Research finds quality childcare tied to academic gains and risk-taking 15 years later…10 questions to help you find quality caregivers for your child.
Over 2.3 million American kids under years five of age 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.
Recent findings from a federally funded study will have parents and educators alike on alert. Since 1991 researchers funded the Early Child Care Research Network have been tracking over 1364 families. The children were randomly selected at birth (all born within 24 hours of each other) from 10 different American locations. They have been followed since they were one month of age. Upper, middle, and lower income families were represented. The children were evaluated periodically, most recently at age 15, with a host of measures.
The study appears in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development and is the first to track children a full decade after they left childcare. Though parents clearly have far more influence on their children’s development, the results show that childcare in those early years does matter — not only during the time your child is with childcare providers but fifteen years later. The results also showed that the “childcare” impact can be positive as well as negative. The key difference was whether the childcare was high quality. Researchers defined high quality childcare as having “caregivers who warm, supportive and provide high quality cognitive stimulation.”
Key Early Child Care Research Network Study Findings
I reported the study results with Ann Curry on TODAY show. Here are key findings:
Impact continues 15 years later. High quality care in early years does affect children’s social, academic, and behavioral development. And those behavior and achievement differences, though small, were still evident more than a decade after parents stopped those day care payments
Academic and behavior gains 15 years later: Academic and behavior gains from child-care that endured until age 15 were slightly higher when children were involved with “high quality child caregivers.”
Higher academic and cognitive achievement. Teens in high-quality child care settings before age 5 scored higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement. Specific academic areas (in order) showing highest gains at age 15: Reading, Vocabulary, Verbal Analogies, and Math
Less acting-out. Teen reported fewer acting-out behaviors than peers in lower-quality child care arrangements during early years
Greater risk-taking and impulsivity. Teens spending more hours in childcare in first 4½ years of life reported greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviors (taking drugs, smoking, and alcohol) at age 15 than peers who spend less time in childcare
10 Questions to Ask When Choosing A Good Day Care
So how do you know which facility is the best one for your child? And how do you know which is a quality care facility? My strongest recommendation: Observe a few. And always observe when children are there. It will help you decide if it’s a place you want your child to spend part of his or her day. Then while there ask yourself these 10 questions to make your final decision in finding the best caregivers for your child:
1. Does this seem like a place my child would like to be? 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” experiences and not just paper and pencil? 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 the television on, 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 understand their answer. Just make sure they have a sound philosophy. Ask how the staff is trained in child development and how frequently are they trained? How many of the staff is credentialed in early childhood education? How does the staff stay current on the latest child development research (such as this study)? What is the educational background and credentials of the supervisor? Are those credentials (and their license) posted?
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? Are the children doing the kinds of activities your child would enjoy? There must be rich language experiences and activities that stimulate cognitive growth. Make sure the children are actively engaged in creative play, are interacting with adults, and are not just sitting and doing paper and pencil tasks. Then visualize your child in this setting: would he thrive in this environment?
5. What is the ratio between staff and children? It’s always best to have a smaller number of staff to children to make sure your child is being closely watched. You also want to make sure there is positive and face-to-face interaction between that caregiver and your child.
6. Is the staff “kid friendly?” Does the staff enjoy children? Are they patient and kid-oriented? Are they respectful and courteous? And do the children appear to enjoy the staff? 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 the staff has a thought-out plan and you agree with their philosophy. 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. Make sure the facility has a proactive approach to behavior and the staff knows how to replace acting out, aggressive behaviors with more appropriate ones.
8. Is the Day Care 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? A good day care makes sure that children’s safety is a primary focus. 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? Is this a place where he would fit in, feel comfortable and thrive? 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 your core beliefs about raising your child are, and then watch to see if the staff models those values. For instance: Do they require children to be courteous and are they courteous to children? Are they dressed neat and appropriately?
D. L Vandell, J. Belsky, M. Burchinal, L. Steinberg, N. Vandergrift, NICHD Early Child Care Research Network: “Do Effects of Early Child Care Extend to Age 15 Years? Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child CAre and Youth Development” Child Development: Vol 81 3. 737-756, May/June 2010