Month: May 2014

NOT Day Care

Great article in the Huffington Post about how we need to change the way we talk about early childhood education. We are NOT day care. We are more and we change the lives of children and their families!

Day Care Disrespect: Why What We Call Child Care Matters

In March, a study was published in Science magazine that contained remarkable statistics about the effects of good child care on later life. Briefly, it was found that not only did people who received stimulating, appropriate care in their earliest days have stronger cognitive abilities, compared to a control group who did not, they were also notably healthier physically once they reached adulthood. This study makes plain what logic has always dictated but what we in the United States don’t always act on at the institutional level. Good child care from the earliest days — both at home and when the parents are at work — is absolutely crucial to the development of healthy, productive adults.

The authors of the study use the term “high quality early childhood program” to describe the kind of care that the children who grew up to be healthier received. But when the story was reported in the New York Times, the paper used the term “full-time day care” to describe the program. For those of us in the field of early childhood development, the term day care, so common that even an august institution like the New York Times would use it, day care is a maddening phrase. Here’s why: the term day care diminishes how complex and nuanced offering good quality child care is.

Despite the millions of people who must use child care outside the home, for many of us, day care, unlike the term preschool, conjures up visions of children warehoused all day in an uninviting, unstimulating environment. This stereotype has been fostered by the unevenness in quality of the early childhood care that is available. Unfortunately, there are terrible child care programs like this — but the best of them provide care that serves the child and the family far beyond the “day” and well into the rest of the family’s life.

The term “day care” emphasizes the fact that the child is away from home all day as opposed to the fact that what’s happening (if it’s going as it should) is that the child is being molded for life — and if he or she spends 40 hours a week in a child care program, it can be as important or arguably more important than time at home. Further, in a good child care program, the parents learn as well, as is further demonstrated in the Science study. Work like educating children in many ways — from teaching math concepts and letter recognition, to helping them learn how to label and understand their emotions, and how to get along with others — and the list goes on, and on, and on. To genuinely care for the child as a whole human being with thoughts, feelings, needs, and the ability to learn, no matter their age. Child care professionals care for children, so we should call the work that they do “child care” or even better “early childhood education.”

The term day care prioritizes the “day” over the “care” — and days don’t need any care. They just roll along on their own. We know children do not roll along successfully on their own. We know the good outcomes that can occur when they receive good care — this recent study proves it yet again. And that’s why it’s so crucial that these programs and the skilled people who serve them need to be named properly. High quality early childhood education comes in many forms — and its benefits last far more than a day.


Experiencing the curriculum, not just learning a lesson

One of the things I think a good preschool does best, is creating experiences for the children, not just regurgitating information about a topic. We are exploring the United States this year in PreK and while exploring California and learning about Napa Valley and grape growing, we went to a messy, fun place….see video below to experience how we teach the kids about California.

I cannot tell a lie…

Great article about promoting honesty in children sent from one of the Kangaroo parents – thank you Ted Skolnick!

Back in the ’90s, in the midst of the so-called culture wars, Republican moralist William Bennett published a hefty collection of stories and fables and poems called the Book of Virtues. The best-selling volume extolled timeless values like courage and compassion and honesty. At the same time, Herbert Kohl and Colin Greer authored an anthology called A Call To Character, which also used stories to promote a somewhat different set of timeless values. The dueling miscellanies represented a fundamental and acrimonious division over how to raise and instruct the next generation of American citizens.

The differences between the two volumes of moral instruction weren’t even that subtle, if one was familiar with the vocabulary of America’s culture war. Both agreed on qualities of character like kindness and responsibility. But is unwavering patriotism more desirable than moral reasoning? Does discretion trump courage, or the other way around?

This debate didn’t begin in the ’90s, of course, nor did the idea of teaching values with stories. But lost in the moral bickering was a much more basic question: Does such instruction work at all? Can we really transmit a moral code to our children through the use of stories?

A team of psychological scientists has begun to explore that important question empirically. Headed by the University of Toronto’s Kang Lee, the scientists started with a widely embraced virtue — honesty. They wanted to know if morality tales instruct young children not only in an abstract way, but actually shape their behavior.

Kids lie. This is well known from much previous research. Children begin to lie as young as age 2, usually to conceal other transgressions, and they become increasingly sophisticated liars as they get older. By late childhood it is almost impossible for adults to tell if a kid is lying or telling the truth.

So Lee and colleagues did not hope to turn normal kids into saints. But they did want to see if exposing them to classic stories about lying and truth telling would moderate their behavior. They chose three well known tales for study: Pinocchio, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the apocryphal George Washington and the Cherry Tree. For those who have forgotten, all three of these moral tales try to promote honesty — but in very different ways. Pinocchio shows the immediate and dramatic negative consequences of lying — a growing, incriminating nose. In The Boy Who Cried Wolf, lying has dire but delayed consequences: The little shepherd boy lies so much about a wolf that nobody believes him when a sounds a true alarm — and he dies. The familiar George Washington story, by contrast, emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty. Young George tells his father the truth and is rewarded with praise.

The scientists expected that all three of these stories would be effective in promoting honesty in kids. They designed an elaborate experiment in which 3- to 7-year-olds were given a fairly irresistible opportunity to cheat in a game, and then were asked whether or not they had cheated. But before the honesty test, each of the kids heard a reading of one of the three stories. Others, the controls, heard The Hare and the Tortoise, which does not deal with honesty or lying. The idea was to see if just this brief, but engaging exposure to moral instruction tempered kids’ natural deceptiveness — and if any of the three stories was more effective than the others.

The results were intriguing — and unexpected. As reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, both Pinocchio and The Boy Who Cried Wolf failed to moderate the kids’ tendency to lie about their own transgressions. Only George Washington and the Cherry Tree significantly increased the likelihood that the cheating kids would tell on themselves — and this effect was found regardless of age.

So why would these classic tales of lying and consequences not do their job? Well, the scientists suspected that it might be the nature of the consequences. Both Pinocchio and the shepherd boy experience very negative consequences as a result of their dishonesty — public humiliation in one case, a violent death in the other. Young George’s story, by contrast, emphasizes the virtue of honesty and sends the message that truth telling leads to positive consequences. Lee and colleagues ran another experiment to test this explanation.

It was really just a slight variation on the first experiment. All they did in this version was change the ending of the George Washington story to make it negative. The story no longer extolled honesty as a positive virtue, but instead punished dishonesty — just like the other two tales. And the results supported the explanation: The kids who heard a tale of negative George got no benefit from the exercise. They remained as dishonest as all the other kids in the study.

The culture wars of the ’90s are hardly over. Indeed, the country is more polarized than ever over basic values, with those who were harsh and punitive becoming increasingly so today. Evidence shows that parents actually favor punishing deception rather than rewarding truthfulness. These results taken together suggest the opposite — that emphasizing the positive value of honesty is more effective than accentuating the negative.