Attention working parents! You may be able to cross one thing off the list of Things To Feel Guilty About! Contrary to the findings of a study published in 2007, daycare may not be a contributing factor in disruptive classroom behavior in older children.
According to the old survey of 1,300 US children aged 4 1/2 years through 6th grade, kids who spent one or more years in daycare were slightly more likely to be disruptive in class when they were older. While being disruptive doesn’t sound like the worst possible outcome to me, there were all kinds of headlines at the time screaming things to the effect of “Daycare Makes Kids Suck! Everybody Panic!”.
Last week, the New York Times covered a new study from researchers at Harvard and Boston College working with researchers in Norway. That study observed children in the US and in Norway and discovered that the problem is isolated to our fair shores. Why? Well, because a lot of US daycares suck whereas Norway’s daycares are generally better. Daycare in Norway is government subsidized, of a consistent quality across socioeconomic lines, and is nearly universally accessed, with 97% of preschoolers spending time in daycare. It’s a far different system than in the US where daycare quality is based on what parents can pay and not on what children need to thrive. The end result is a system where daycare doesn’t detract from a child’s overall education experience:
“Whereas child care in U.S. policy is generally treated as an unintended or unfortunate consequence of workforce participation among women,” the researchers wrote, “child care in the Norwegian corporatist economy is part of a broader family policy to promote maternal workforce participation and employment rights … as well as universal access to high-quality environments for learning and development beginning in the second year of life.”
That’s consistent with the U.S. research as well. In 2007, Slate’s Emily Bazelon contacted the author of that much-publicized earlier study, and asked her to examine the quality of care received by the children who spent more time in day care, and who had a higher-than-average incidence of bad behavior. “The kids with more reported behavior problems in elementary school were the ones who spent three or four years in day care and whose care was, on average, of lower quality.”
I know this is only one study but it makes perfect sense to me that daycare quality would have a dramatic impact on a child. My son was in daycare for three years and I have no regrets about that time because he was in one of the best daycares in DC. The teachers were well paid and the director was committed to getting them on-going training and providing good benefits. There was staff consistency and a dedicated curriculum that grew as the children grew. The parents were involved in making sure the staff had what they needed to do a good job and there was a real sense of community. It was a far cry from the in-home daycares that I looked at where untrained caregivers plopped toddlers in front of the tv between trips to the playground. The kids weren’t neglected but it certainly wasn’t the rich, inviting experience my son was getting. I know for a fact that those daycares cost about half as much as the one I sent my son to, and any parent without the means to pay for the top flight daycares sacrifices quality just by necessity.
The Norwegian system where care of children is considered a social priority seems to me to be a better one than this piecemeal system we have here where there are dramatic divides between what children of different socioeconomic strata get as their earliest learning experience. The need for two-earner families in the US is not going away, nor are children. There are better ways to do child care, ways that don’t result in disruptive behavior when kids start school. If they can manage it in Norway, why can’t we do it here too?
Photo credit: photo stock
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