Early Learning Professionals Don't Sit
When Mary Kay Henry came to meet child care workers at the first National Early Learning Lobby Day last week, she said, "For anyone who thinks that what you do is babysitting, we have another thing to tell them."
Early Learning Goals
Attendee and Local HCII member Jennifer Brosnahan, of Stepping Stones home care in Illinois was happy to elaborate on that point.
"A babysitter usually comes at night when the children are asleep, and they sit," said Brosnahan. "We don't sit."
"A babysitter," Brosnahan said, "will not prepare meals. Is not typically an educator. Won't potty train. Is often too young to transport kids to and from school. Does not have a curriculum. Does not prepare children for kindergarten."
Brosnahan talked more about her curriculum, including a checklist for four year olds prepared by the local school district. To be ready for kindergarten, the school district wants the children to be able to write their own name, hold a pencil or scissors and follow simple directions in sets of threes.
"Get a pencil and paper, sit down and write your name. There. Sets of threes," Brosnahan said by way of example.
Brosnahan said children sometimes are behind when they come to her. She talked about one five year old boy who came into her care only knowing how write the first letter of his name, but said that his younger sister, also now with her, wasn't going to be behind like that.
Gloria Alvarez, a Head Start teacher and home visitor with SEIU Local 73, also strongly endorsed the benefits of good early care with a defined curriculum.
Alvarez said that because their students paid more attention to activities, even ones they hadn't mastered yet, "Kindergarten teachers say they can always tell the children coming from Head Start."
With special needs kids, Alvarez said that Head Start staff works from the individual education plan (IEP) developed by the school district and the disabilities coordinator gives us advice on how to work with them. She said that sometimes parents hesitate to use these services, but then come to see that early intervention can help their children function and socialize better.
All the children's engagement with the program, from activities that improve fine motor skills to the field trips that Alvarez' center has been trimming because of funding cuts, are geared towards preparing them for a better future.
"It's just such an important thing to expose them to as many experiences as possible, [these ages are] when they do most of their learning. For example, we take them to the college planetarium not just to see the planetarium, but to see adults going to school," said Alvarez.
As the NICHD report on early care also noted, "It's no longer a question of whether children will be in child care--nearly nine out of ten children in the study spent some time in the care of someone other than their mother by the time they were 4 ½."
In spite of increasing numbers of women ending their childbearing years without having a child, the latest available census data from 2006 indicates that 80 percent of women will become mothers. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2008 suggests that 71 percent of mothers are in the workforce. While those data sets aren't directly comparable, they tell the obvious story that child care is an important issue for many, many American families.
The United States currently ranks 28th in the world for quality of life for mothers, on the basis not only of high maternal mortality compared to peer countries, but low availability of early education and child care. In addition, and in spite of the tremendous health and social benefits, most American workers have inadequate parental leave.
Where are their children supposed to go when their parents are, and often must be, working? Parents can't exactly bring their children to work, not unless they have one of the rare employers that offers on-site child care. Maybe a relative can help in some cases, but even grandparents may still have work obligations that parents don't feel comfortable imposing on.
And there's another dilemma: parents want more out of their child's care than that someone keeps them from running into the street, and it isn't right that quality care should be a privilege of the wealthy.
All parents want their children to have the learning experiences (pdf), the social preparation and the kind of attention they need to succeed in school, and then in their own future workplaces. A system of well-supported, professional care means that they can go to work and know that their children are in steady, reliable hands whose entire job obligation is to prepare young people for the next stage of their life.
In a year where there are five applicants for every job opening, childcare is crucial for working parents to maintain their job performance. Which is why the providers who showed up to lobby day asked Congress to continue supporting the programs their students' families depend on.
Image: Jennifer Brosnahan on Lobby Day, May 5th, 2010.