Expert Commentary...Teaching or Baby Sitting?

There has been a lot of discussion from England on my blog recently about early childhood education woes. We have lots of the same problems and goals. It’s through exchange like this that we learn so much.

For non blog readers, a blog is like a website, but the good ones change daily adding new interesting stuff to read. If there’s an interest, there are discussions of hot topics pertaining to a particular issue – in my case, childcare.  On my blog, I post a lot of international stories and world news about children’s issues and events, plus I offer news about the little school where I teach.

Blogs are another source for news you probably won’t get in the regular media because a blog is dedicated to a particular issue – like childcare – and the news stories I publish would often be passed over for lack of regular space. If you want to know what they are doing in Gambia, or Japan or England, read the blog.  If you want to know the latest studies about childcare, read the blog. There are also 150 links or connecting internet sites for local physicians, local activities, on line shopping, interesting teaching sites, health and safety sites, and geography sites that help familiarize readers about the place readers are reading. It’s a resource place for childcare.  

The latest hot topic is the failure of early childhood education to keep its teachers. I published a magazine article from Harvard University that states there is a dramatic decline in educated preschool teachers because of low pay. In other words people can’t afford to stay in early childhood and make a living.

I can think of about ten other reasons that people are not staying in early childhood education. One of them is a little thing called teaching. The article from Harvard interchanges center care and preschool. From experience, I know those things are not interchangeable. Most centers are strictly day care and not teaching facilities, so why would a teacher, trained to teach, be interested in working in a babysitting facility?

Parents should ask when they interview at a childcare about the curriculum. What will their child do all day? If the answer is "self directed play," it's not a preschool; it's a day care. Too many day cares have become warehouses for kids dangerously separating the morning from going home by a long, long nap. The providers don't teach because they can't.

Teaching children means coordinating play with learning. All play is not learning – some self directed play is just chaos and actually destructive. When play is not constructive, the learning stops, and the chaos teaches the child that the rules don't apply to him. Consequently, the behavior of all the kids drops to an all time disgrace and somebody gets hurt.

Besides play, skills need to start at the preschool age – about age three. Foreign language should begin as a game when children are very young – three to five – because the development of speech can add the foreign sounds like gutturals, tongue trills, glottal stops, and like French, some forward mouth sounds that are nearly impossible to learn as an older child. Foreign language should be a daily event. Teachers should have at least a rudimentary second language ability.

A sense of the world is an important part of getting outside the self, and this is accomplished by introducing very young children to pictures and stories about the world. It means knowing where the oceans are, and one continent from another.  That means having the materials on hand - the books, the pictures, the films the teacher training.

Time evades most kids for a long time. That's why we begin most fairy tales with, "Once upon a time." Once upon a time won't mean a thing if a child thinks the whole world is right now. Fairy tales are an important learning tool for many disciplines, and if there is no story time at a childcare facility, there's a great big gap.

Circle time introduces children to correct and polite social behavior. It’s a testing ground for manners and polite discussion. It should cover world news, home news, birthdays, new shoes, a problem, a reward, a good joke and much, much more. Most children who come to the Garden School from day cares have never sat in Circle Time.

Teaching very young children takes preparation, just like big school, and perhaps more. Providing a reading readiness activity or two or three every day that's hands on, followed by a math project or two, an art project, a story that's known to the teacher, a plan for foreign language, a world event, a music activity all take time to plan, to organize, and to gather materials. Are the children worth the effort?

Good childcare demands that teachers spend the time necessary to present real learning to very young children – otherwise it's just plain babysitting, and that's a problem when it's time to go to school. More and more children are going off to kindergarten not knowing anything.