their child based on what's best for their family, and that all kids will be okay and ready for learning come school time. Choosing child care, whether it is with a stay-at-home parent, relative, nanny or au pair, in-home child care, commercial day care, or even an academic-focused pre-school, should all have one common goal: providing for the overall safety and needs of the child. Working parents shouldn't feel guilty about leaving their child with qualified and quality care. Stay-at-home parents shouldn't feel guilty about choosing to remain home with their child during the first few years of their tot's life.

Regardless of the child care path selected, kids do best with loving, nurturing, and attentive hands and hearts. All too soon, your precious one will be bouncing off to kindergarten!
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