The purpose of this article is to provide some input into the idea of group care for young children and how it may benefit or hurt these children at a later maturational date.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: I am asked all the time in my practice about the idea of group care versus home care with very young children. Sometimes there is no choice as both parents work. However, some ways of going about out of home care may be harmful. This article provides some guidelines.
There have been studies that indicate that the changing role of women, shifting family patterns, and the increase in day care programs may be transforming the nature and function of preschool institutions. This means that much of the natural one-step forward, two-steps backward growth normal for preschoolers now happens away from home with someone other than the mother in charge.
Normal growth patterns don’t fit smoothly into group care routines. What may be normal but annoying at home can be seen as disruptive or abnormal in nursery school. For example, a child recovering from an illness who may need more attention at school may be seen as being out of order.
In some preschool programs early childhood becomes a preparation for the world of work while play, which is so essential to the social and intellectual development of the child, is deemphasized. . Therefore, in the closed world of child care, the preschooler who doesn’t fit in because he or she continues to act like a young child, may begin to be seen as a troublemaker.
Children who have gratified their needs at one stage can generally take on the next developmental stage without undue frustration. To avoid the undue pressure which can interfere with healthy development, all options should be considered if preschool care for a very young child is needed.
Among the options are staggered work hours for the parents, care in a small home setting, and care in the child’s home. When group care is chosen, such factors as the ratio of adults to children, the flexibility of activities,and the quality of the staff are important considerations.
If children attend more than one preschool setting in one day (e.g. a public kindergarten for half a day and another school or day care center for the other half day), still different pressure on the child occur. Then the child needs to conform to two different physical settings, adult staffs, peer groups, and sets of rules and philosophies. Also, the growing number of “drop-off” centers where children can be left for irregular, unstated hours serves the needs of many families but presents a problem for the child who is cautious and shy, or who functions best in a regular routine that promises stability and predictability–which is all the children that I know.
In fact, it is good to keep in mind that in building foundations for later development, young children need consistency of care givers. If a daycare is chosen, it should be the same one–and the only one–with a low turnover of staff. Children who are subjected to inconsistency of care giving, can develop a lack of self as they watch their environment and develop pleasing behaviors that are designed to ensure being loved. This causes them to watch outside themselves as they try to treat their own anxiety about caretakers leaving and not develop a sense of who they are and what they want or need.
With more and more families developing in which both parents work, the need for sound child care programs deserves high priority.