It's September again! Back to class for some, and the first time in class for others!
Preschool can be exciting, scary and even a little sad for some, as the babies you've nurtured start their 'school' career and take tiny steps towards independence.
The move into a preschool setting may be the first experience for some children, those who haven't been in a setting away from home or family for care. It could also be the time when a preschooler has become a sibling, and is coming to preschool to have some time with a peer group. However it comes about, starting preschool represents a transition.
The ability to handle a transition is a skill, but it can be difficult to learn. These are a few ways to help both your child and yourself.
1. Before preschool starts, see if you can visit the classroom and if possible meet the teachers.
2. If it is an option, attend any open house events hosted by the preschool. This is often an opportunity to meet the teachers and experience the classroom setting in a smaller group, and offers families the chance to meet each other as well. Community building!
3. Make a point of learning the teacher's names, so you can help your child learn them as well. Much better to have them stay with 'Jane' for the morning, than with some anonymous 'teacher'. Also, learn the routines of the classroom, so you can help your child understand what the day will look like. You are the trusted adult he/she is looking to for guidance, especially until they have learned to be comfortable with and trust their teachers!
4. Share important information that may impact your child's transition with teachers. A new baby, a new home, changes in the parent relationship, someone moving in -- all these things can have a big impact on a child and their ability to adjust to another change like preschool.
5. Be prepared to spend time with your child in the beginning, and ask teachers for some guidance if you need it. Some children do well with the 'bandaid' approach - a quick goodbye and off you go, while for others the slow and steady method is best. There isn't one best way to drop your child at preschool, and the experienced staff can help you through if a softer approach is needed.
6. Expect a relapse! Even when a child seems fully comfortable in their new preschool setting, there may be times when you feel like you're starting all over again. After a weekend, when they're not feeling well, over a holiday time, or maybe during a growth spurt - sometimes they just don't feel like preschool today and will kick up when you try to take them into the classroom.
7. Lastly, remember that learning to manage change and transitions in the classroom, and in life, is an important skill to learn. How we cope with situations that are hard or uncomfortable has a big impact on how we adapt and interact in the world, now and into the future. It's important to support your child in learning to change and adjust, and to avoid the impulse to protect them from learning this new skill.
As anticipated, the NDP Government has followed through on its promise to help alleviate the financial strain that childcare places on families. It is a good first step, even as it leaves a portion of the childcare field out of the loop.
Currently, any care provider offering full-day care will be able to reduce parent fees by up to $350/month for an infant/toddler spot. The rates vary based on licensed vs. unlicensed care and age of the child in question.
So far however, the uptake from the field has been hesitant at best, with good reason. The contract is binding, a little confusing, and the answers haven't been easy to get at. There also seems to be some concern as to what the hidden agenda is, as many small home-based and private operators have expressed concern that this is the first step in an action intended to 'take over' the business of many centre operators with no consideration for all they have invested in their privately operated childcare settings.
Some care providers have been completely left out of the funding opportunity, which could put some interesting pressure on the field as well. Licensed preschools, offering part-day, part-time childcare, will not be able to offer any discounts to families at all. this seems to suggest that preschool isn't 'childcare', even though anyone operating a preschool will confirm that parents do indeed use preschool as a part of their childcare puzzle. Not being able to offer a fee reduction in preschool could see some families migrating away from programs into full time care options, which could in turn cause some preschool operators to consider the viability of their programs, and maybe having to close altogether.
As an Early Childhood Educator and a parent, i fully appreciate the need for better access to childcare, and the need for more options to be more affordable. However, i wonder how this current financial incentive is benefiting the field overall? If it is a stated goal of the ECE field(and it is) to further quality in care by ensuring programs are licensed and well-regulated and care providers are trained, qualified ECE's, and it is also recognized across the board that programs offered by not-for-profit agencies consistently deliver better programs - likely due to their mandate to re-invest any profit back into programs - than do private, for profit and/or commercial childcare operations - then how does funding everyone further that goal? Currently, the new funding is available to licensed, regulated care with a qualified ECE staff, in both the private and the not-for profit settings. It is also available to commercial 'big box' operators who are fiscally responsible to their shareholders each quarter... hmm.
Choice is important - absolutely incontrovertible truth. Families should have choices in care. Centre based group care is one option, home based small group is another important option, preschool is also part of the childcare landscape. When it comes for universal funding though, doesn't it make sense for there to be something consistent among all those choices? Funding all centres operated by at least one qualified ECE? Or all centres that are licensed, and therefore subject to regular inspection? Or all centres that demonstrate regular re-investment of funds directly back into programs?
Well, as stated - it's a good first step. It will be interesting to see just how it plays out in the next months as the kinks are worked out. As a preschool operator, I am content to wait until that day when there are clear, concise answers to all my questions about opting in - or out - of the new funding initiative.
Everyone knows, or should know by now, that little people go about growing up in their own unique way, at their own unique pace, which means it can be tough to know sometimes, for parents, grandparents, how well a child is growing and developing in the areas of physical, intellectual/cognitive, and social/emotional development. These categories are generally accepted to encompass the areas of growth most likely to have impacts on a child's future, either good or not so good depending on how the adults around the child respond to his needs. It can be particularly challenging for parents and families of 'first' children to notice any challenges their child may be experiencing, as they may not have a lot of experience around children at all until their own child arrives.
Early Childhood Educators, who are trained to recognize and support children at all levels and stages of growth and development, have a wide perspective and may have cared for hundreds of children between 0-5 in their careers! Maybe even more! This experience often enables trained educators to spot 'atypical' developmental moments in their young charges in their earliest years of childcare, which can be a real benefit to families and children.
First off though, I'd like to clarify.... 'Typical' versus 'Atypical'.... Typically developing children are those who are following a fairly predictable timeline in all the major areas of growth, and who experience similar challenges that most children of a similar age are facing. That said, keep in mind that there is a wide range of 'normal' or 'typical' development.
Children who are developing 'atypically' in one or more areas of growth may have challenges that are obvious, like congenital conditions that result in physical limitations for instance. Sometimes though, non-typical development is harder to spot until a child is a bit older, like in the preschool years. That is when supported childcare becomes important!
Supported Childcare is what happens in classrooms when a particular child is getting specialized, personal support each time they come to school to help them have the best experience in preschool they can have. In the early years, support at preschool can make a huge difference to how well a child continues their school career, and how well their families do at supporting them as well. Research supports this claim as well, that the earlier we can get support and intervention in place for a preschooler, the less likely the child may be to need so many supports through public school. Some reports even suggest that support in preschool can lead to better outcomes at graduation time!
The tricky bit can be actually getting the supported childcare in place, because in our area it is a multi-part process. The family has to either self-refer for assessment, or follow the suggestion of a public health nurse or childcare provider for assessment. The assessment is done by a public health nurse or specialized practitioner and then there is a further process to determine how much support can be provided and paid for for the child and family. After that, the family has to find a center that can support their child, AND the center has to find a staff person who has the qualities and capacity to work directly with that child, and also to fit with the rest of the center staff.
For families, Supported Childcare staff in preschool settings can be a huge resource. The time spent with children can provide a lot of information for families and schools about the child's strengths and challenges, ways of working with the child, skills being developed etc. A support team in preschool can also help pave the way for any needed support in the later years of school, even though the two support systems are not well linked. If you are the parent of a child whose teacher asks you to consider referring your child for an assessment, please do so. Early Childhood Educators have devoted their working life to ensure young children are getting the best start we can offer them, and ensuring a good start to school is one of the tools in our toolkit we can share with families.
As we have heard, the situation in the world of childcare is dire! Fees are out of reach for many families, making it difficult to maintain or find employment or continue educational plans. At the same time, fees are the primary source of funding for most centres, but are not sufficient to allow better wages for child care staff. Enter the $10/day plan which is a well developed plan, evolved over the past several years by a dedicated group of people who highlight the need for a better system of childcare. This plan, in a nutshell, advocates for a redistribution of provincial funds to ensure families are paying no more than $10 a day per child for care, and that childcare staff are getting a starting wage of $20-25/hr with benefits. Supported by our current government, and a talking point in most platforms at our recent election, you would think we would be moving ahead on this plan with more vigour! Not so.
Currently, childcare staff are making between about $14-$25/hr, at Licensed centres, with a slightly higher starting wage being paid at non-profit childcare centers. Staff may not have any other benefits, and are rarely able to have their own children attend where they work.
Fees range from about $30 to $97. These fees reflect the range of options for all ages of children in licensed childcare settings. Unlicensed care arrangements could charge significantly different amounts. Part time care is not usually a choice at licensed centres, but can be easier to find in a home based setting. Infant/toddler care is very difficult to find, or afford.
On the other side of this equation is the subsidy system. At this time, the maximum subsidy available to a family with a child in childcare (3-5) is $550/month. If a parent is paying an additional $200 - $300 each month for a childcare space at $750-$850/month the subsidy amount leaves the family paying between $9.52 and $14.28 per day. So, with that math we are already close to the $10/day, at least in this area where the fees noted are reasonable. (Other jurisdictions may have very different fees, based on overhead and demand). Fees for infant and toddler care, with this same calculation, amount to about $29/day at the top of the scale. But, the trouble with this funding program is that so few people qualify for full subsidy. A family income that tops out at about $40,000/yr before taxes will be considered too high for subsidy... and just how much can you do in this city with $40,000 a year, particularly if you are a single earner supporting a family!
From my perspective, the infrastructure to implement the $10/day plan already exists, but the will to move may be slow to catch up. My concern is that once the wheels are in motion to get this plan underway, there will be a perceived need to create a whole new, top-heavy and expensive governmental arm that will eat up too much of the funding in administration costs, rather than sending the money down the line to the folks who really need it.
If the qualifying threshold for full subsidy was doubled so more families could qualify, and the monthly amount was raised by a couple of hundred dollars a month, a plan that reflects the $10/day could be easily implemented. It may not be a blanket $10 a day for every family, but it would be very close for many more people.
Also important in terms of accountability, the funds as a subsidy would go directly to centres, and be directly tied to the cost of the space being used. Families will still be able to choose the kind of care they prefer, and centres will be assured of the funds required to keep spaces open and pay fair wages to their staff.
A lot of research and evaluation has gone into the plan, and at every turn it has been shown to be financially viable and also to make significant contributions to communities as families are able to work more (pay more taxes, buy more things), rather than being a bottomless expenditure as some might believe.
Childcare is a community resource, and needs to be funded like any other community resource rather than left to the relatively few people (families) who are actively involved at any given time. Our hospitals are not paid for only by those who need them at the time they are needed, nor are our schools, libraries, rec. centres. The people who work in these places are not dependent on just patient, program, or late fees, donations or grant funds to ensure their wages each month.
Why are childcare professionals treated so poorly in comparison? Worth considering? I think so....
Upon my return from a lovely vacation, I learned of a recent upheaval at a local childcare centre over a misguided attempt to 'introduce rough and tumble play' amongst the children who attend the centre. As I understand the situation - from my limited information via news stories and a briefly posted video - a couple of children were filmed by some unknown person (from a small distance) having what appeared to be a physical altercation while one and sometimes two adult carers watched. There is no audio to the video clip I saw, so no indication as to what the adults may have been saying to discourage or (heaven forbid!) encourage the obvious conflict these two small boys were engaged in.
As an Early Childhood Educator, and now the Director of a small centre with staff, I admittedly cringed when I watched the video clip - as an educator, as a parent, AND as an administrator. Yikes! No matter how the investigation into this regrettable lapse of judgment turns out, there will forever be a stain on the record of the centre and its staff in the middle of it all, regardless of all the good quality care and positive experiences they have provided for many years to many families.
However, that doesn't mean that I don't think there is also a lesson in this story for educators and administration... a reminder if you will. We all need to be critical thinkers! As the daytime guardians of children, we have to be very conscientious about how we guide children's play and support their learning, recognizing that all of what happens during the days is included in that learning time. We can't lapse into allowing how we may have played as children if it doesn't fit with current expectations for quality care --and we have to recognize the difference too! It's as though there was a moment of 'I/my kids play like this and we're okay' thinking.
Is it the often loosely structured summer days in childcare that caused a momentary lapse in judgement? Who knows? But what is glaringly obvious here is that the staff clearly forgot that childcare is always under a microscope, and childcare professionals particularly. There is, and should be, a constant awareness of scrutiny - by the families we provide care for, by our supervisors and peers, and by the community at large. This doesn't mean I endorse secret cameras or anything like that, but that we all need to conduct ourselves, all the time, as though someone is observing our interactions with the children we look after. It is a hard job sometimes, and carers get worn out and are not perfect all the time, but we still need to manage our actions and make decisions so we do not negatively impact our charges.
Somewhere around this story, I heard that there was an idea afloat to 'introduce' rough and tumble play, and it was this that made me question things.... why would you need to introduce what is a natural part of play for many children, particularly for little boys (I consider puppies and children to be closely related in the early years)? How would a qualified educator not understand that? Why did none of the other centre staff intervene and stop this obviously inappropriate play from continuing at the time? Why, if this was seriously a considered attempt to make a program change, was it not discussed with the administrator? If it was a centre wide discussion, why did no one else speak up about how 'rough and tumble' play is a naturally occurring play form, and doesn't need to be introduced. Was there a discussion about such play (readily available research abounds)? It seems to me that what may in fact be a part of the issue is under qualified, poorly trained, and maybe under supervised junior staff.
All of this highlights a chronic issue facing the childcare profession overall - a lack of well-trained staff. In order to meet staffing requirements, administrators are often faced with hiring a mix of staff that may include folks who are well-intentioned but not fully qualified. Or, fully qualified but not well-trained or inexperienced. Or, worst of all, fully qualified and experienced, but just 'not good'. Being unable to think critically and deeply about why and how you will implement programming changes - how will this play out and what are the potential pitfalls or risks of such a plan- can be devastating to the families and staff affected, as this weeks scenario has demonstrated. Sometimes, even the administrators of a centre are in the role with little experience but the required education to satisfy licensing requirements!
One day, we will likely hear an official decision on this particular centre's actions. Regardless of that outcome, families and staff have been impacted and the ripples have been felt throughout the field.
Childcare, particularly for the littlest children, is at a crisis point in the province of BC, and likely across the whole country. It has been at a crisis for many years it seems, with a chronic lack of spaces and increasingly out of reach parent fees. Many families are looking at fees that are higher than their rent or mortgage payments for childcare. There is a wide range of care options, licensed and not licensed, in home or centre-based... with a wide range of fees as well.
On the flip side of that same struggle, childcare providers and centers are increasingly challenged to find and retain good quality, well-trained staff members. Wages and benefits are not high, and are not consistent across all centres in any region. The costs of the post-secondary education required to be a licensed caregiver continue to climb, and are very quickly reaching the break point where the wages earned after graduation do not justify the cost of the training.
But, this is not news! The 'crisis' in childcare has been ongoing for many years, despite the efforts of those who continue to work on improving the existing situation. Why then, with such constant attention, does childcare continue to be in a crisis mode?
I can't be sure, but it seems to me that part of what is lacking in moving towards some of these bigger changes is fairly simple. Real changes will come from the higher ups, like government and the administration of post secondary institutions. Government could help by instituting a higher income cut off to qualify for subsidy so more families can access the program, and by raising the amount of the subsidy to cover a greater portion of the fees. (The '$10 a day' platform has spent a lot of time and energy detailing how this could be achieved without a painful shift in our taxes, and it is worth reading the research that has been done on this.)
In this region, one of our most recognizable post secondary institutions was obliged to mobilize the community to fight to keep their Early Learning and Care program on the school calendar, as the college thought the space and funds could be better used elsewhere! Greater support for childcare education programs is required to ensure the field continues to have a supply of qualified educators.
Childcare administrators, those who operate large or small centres with staff also struggle to keep it all going, as almost all of the costs of providing care are borne by the parents in the form of parent fees. Staff wages? from parent fees. Benefits? from the fees. Overhead? from the fees. Of course, childcare is a user-pay system, but still the relatively small group of users (parents) can only be expected to pay so much to keep the service that they need.
But even so, with all this awareness of what the issues are, why can we not move ahead more effectively? Why is it still a 'small c' crisis? I think it may be in part to the fact that for families the crisis is relatively short lived! they white-knuckle their way through the worst of it for 4 or 5 years, juggling childcare options, making sacrifices to pay for care, working parent schedules to manage pick up and drop off times and then its over! Off to publicly funded school! All the trauma of childcare concerns finally fades to the back as new things take centre stage and parents don't think about it much anymore.
Families are the most seriously impacted by all the issues around childcare, the most able to be passionate about how childcare, the lack of childcare, the fees for childcare, their concerns about the people who provide their childcare... but they can not also be expected to be the loudest advocates for care, particularly during the times when they are feeling the pinches most significantly. This is an exhausted group of people! It takes energy to make an impact and effect lasting change!
To make any significant progress on the childcare front, we need a more diverse group of folks to advocate for change on behalf of all our children, all the children and grandchildren we may have in the future. We need more than just those dedicated and passionate early childhood educators to speak for our little ones! Childcare affects everyone in our community, at all levels, when it doesn't work. The business community needs to speak up, the education folks - speak up! Government agencies - speak up! Together we can all make changes that recognize that our little people are some of the most important in our communities, and together we must support them and their families.
As the end of another preschool year approaches, the question arises as to what sort of celebration we will be having to mark the occasion. The 'occasion' is otherwise known as 'graduation', but I always wonder 'Does it apply to 3 and 4 year olds?'
Traditionally, the end of preschool is marked with some sort of family event.... a picnic, a trip to the beach, a 'tea party', but more and more often in programs for all ages, the end of June takes on greater significance, at every grade level, beginning in preschool. It makes me wonder how children will learn that there are in fact some milestones that are a bigger deal than others as they get older... or that some personal achievements will require more effort than just showing up...or in the case of preschool and the early years at elementary school, just being dropped off at school. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not anti-celebration, but I have known preschool programs to devote essentially the entire month of June to 'practice' for the ceremony - practicing where to stand, working out songs to sing, how to walk across the floor, stand for photos - it's lot of work for teachers, not really a lot of fun for the children, and most of the time the children don't understand what all the fuss is about.
For many preschoolers, this is just a shift in their routines, as some of them may be heading into all-day childcare programs for the summer months, so there is no real break after the end of preschool.
And what about those children who, as in our programs, participate in 'family group' programs where 3 and 4 year old's attend in the same group. (Family grouping doesn't happen in every program, but it reflects an awareness that not every little person is growing and learning at the same pace, so a mixed group allows for learning opportunities that support a wider range of learners).
Those children may be returning to their familiar classroom come September, so is it fair to take away their time with friends playing at preschool to practice a performance?
So all of this thinking brings me around to what i am truly wondering - who are we actually planning for when we plan activities and calendar items for preschool aged children in programs? Mom and Dad? Grandparents and Carers? or the children who attend each session? What is the best use of the teaching staff's time? Interacting with and supporting the growth and learning of the 20 little people in our programs, or herding them through a structured, choreographed practice that has little meaning to them?
What do you think?
As a part of my working week as the 'principal' of Full o'Beans Preschool (a title given to me by more than a few of our preschoolers in the last 4 years) I have begun giving myself permission to spend some time reading at work. I am an avid reader, generally, but have tended to use my leisure time to enjoy fiction at home - lots of escapist fiction! Naturally, novels with half-clad Scots on the cover are not suitable reading material for the office, so I have been on the lookout for much better choices, more professional choices! In my search, I did find a few books that were interesting, not too hard to read, and provided some refreshing perspectives on little people! If you are at all interested in a bit of dry reading... but valuable dry reading in terms of learning more about how your children think, learn and develop, you might consider one of the following:
'The Importance of Being Little - What Preschoolers Really Need From Grown-ups' by Erika Christakis.
This one is the book I almost wish I'd written, in that it includes a lot of practical, sensible perspectives on children under 5. It is sometimes easy to read and anecdotal in style, and sometimes includes data and research information that shares a broad understanding of how little people grow, how well-intentioned adults sometimes miss the mark and over think, or under think, what is truly essential during the early years of a child's life, and how those of us who love and care for children can help support them as they grow towards later childhood and onwards.
'Rest, Play, Grow - Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one) by Deborah MacNamara PhD.
At a workshop earlier this year, I was fortunate to be able to attend a presentation by Dr. MacNamara, where she was able to outline and bring to life the work that she documents in her book. The book is also easy to get into, and not too technical (aka 'dull') as it outlines developmental stages in young children, how action and behaviour are impacted by development, and also how adults too are still developing after they become parents!
Happy summer reading...It's back to the Scots for me!
Since 1986, I have been working with, and on behalf of young children. As an ECE and a Mom, I have gained some insights and made some mistakes that I am happy to share with others, in hopes that some of what I have learned will be of use to others. Corinne