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Developmentally Appropriate Practice: + or -?


Q. Is it a good idea, or a bad idea, for public schools to be getting into the child-care business? Seems like they're putting too much on their plate again. And it seems to be improper governmental impingement on local private-sector child-care. Bottom line: does it make kids better learners?

Full-time, school-based day care is actually bad for children later on, and ominous for future discipline problems - disobedience, destruction of property and fighting - in public schools, research shows. With increasing use of school buildings for breakfast / morning latchkey day-care, as well as after-school care to 6 p.m. and so forth, it appears that "school sour" is going to becoming an increasing problem because of parents who place their children at school for too many hours of the day.


The number of hours children spend in day care is linked to the level of behavior problems they have later in life, according to a federal study published in the scientific journal, Child Development. The researchers found that, as the hours of day care increased, the reports of problem behavior generally increased right along with them. Researcher Sarah Friedman said the findings held true for all income groups of children in all out-of-home structured settings.


It creates a condition known as "school sour," where boredom from being in the same setting in the early morning hours and late afternoon hours, too, spreads into the regular school day. While often being at home is even worse, if there is no supervision and thus there are safety hazards and no one helping the child with homework and so on, it still appears clear that school-aged children are not thriving in after-school programs even though the staff and activities might be different than what they have in the regular school day.


Another study, from the University of Minnesota, showed a significant increase in hormonal measurements of stress among preschoolers in day care. The hormone is called "cortisol." Those measurements fell for those same children on days they spent at home.


A third, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) -- the most comprehensive ever conducted -- found that the more time children spent in non-parental day care arrangements, the more likely they were to display aggression, disobedience, and conflict with adults. That does appear to put schools in the awkward position of contributing to the bad behavior of the very students whose bad behavior they criticize constantly!


Of course, the reason public schools are getting in to early childhood education is that it serves working parents' day-care needs and brings in revenue. But with increasing evidence that full-time, out-of-home day care is bad for children and hampers learning later on, public policymakers may want to reconsider the billions of federal dollars going to subsidized day care, including in schools. A better idea is to cut government spending to lessen the tax burden so more parents can stay home for more of those crucial early years.

Homework: The best solution is to cut your working hours or shift them so that you don't need to use school-based day care. Or enroll your child in a latchkey program at a church, if there's transportation available. If you're a working parent who needs day-care and also a full-time income, can you arrange a work schedule that allows you to be home with your children after school? Can you trade child-care or other duties with a neighbor so that your children don't have to be in school longer than six or seven hours a day? If you'd like to advocate for better child-care options, outside of public schools, use excerpts from the book, Day Care Deception by Brian Robertson, in letters to the editor, and send parents who need day care to private-sector providers.


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 135 2008


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