March 30, 2007

So What Makes/Breaks An Infant/Toddler Day Care Setup?

Whatryagonnado? Here's a quote from Emily Bazelon's article about what the results of the latest NICHD day care study really do and don't mean

[study author Margaret] Burchinal points out that on average, day care for infants and toddlers is worse than for preschoolers. It's more expensive because states require more staff for babies. And the littlest kids don't get much out of being in a group like the older ones do. The youngest thrive on one-on-one attention, and it takes considerable skill and experience to deftly juggle the needs of a bunch of them. So maybe the real lesson here is a reminder: Day care for infants and toddlers is the hardest to do well. And lower-quality care, coupled with three or four years spent at a center, doesn't appear to serve kids quite as well as other arrangements (though the difference in slight).

This is not exactly heartening. Day care for infants and toddlers is often the most economical choice for families in which both parents work and no grandparent or cousin can lend a hand with the baby. We should figure out how to improve day care for infants and toddlers, not give up on it.

So what have you seen that works and that doesn't in choosing day care for an infant and toddler? What are some warning signs to look for that might indicate substandard or indifferent care?

At one point when the kid was approaching 18 months old, we got near the top of the list for the daycare/preschool at my wife's office at NASA. We were thinking, "NASA, alright! Rocket scientists in training!" When we took our tour, the older kids were making their own Thanksgiving feast, having a blast in their little class. Another classroom was decked out with all their art projects, there was tons of room and toys and space indoor and out, nice playground equipment...

But the youngest group, I swear, when we poked our heads in, was watching Barney. "Oh, they're just taking a little quiet break before lunch," said our teacher/guide. I'm no stranger to the hypnotic and/or mood-altering effects of the television. But there's no way I could see how a TV is a justifiable childcare tool in a professional/group setting. And that's without even getting me started on Barney. Needless to say, the kid is getting her rocket scientist training where everyone else is: from YouTube.

Anyway, thoughts? Sights? Nightmares? Dreams?


Previously: Fearless Slate Speaks Truth To Day Care Study
Now that's a fire! NIH Study Throws PR Match On Childcare BBQ

Here's a great video of the wife's first satellite being launched in 1999. We went to French Guyana [what a dump, and no Coca Light] to see it.

8 Comments

I think on some level infant/toddler care whether by parents or by day care...can be tedious, boring, repetitive. My husband went to grad school--while working FT--when our first was about a year old. I put her in the university day care 10 hours a week because I was going a bit crazy watching her by myself. (And to be honest, my mom stopped by a lot and so I wasn't facing 18 hours of care alone). The child care we chose was NAEYC, lower ratios than required. It was child-centered. No TV. Quiet. Friendly. Caring. And I still can think it wasn't perfect--the infant room was obsessed with changing her nap schedule. I just wanted 10 hours of someone else watching her--I didn't care if she slept all 10 hours. They threatened to not promote her to the toddler room if she couldn't stay awake. But to be fair, if she were home, besides dealing with a frustrated parent, she would probably have watched TV.

Not to get all "it take a village" but the first 2 years of my daughter's life proved to me that parenting is not a good solo activity for me. I needed more people around me. Not just my husband, but that wider support group. People to visit during the day were my fondest wish, espcially people who didn't cringe when my daughter cried or fussed or made a mess.

The study seemd to show that bad child care was not good for young children. This shouldn't be shocking. And it is a shame that the problem is faced on an individual level.

What I think is crazy is that Greg is married to a rocket scientist. Think about that people. I think I knew this but I really want to know more about Ms. Daddytypes now.

My 2 yr old son recently moved from a pre-toddler (1-2 yr) room to a toddler (2-3 yr) room. We noticed a change for the worse. Whereas the former room was fairly organized, with tons of books and the children's artwork everywhere, the latter is often much messier and there are only a handful of books (most in sad shape) accessible.

Since moving there, my wife witnessed kids jumping from the top of their climber and one pulling paper towels from the dispenser and wrapping them around his neck. While the staff seems just as caring, they do not seem as attentive. I wonder how much of the difference is the personality of the staff or the nature of dealing with older children with more assertive personalities. Perhaps the room is messier because they are teaching the children to be more independent, to clean up after themselves, not to mention potty training.

We haven't made a big stink about the problems, but our son will not be there much longer anyway.

We have the baby in a home daycare in the neighborhood. Five kids (9m, 14m (ours), 23m, 2 1/2, 3). It's excellent, the woman's husband helps out, she has a neighborhood nanny of one that helps her out regularly (getting to the park every nice afternoon with up to three strollers).

The kids do watch tv in the am (this bothered me a lot at first, but there were so many positive recommendations on our neighborhood listserv, I let it go). But, this woman and her husband love my baby. She gets hugs and cuddles and lots of encouragement for walking, talking, etc. She naps regularly (not too much), eats a ton, watches the bigger kids play (and learns from them), plays with blocks, etc. An added plus is that the caregiver is bilingual, that makes up for me forgetting all my Spanish after pregnancy (it's my first language, duh!).

IMO, this is not even comparable to most group day care, because of the affection and personal care she receives. And, as much as a good nanny will network with other nannies and play actively, I prefer the peer interaction and familiarity that comes with being with the same kids every day. We're really freaking lucky!

Also, when I take a mental health day from work (in theory), I have the house to myself all day!

our 2 yr old is also in a home day care, she started right after her first birthday. Its got about 12 kids, and they range in age from 15 mo-4 years and is run by a mother, who is a retired montessori school teacher and her son, who is certified to teach here in LA but dislikes the LAUSD system. i can honestly say it is the best thing we have done for her. Their days are pretty much always the same routine: get to school, play with puzzles/stacking blocks, learning letters and numbers for the older kids, then play time outside, lunch, nap til 2:30/3, then playtime/snack, story time at 4, and more play. she loves it. her language skills have skyrocketed. 4 of the parents were going to transition their kids to preschool but the day care is so solid that they are waiting and will just send them straight to kindergarten. the teachers have a nice balance of strict-ness (very quick to manage any conflicts in a positive way), with creative free play. no tv, lots of music on all of the time. i personally was surprised by the findings because i feel like right now my daughter is really getting a grasp on manners and how to be sociable but not disruptive. clearly day care is an option for the majority of people (and i think my daughter would be bummed out with a nanny all day) and i feel like if most daycares are not up to snuff it is yet another way our society and government does not remotely support working parents.

"We went to French Guyana [what a dump, and no Coca Light]"

...typical American

[I have no idea what this means. I'll cop to being a snob, but not an ugly American. FG had no beach, the water's terrible. barely any infrastructure, the whole thing kept artificially afloat by either the prison, the foreign legion, or ESA's launchpad. The Air France flight was abyssmal; I paid four grand for business class from Paris, which consisted of coach seats, a curtain five rows behind me, and a clementine. literally. Maybe if I'd gone into the unadulterated jungle, I'd have come away with a rosier perception, but the whole place felt like an indifferently run French ghetto. -ed.]

Re: "the wife's first satellite"

We live in Berlin, Germany, and 15month-old Mathis has been going to daycare for 5 months now, 25 to 30 hours a week, Mon-Fri. The system here (in Berlin and some other parts of the country) goes like this: women (yep, almost exclusively) interested in working as a 'day-mom' ("Tagesmutter") get training for a couple of months and are then licensed by the City of Berlin to take in pre-playschool kids, usually up to two years of age. This form of daycare is subsidised, so that depending on your household income, you pay roughly 100 to 300 euros for 25-30 hours daycare per week, the difference is paid the City-State of Berlin (the day-moms still don't make enough, though).
The day-mom we found here in the neighborhood is a mother of three (5, 9, 12 years old) and has a parenting approach that syncs pretty well with the way we go about bringing Mathis up (fairly laid back along the lines: lots of fresh air, keep 'em busy, healthy food, cuddle often, limited but emphasized rule set, no TV) and has one more day-child, a boy two months older than our kid.
It looks like everyone involved gains from it. Mathis has surrogate sisters and brothers, a much wider scope of kids, locations (quite a nuber of places in our neighborhood that we just hadn't found ourselves yet), events (several day-moms have a kind of round-robin sing-and-play going three times a week) - and toys. My wife and I can both expand back into professional adults without constantly overextending ourselves, and get a great parenting consultant in the bargain.
And they day-mom and -family have two new baby brothers whom they love a lot.
Since Mathis never showed any signs of disaffection for us (tantrums at dropoff or pickup etc.) or unhapiness, listlessness etc., we are sure that, apart from "being good" for him, he likes it.
And for us, it sure is more fun returning to Toddlerland after a day spent with co-workers or clients than it was residing there 24/7; we actually believe we are more relaxed, well-balanced, thoughtful - better - parents for it.
A main factor that makes this work well for us is closeness. From the walking distance between our apartments (and to my desk) to the similar approach to kids and upbringing, it brings peace of mind and enables trust, and that seems central to this junior love triangle.

I run a licensed family daycare in my home and have done so for 10 years. I always have a range of ages: infant to 9 yrs and most of the day I am running at full capacity which is 7 children. Of the 7 children there are age restrictions, such as one under one, and only three under three.I have been very lucky to have had very little turn over. I usually get a child at infancy and have them until they can look after themselves. Throughout the years I have tried different approaches from very structured day somewhat like a licensed preschool to what I do now, a little structure with alot of free play and fun opportunities. I do use appropriate movies for special occasions and for the odd mental health day!!!! . I have very few children who do not have television priviledges at home. I find the children I care for are happier and more at ease when they are in a relaxed atmosphere compared to a structured atmostphere. I feel children do well in an environment similar to their home when they are under 3 and are at a daycare full time of even half time. If I were a parent looking for childcare I would ask for references and really look at how I would spend day after day with my child. The early years are crucial to a childs development. I truly believe if your child has a bond with their caregiver, where they feel safe and loved they will develop into healthy happy kids. Do not be tricked by lots of toys, crafts and fancy environments. Some of our best days are simply outside in a nearby wooded area with only our imaginations, sticks and dirt!! I think it is wonderful for parents to have choices, because what is great for one child might not be for another.

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