How to Find the Best Child Care
It’s official: Child care providers play an integral role in setting the stage for children’s future success.
“In the past 20 years there has been a huge influx of preschool studies that have honed in on the science behind education and improving child outcomes,” says Shannon Riley-Ayers, an early childhood research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. In looking at how teachers provide emotional and instructional support, enhance cognitive development and approach educating the whole child, one thing became abundantly clear: “Teaching quality is a big component” toward long-term student success, she reports.
That’s why it’s imperative to select just the right child care provider for your preschooler. As monumental as the task is, however, the search doesn’t have to be stressful if you know what to look for.
Interpret the care environment
As a mom of three, Crystal Valentine-Gwynn has become something of a pro at vetting home care providers as well as local daycare centers. In addition to certain musts — the facility needs to be safe, pass Department of Public Welfare inspections and be state-accredited, meeting certain academic and professional standards — the Montgomery Co. resident looks for “things that can’t be taught.”
Such as? “The greeting my child gets when I drop him off, the TLC when he falls and gets a skinned knee, the special projects, the structure of the educational component, the little extra that they do just because they care,” Valentine-Gwynn enumerates.
Riley-Ayers agrees that upon entering a classroom, you can tell right away if the children care about their teacher, setting and each other. Just look for the clues, the way she did in the following scenario: “When I walked in it was hard to find the teacher at first, because she was down engaging with the children at their level. I saw her have great interactions with them. Later, after snack, the students cleaned up their area. Some of them got a dustpan and swept under the table. That showed me that they have responsibility in the classroom and that they value their place.”
Next page: Planned preK activities to set the stage for Kindergarten success
Purposeful, planned preK activities
Effective teachers use informal, ongoing assessments to plan activities that engage, support and challenge students. Cecilia Shields, a preK teacher at Jenkintown Day Nursery in Jenkintown, PA, develops lessons by cross-referencing her knowledge of childhood development with early learning standards, then adding a dash of kid fun.
For example, to teach her class about quantity, she had the kids estimate how many jelly beans were in a jar — a total of 84. She wrote the students’ guesses on the board and helped them determine who came closest, with a postulation of 82, in ways they could understand. One student worked out the answer in a deductive manner: “He went down the list and, looking at the second digit, reasoned that ‘6’ was bigger than ‘7’ until he got to the ‘8’ in 82,” explains Shields. After class she takes notes and makes observations about how the kids process the lesson of the day, to inform future activities.
Other well-regarded providers institute school-wide projects, like the hands-on gardening initiative at the Goddard School in Schwenksville, PA. “Every child got a chance to plant a seed, pack some dirt, water and watch the seeds grow to full maturity, and soon they will be able to eat what they’ve planted,” says executive director Tracey Darden.
This interactive lesson integrated important educational touchstones — learning about the life cycle of plants, how to graph seeds’ growth and determine nutritional value — with a healthy helping of community outreach and compassion. By donating produce to a local food bank, Goddard students learned how it feels to give to the less fortunate.
Success in Kindergarten & beyond
Indeed, when selecting a child care provider, it’s a mistake not to consider kids’ social and emotional development in equal parts to academic preparation, says literacy expert Martha Buell, director of the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood.
“If you ask Kindergarten teachers, they will tell you that they would like children to be able to recognize the letters in their name,” says Buell. But by the time kids reach Kindergarten, she believes the seeds of social comportment — “how to be gentle with classmates, follow three-step directions and behave appropriately in a group” — have already been planted.
Preschool teachers, she concludes, lay the foundation for learning in a nurturing environment where children feel safe and welcome and learn to respect others, develop self-control and empathy.
Lynda Dell is a freelance writer who is an experienced PA-certified early childhood educator.