Commentary: Welborn Grants Give Childcare the Chance to Do It Right

With the huge grant that has been awarded by The Welborn Foundation, congratulations should go to children across the Tri-State area.

This kind of windfall for kids could implement real change in childcare and that would be great – a first, perhaps, for the nation. Unfortunately for today's child, the national profile of childcare is museum quality. Established in the 1940's when mothers replaced fathers in the factories during WWII, little groups of children, divided by age into little classrooms with little furniture, a few puzzles and toys, were given primary care – food, nap, a change of clothing if necessary.

For nearly sixty years, we've used the same little classrooms with the same little furniture. Our numbers have climbed to warehouse values, and along the way we've smugly added four basic play places to give kids something real to do, things to play with that we deem are important for growth and development.

Let's look at the play stations: House – we also call it socio dramatic play. It contains a stove, a refrigerator, a table and chairs, dress up for the fancier childcare, pots and pans, plastic food, and dolls. It's supposed to imitate what a child sees at home. But many of today's children don't go home to a traditional setting and house as a play station is out dated. Kids don't know what to do in there anymore.

Cook? What's that?

Let's look at art: In most places, art amounts to color sheets, and that's not art. Paints are taken out twice a year because it's rare for a provider to be able to say, "Here's how we color, paint, work clay, string beads, use charcoal, finger paints, glue, bind, fold, gather,"

Building used to be a big deal with boys and some girls. Now it's passé. There are four stages of building and most five year olds can do the first two - carry and stack. Few children have building blocks at home; they have Legos and Legos are too expensive for childcare.

Children aren't quiet. They demand noise and activity. Quiet places in childcare today will become the old fashioned fort. Little kids don't read, they aren't read to, so they don't know how to pretend. Quiet places are tumble and roll zones.

In the sixty years it took to establish the four play stations, everything has changed – even our ability to teach. With clay feet, we've gone from teacher directed to no direction to child directed, and now state direction. Each amounts to little or no direction.

Discipline has gone off the cliff as well. Yesterday, we could tell a child "No," and mean it. We could form kids into exemplary persons with character and conviction. Today, we can't discipline a child at all. A child can spit in his teacher's face, and teacher can't tell him to stop – and that's supposed to be a good thing.

So now there's help. There's a grant to teach teachers how to do it all over again. We're going to try to bring the quality of childcare up. Let's do it from the inside out. The first challenge is to determine who the child is – today – and satisfy his needs.

Siblingless children want to play with children of all ages, so let them. Break down the divisions and let the kids play with kids much older and much younger. That's where the original house was acted, and that's where it works best.

Second: establish pay scales that will keep educated and interested adults in children's lives. Keeping adults who will direct their play, give them ideas, love them, play with them, and tell them no when they do it wrong or get out of line is a first priority.

Third: Instead of little classrooms with little furniture, let the classrooms become play stations with a teacher who can show kids how to play there. Let kids choose. Invest in a science center with collected stuff and a place to weigh, measure, balance, discover by book and video the world around them.

That's today's block station. Have a music room with a piano and instruments and a place to dance and express the heart, to listen and to share. Here's where art can mix with its brother music. And add a teacher who understands what fine arts are about. We hire mathematicians to teach math, so hire someone who is willing to do the hard stuff like real clay, paint, and paper mache. With a real art center, a day care has an exciting place to play.

Throw the cots away and invest in soft casual library of real books that kids can look at that will expose them to what the world is really about. Add a globe, a train set, cars, planes, and boats and a teacher who can read. Add some costumes and call it "Around the World."

Let the kids play outside; it's where they want to be. A climbing playground will do more for kids than a nap. And last, don't slow it down, but reel it in – into its own world of discovery. Make the plant child friendly not state friendly. Buy a cat, bake a cookie, share a box of fudge, nix the naps, open the shades and get some lights on. We have discovering to do, people!