“Day Care is so good for the kids who can go! They become more independent, they become more imaginative in their play, they dance, and sing and do craft, and it improves their social and emotional development, plus school readiness. My 1.5 year old is doing one letter a week at daycare”
Are you a SAHM feeling the pressure to put your child in day care even though you don’t have to?
Here are 6 reasons why daycare is not what your kids need.
Disclaimer: If your child goes to daycare because you work, this article isn’t for you. If you are at home but you’re not coping and you need some guaranteed child-free time, or time to focus just on the baby, again, this article isn’t for you.
This article is for people who are at home, and coping fine, but are worried that they should be sending their child to daycare anyway, for the child’s benefit.
(Although personally I believe that working parents should look objectively at the potential pitfalls of day care and the marketing hype used by the industry in order to pick the best option they can when choosing a daycare facility. )
My mother has to decide if she’s going back to work (as a pre-school teacher) or not. The answer is not, one of the reasons? There’s no day care. It just doesn’t exist for kids under 3.
My brother is born and my parents buy a business, so my mum can work from home.
Now that my brother is 2.5 years old he is old enough to get a part time place at daycare.
There are no full time places. They just don’t offer them.
My cousin is the first person I know to go to daycare full time, she starts at 6 months.
My son is born in November. By the time he is 3 months old “when is he/she starting day care” has become a standard question for the mums in my mothers group.
The mum’s in my mothers group are all talking about how great day care has been, how their child is “thriving” now thanks to the “socialisation”, how much they are “learning”, and look at all these craft activities they’re doing “i wouldn’t know what to do with them all day if they were at home, I wouldn’t be able to keep them stimulated”
I’m over in the corner banging my head against a brick wall wondering how i’m the only one who can see how in only one generation we have brainwashed parents into believing that day care is a necessity.
In one generation daycare went from being babysitting for women who had little choice but to return to work, to a status symbol of “good parenting choices” because of all the “advantages” it offered. Day Care workers were re-branded as “early childhood educators” (despite still not needing a university degree,) centres started marketing themselves with buzzwords like “enrichment” and pushing themselves as an educational service, private schools opened their own day care centres feeding into the school, with “pre-prep” programs “designed to nurture and inspire”, and then the government got involved with a curriculum and “government approved” kindergarten programs.
And a whole generation of parents, most of whom never went to kindergarten and only went to non-compulsory preschool for 2.5hrs a day at age 5, now worry that they are doing their child a disservice if they aren’t in daycare.
I’m here to tell you that you are not.
In fact you’re most likely doing the opposite.
(If you care about the appeal to authority fallacy, I’m an ex teacher. My mum was trained as an early childhood teacher back when that meant you went to teacher’s college for hours a day 5 days a week for 3 years. She was part of the first generation of preschool teachers in Queensland. My Grandfather was a teacher and a principal, my brother, my dad’s sister, my ex-husband, his mother, his sister……. All teachers. All in different domains, and with different teaching styles, and beliefs about discipline. But pedagogy has always been something that I've been surrounded with. I’m also a researcher, I like to make informed decisions, and to understand topics that interest me. Education has always been one of those topics.)
Here are the top 6 things people claim make daycare necessary (or at least advantageous), and why that’s actually bullshit.
From a biological standpoint human babies are supposed to be socialised by spending huge amounts of time with their primary caregivers - their parents and grandparents - looking into their faces, watching them go about their day, being in physical contact and hearing them speak/sing.
Generally there will be 3 adults who are primary caregivers for one baby.
As they age, they will spend gradually spend more time with other children, but those children will be mixed age.
Children and adults are not segregated into separate spaces for “work” and “school” or “play”. They co-exist together.
That is true human socialization.
True socialisation can not happen in a same aged classroom, that applies just as much to 17 year olds as it does to 17 month olds.
But when we are talking about a 17 month old or a 7 month old or even a 27 month old, it’s even more facetious to claim they are learning socialization skills in a class full of same age peers with a 4:1 child to adult ratio.
Why? Because children don’t develop social/cooperative play (the stage at which they are actually interested in both the people they are playing with and the activity) until age 4 at the earliest.
Before age 2 most children are still in either the unoccupied play stage, or the solitary play stage. Whilst adults or older children can engage a baby in a game eg. peek-a-boo or block sorting, the babies are not able to initiate play with each other.
From about 2.5 most children will move into the onlooker play and parallel play stages where they watch each other, perhaps ask questions about the game, and may even mimic each other, but they aren’t playing together in the sense that they can negotiate rules, and come up with ideas as a team etc.
Around 3-4 they move into Associative play, it is only now that they will start to spontaneously take turns, or trade items, as well as verbally interacting with each other and being more interested in playing with the other children than in what they are playing.
So since children are developmentally incapable of playing with each other until age 4, exactly what social skills are they learning at daycare before that, and what point is there to them being surrounded by other kids their own age all day?
When a baby is at playgroup or child care, they need adults to play with and respond to them as well as support them in their interactions with other babies.
One could make a realistic argument that same age classrooms for kids under 4 are detrimental to their socialisation, because they are not being exposed to other kids (and adults) with more advanced social skills (speech, play, “manners” etc) enough to actually learn these skills by seeing them modelled. Instead the daycare teachers have to set up contrived activities in order to “teach” them with no where near the number of adults required to actually give each child the support they need. (Then there’s the high staff turnover, which makes security and trust difficult.)
Meanwhile the baby at home with their siblings or cousins or neighbours, who’s going out to library time, or the park, and the supermarket or on the bus is seeing plenty of adults and children of all ages interact with each other, and (if worn) spends the majority of their time in their mother’s arms, watching her face and hearing her voice and seeing how she socialises. It’s this bonding with their family, and a sense of security and trust that sets up their understanding of socialisation in the first place.
The claim that daycare aids in developing independence is nothing more than a complete misunderstanding of the way independence develops.
Humans develop independence via dependence.
Human children are supposed to develop dependence. Dependence upon a select few primary caregivers who are consistent in their lives. Having those caregivers consistently respond to their cries quickly, and in a loving manner, being rocked, watching their parents faces, having free access to hugs, and the breast, having their caregivers make repairs when there are misunderstanding in communication, skin to skin contact, and basically being held 24/7. This is what allows them to establish a sense of trust and security.
That trust and security is what eventually allows for independence to develop. As the child becomes physically able to disconnect or explore, they become emotionally able to cope with those separations. But the key here is that these separations are child lead. The child is able to re-connect as soon as they start to feel insecure. This re-enforces the idea that the world is safe, that their caregivers will be there for them, that they can be depended upon. Alongside the developing physical and emotional preparedness to separate, babies are developing object permanence.
Object permanence first begins to develop between 4-7 months old - the first sign is that your child looks for something when they drop it. This is step one in the long road to understanding that mummy will come back when she leaves me at daycare.
Step two seems like a regression, but it’s really not: stranger anxiety. Stranger anxiety unsurprisingly develops at the same time as babies become more mobile and capable of moving away from their caregivers, 7-10 months. Think about it, now that a baby can independently separate from their parent, they are at greater risk of getting lost. Stranger anxiety is a protective mechanism. True independence, comes from dependence. And at this age dependence means that their primary caregivers will still be there when baby moves off to explore.
Step three is separation anxiety. Again this seems like a backwards step, but it isn't. At about 10 months babies enter the peak period of separation anxiety - a fear of being away from their parents - this peak lasts until around 18 months, and then gradually lessens throughout childhood. The more physically capable they become of initiating separations, the more they need the security of mum, until they enter the final stage of object permanence, where they can now conceptualise or imagine objects they can’t see, and fully understand that they still exist.
This final stage happens from about 18 months. Though the understanding of time (eg> mummy will be back to get you after lunch) is still only just starting to develop.
You can’t force this development. You can’t fast track it. And rather than strengthening independence, sending your child to daycare before at least 18 months actually inhibits true independence by putting babies into a situation where separation from their source of security is forced upon them for extended periods of time.
With a nanny or family day care, or even the rare centre where the staff have been consistent for years, you can mitigate the stress on the baby by slowly introducing the secondary caregiver, and the location with you still there, then doing short separations where you are still on site, just out of sight, and gradually increasing the length of separation. But in many day care centres staff turnover is high, and there's no guarantee that the one person you child has bonded enough to feel safe with will still be there next week.
3: Learning to Share
As we’ve already established, in a standard daycare set up, children are segregated by age, which means you get a class full of Two year olds.
Two year old’s can’t share. It’s not something they are developmentally able to do yet.
They are still in the Solitary Play and Onlooker play stages, they are still entirely egocentric and are yet to have a strong sense “Theory of mind” the developmental capacity to understand that other people have different thoughts and experiences and feelings to us, and they have no impulse control. They don’t care about playing with someone else, they just want to play with whatever it is the other child has, they don’t have empathy yet, so they don’t care about or even understand how the other child feels when they snatch something, they just know that they wanted it.
So your child isn’t “Learning to share” from seeing other kids model it.
They are “learning to share” by the educators intervening 50 thousand times a day.
Even in a Montessori setting (where sharing and turn taking are actually taught correctly,) it is still the rules, structure and educators doing most of the work with the multi age classroom doing the rest. The 5 year olds model sharing to the 2 year olds, because they actually can share and take turns.
4: Understanding school behaviour
Learning to line up, to sit quietly, to work in groups, to follow teacher’s instructions, to cope with the structure of school.
This one is frankly, just ridiculous.
The expectations that school has of what a child should know and how they should behave when they start at 5 has spiralled out of control in the last 30 years.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Prep teacher who trained before the 90’s who agrees with the way that Prep has been implemented, and the expectations that puts on the children.
Five year olds are not developmentally capable of sitting quietly and still for more than about 5 minutes at a time - if they are engaged. Yet so many daycare centers do “circle time” with two year olds, and have their 4 year olds practicing writing for an hour a day.
But the most ridiculous aspect of this claim is simply that you need to start teaching a child something 3 or more years before they actually “need” to be able to do it.
A five year old going to school needs to be able to follow a teacher’s instructions, sure. But one term of any after school activity the term before they start school is more than sufficient to teach them that skill. They don’t need to be practicing it from 18 months.
A five year old going to school needs to be able to line up, sure, but going to the supermarket and the bank and the post office with mum will teach them that too. They don’t need to go to an “early education centre” to learn it.
A five year old going to school needs to be able to cope with the number of hours of school, sure, but 25 years ago we all went from 2.5hr days at pre-school to 6hr days at school so /Shrug. If you’re really worried about it, then send them to kindy at 4, five days a fortnight from 9am-3pm. Don’t send them to daycare from 6-6. Especially not three years before they go to school. If daycare is your only option for Kindy then send them only for the 15 hours that the kindy program runs for.
5: The activities.
Toddlers and preschoolers do not need to be doing craft activities, and dance and music, or tumbling, or chess, or whatever.
They need to be outside a lot, playing in nature, making messes, taking risks and having their time be unstructured by adults.
But if you cope better having activities to do, there are thousands of opportunities a day, simply by you going about your daily life. Bake something, give them a spray bottle or a broom to help “clean”, practice matching sorting socks, practice pencil grip skills hanging washing, look for specific items in the supermarket, let them “type” on your lap, or “write” letters, give them a wooden spoon and pots to bang whilst you cook. And you can always take them to classes and story time and playgroup. They don’t need to be at daycare to get those opportunities.
As for craft and “play”
The key to playing with babies and toddlers isn’t having endless ideas and patience, or even a well stocked craft area. It is simply knowing what skills your child is working on at that point in time, and finding opportunities for them to practice them.
The second secret - understanding that they won’t stick at anything for long unless it’s the skill that they are working on right now.
There’s no point in spending ages setting up a sensory bin or a collage activity for a toddler whose only interest right now is posting. They’re not going to engage with it. They’ll play with the dvd player for hours, because that’s posting. But you’re wasting your time and energy trying to set up some fantastic activity you saw on pinterest. Just get a cardboard box and cut a door in one side and a slot in the other and give them some bits of paper.
Pinterest is a fantastic resource, don’t get me wrong. So is Play School. And teacher’s love them both. But a teacher is setting up activities for one of 2 scenarios:
1: A teacher lead activity that’s really just for the parent’s sake so they can have something to take home and say “look what little Millicent did at day care”
2: A class full of individual children who are at different points in their development and interests.
This leads to three options.
2.1 Force all the kids to do things that only a couple are actually interested in
2.2 Set up multiple zones with different sorts of activities and rotate.
2.3 Set up multiple invitations to play let the kids spend as much or as little time at them as they want, using them however they want. Even if it destroys the Pinterest worthy idea you had in your head.
When you’re working with just your kids, you don’t have these constraints. You have the ability to truly individualise, not just differentiate.
Just pay attention to what your child is fascinated by, then if you struggle for ideas, use Pinterest and Play School in a focused manner.
Again, as stated above, the expectations on kids starting school have spiralled out of control in the last 30 years. There are memes that float around from time to time that show a list of what it was expected a 5 year old could do/knew when starting grade 1 in the 60’s, then the 90’s and now. The differences are astounding.
As day care has sought to brand itself as a necessity, a primary marketing tactic has been to promote themselves as an educational setting; one that gives your child an advantage.
Through the early 2000’s as more and more parents sent their children to daycare for said educational advantage, the daycare centres focused less on play (because the parents don’t want play, they want education) and more on academics. As the daycare’s focused more on academics what children came to school knowing shifted. As the “norms” shift the schools found that the majority of kids already know what they were supposed to be covering in Prep and are bored. Disengaged. As that happens, there’s pressure from the administration and the parents to “challenge” the children more. At the same time, the government introduced NAPLAN and MySchool, and the focus of school shifted even more.
Ironically when Prep was introduced in Queensland it was supposed to be 100% play based. But despite the official curriculum for Prep still being play based, the vast majority of prep classrooms in Queensland are full of kids doing handwriting practice, math activities and writing tasks, or sitting still for carpet time. Gone are the home corners, and block corners. Gone is the opportunity for each child to structure the majority of their own day. Gone is the outside play and water troughs. And the obstacle course only exists for 15 minutes after “fruit break” as a mandated part of the HPE curriculum.
A truly play based prep classroom is as rare as hens teeth. (Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to an alternative school.)
This phenomenon is known as the “Pushdown of curriculum”, where, at best, things that were once covered in grade 2 are now covered in grade 1, what was once grade 1 is now Prep, what was once Prep is no Kindy, and what was once kindy is “Pre-kindy” or 3 year olds. Sadly it’s far too common to see children doing literacy, numeracy and handwriting activities that would previously have been expected only in late grade 1/ early grade 2 in Kindy or even “pre-kindy”.
Three and four year olds are being labelled “behind” for not being able to identify and write the alphabet, whilst they aren’t even physically capable of holding a pencil correctly. (Because that requires skills they are yet to fully integrate)
My child is going to Prep at 6, after 2 years in a play based kindy. He can write his name, now, without correct pencil grip, or “correct” letter formation, his letters are huge, often started in the “wrong” place and or backwards, and I never correct him on it, because it’s age appropriate.
My neighbour's son is will start Prep at 5, she’s been trying to get him to sit down and practice his handwriting for half an hour a day focusing on being able to write everything in lowercase and with correct formation. He goes to a different Kindy, (and went to daycare before that) that claims to be “play based” yet the kids are only “allowed” to play police games one day a week, lest the play it all day everyday.
She’s here freaking out that his handwriting is behind, and that he needs to improve it before Prep, when the actual curriculum doesn’t even require that children be writing at all before they start Prep. Writing is a skill they are supposed to learn at the end of Prep. In the 90’s, whilst you might learn to write your name in Preschool, properly recognising the alphabet wasn’t covered until the first six weeks of year one, and you can’t write the alphabet without first recognising it.
But now we live in the post Baby Einstein era.
And parent’s just want to get their kids ahead, so daycare centres cater to the market.
The problem is, this push for early academics is entirely misguided.
Education research show time and time again that it is detrimental to children. To their social development, to their emotional development, to their physical development and to their learning. By grade 5, those who started reading at age 6-7 have not only caught up to those who were pushed to read at 4-5, they are outpacing them. The gap in achievement continues to grow throughout the rest of schooling, with the kids who started reading later continuing to improve rapidly, whilst the early starters stagnate.
By 10 the rates of kids who are disengaged with school are far higher in those who were pushed to academics early than those who had no formal pre-schooling education, or were in play based self-directed settings.
Early academics and the associated behavioural expectations that go with it, increases the chances of a child being diagnosed with behavioural disorders.
Being expected to spend long periods of time sitting at a desk rather than playing outside climbing and jumping and running (along with the rise of baby containers) means more and more children are at risk of delays and deficiencies in their gross motor skills, and gross motor skills are necessary for fine motor skill development, as well as behavioural control.
By pushing early academics we are quite literally setting kids up to fail academically in the long run, to be unnecessarily medicated, and to lack the physical skills they require to do well at school.
It’s pretty damn ironic.
The gold standard in education is for children to have no formal schooling before age 7.
No writing, no flashcards, no worksheets, not even any specific literacy and numeracy instruction. Sure they might pick up a book and teach themselves to read, or learn to count from Sesame Street, they and they will certainly make marks on paper or in dirt or snow or and or walls with paint, or water, or crayons or pencils or sticks. But these experiences will be lead by the child, they will be authentic, not something the teacher is making them do, and whilst the teacher may set out a “provocation” that they hope will inspire the children to practice their pre-writing skills or develop numeracy or whatever, it’s up to the child if they engage with the provocation materials and how.
Completely play based, self-directed, democratic and outdoors the majority of the time.
Running, jumping, climbing, swinging, riding, and spinning, taking risks, and finding worms.
The kind of education that a child can get just as well in their own backyard, or at the park.
This kind of education is hard to find in today’s day-care landscape.
There are centres that run this way. But they are still a niche market.
Forest schooling is increasing rapidly in Australia and in Brisbane the number of Montessori and Reggio Emilia based daycare's has exploded in the past 5 years. So access to play based, self-directed daycare is thankfully improving, but as demand increases, so do the number of centres using the right buzzwords, without actually following through in their pedagogy.
Like in this blog, post which talks about “play based activities” - situations the teacher sets up, rather than things the kids discover for themselves in their own undirected (by adults) play.
There is a case for teacher lead activities like this, but if a centre is truly play based, teacher lead activities will be 1: less than 10-15% of the “curriculum” and 2: developed primarily from the children, usually spontaneously. This is called “emergent curriculum”.
Taking the above example with the shadows; in an emergent curriculum, if a child or a group of children were playing with blocks and loose parts, and noted the shadows forming, the teacher might suggest they deepen their investigation, by changing the structure to see the effects, if they are still interested in exploring shadows when they are done with building, the teacher might encourage them to talk about other places they have seen shadows, or ask how they think shadows work, this might then lead to exploring the light table, or playing with torches, reading books,or researching via YouTube for videos about shadows. The teacher facilitates the children's learning, by asking questions, encouraging investigation, providing materials, and doing tasks the children can’t do (eg, reading, searching for videos).
In a centre where they have simply latched onto the buzzword of “play based”, the teacher will decide that the class is going to investigate shadows, and set up “play” activities such as block building or using the light table.
Peter Gray explains the difference:
Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty. Play is not always accompanied by smiles and laughter, nor are smiles and laughter always signs of play; but play is always accompanied by a feeling of “Yes, this is what I want to do right now.” Players are free agents, not pawns in someone else’s game….. This point about play being self-chosen and self-directed is ignored by, or perhaps unknown to, many adults who try to take control of children’s play. Adults can play with children, and in some cases can even be leaders in children’s play, but to do so requires at least the same sensitivity that children themselves show to the needs and wishes of all the players. Because adults are commonly viewed as authority figures, children often feel less able to quit, or to disagree with the proposed rules, when an adult is leading than when a child is leading. And so, when adults try to lead children’s play the result often is something that, for many of the children, is not play at all. When a child feels coerced, the play spirit vanishes and all of the advantages of that spirit go with it. Math games in school and adult-led sports are not play for those who feel that they have to participate and are not ready to accept, as their own, the rules that the adults have established. Adult-led games can be great for kids who freely choose them, but can seem like punishment to kids who haven’t made that choice
When asked to define play based learning, Rather than a definition like this one:
“Play based learning appeals to children’s natural curiosity and desire to engage in experiences based on their interests, strengths and developing skills as they make sense of their world around them. Opportunities for large blocks of uninterrupted and unhurried time rather than small amounts of time to explore.”
A truly play based centre's response, would be.
“Anything and everything a child does. It’s simply what happens when children play, All play is learning.”
A truly play based daycare centre's website will have answers like this.
For the average parent wondering if they should send their child to daycare to benefit their social skills/independence or education, their local options are still most likely going to be mainstream centres, ones with strong a academic focus, single age classrooms, high teacher turnover, and a shallow (at best) interpretation of “play based learning”.
If that is your option, you are far better off keeping your child at home until kindergarten (or even Prep if the Kindy options aren’t any better). You’re not doing them a disservice by not sending them to daycare when you don’t need to. You would be doing them a disservice by sending them.
Hi I'm Nicole