Child care from birth to age 3 pays off

Kindergarten used to be the start of most children’s education.  But today we know that it should begin even earlier – from birth to age 3 – to maximize benefits (“Some Dog Walkers Earn More Than Caregivers for Babies. Educators Want to Change That.” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25). That’s because it is a time of rapid brain growth and language acquisition.

For toddlers from low-income families, the need is most acute.  They are not exposed to the same factors that their peers from affluent families are.  I have reference now to educational toys, music and the like.  If disadvantaged children receive high-quality child care in the form of games, for example, they have a better chance of catching up with others.

The trouble is that getting college graduates to choose a career in this field is hard because pay is low. For example, Early Head Start, a government-subsidized program for low-income infants, pays only $31,000 a year for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree.  I’ve always felt that most people view education at that level to be little more than babysitting. As long as that attitude prevails, I see little hope for attracting people to the field.

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4 Replies to “Child care from birth to age 3 pays off”

  1. There is research showing a strong correlation between parent SES level and the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction from birth through kindergarten. There is also research showing a strong correlation between the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction from birth through kindergarten and the child’s vocabulary size, cognitive skill development and neural pathway development when the child starts kindergarten.

    If this is all true, it would go a long way towards explaining why low-SES-area schools have low test scores and high-SES-area schools have high test scores. Of course, there are alternative explanations — i.e., genetics, better nutrition/health care, more positive attitudes at home re academic achievement. It would also go a long way towards explaining why some low-income groups (such as Asian immigrants) often do much better in school than low-SES students generally — that is, the Asian immigrants are low-income but often relatively high-SES (the parents who were teachers or engineers in Viet Nam and are driving cabs or working in nail saloons here in the US).

    Also, if all this is true, the most effective “school reforms” to close the achievement gap would be programs that improve the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction from birth through kindergarten for low-SES kids. This might include training low-SES parents in the importance of giving their kids a lot of verbal interaction and the right kind of verbal interaction — what higher-SES parents do pretty much automatically because that’s how they were raised. And, it might include preschool programs for low-SES kids starting at the earliest possible age that emphasized high quantity/quality adult-child verbal interaction.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I remember vividly the reaction of Hispanic teachers at the high school where I taught for 28 years in the LAUSD. They resented attempts to teach them how to interact with their children, even though the intention was to help their children perform better in school. I wonder if the same thing exists among blacks for similar reasons. I realize that no race is a monolith, but I think we have to be careful when intervening in this area.


    1. What you say is completely true — and why inner-city elected officials will try pretty much any “school” reform to narrow the achievement gap in lieu of reforms to teach low-SES parents how to interact with their kids the way higher-SES parents do. But, inner-city elected officials could certainly implement earliest-possible-age preschool programs that emphasized high-quantity/high-quality adult-child verbal interaction.

      Where the current “high-quality” preschool programs might be falling short is that — from what I have read about programs like Head Start — these programs focus more on teaching kids how to behave, how to interact positively with other kids, and the beginnings of reading/numbers. There is relatively little/no emphasis on the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction. And, not even sure that reading a book to a group of kids constitutes much in the way of adult-child verbal interaction — yes, it’s interaction but it’s pretty much one-way interaction with the kids passive recipients; not much different than watching TV. If the adult-child verbal-interaction research is correct, then watching Sesame Street might be a little better for the kids’ intellectual development than watching dumb cartoon shows (and both are better than the kid sitting in an empty room staring at a wall), but Sesame Street is still far behind an adult talking to a child and reacting positively to the child’s efforts to communicate with the adult.

      Of course, the adult-child verbal-interaction research might be anecdotal garbage. But, it intuitively makes sense to me. Very few govt policy-makers officials grew up in low-SES families. For that matter, relatively few adults who grew up in high-SES families spend much time observing what goes on at home in a low-SES family. The policy makers just do not realize what’s different about the low-SES home environment. It makes a lot of intuitive sense to me that parent-child verbal interaction in low-SES families is usually much different than parent-child verbal interaction in high-SES families (that is, when kids grow up and become parents, they will interact with their kids the way that their parents interacted with them) + the research goes a long way towards explaining the anecdotal evidence of low-SES babies adopted shortly after birth by high-SES families and have the academic success one would expect of a high-SES kid + the research explains why kids born to poor parents who would be upper-middle-class but for their low income (the 1920 Jewish immigrants, the 1970 Viet Nam immigrants) have academic achievement records similar to those of high-SES kids.


  3. Labor Lawyer: There is an ongoing debate about what constitutes quality early child care. That’s not surprising in light of other controversial issues. But I think what most people agree is that cultural differences must be respected if positive results are to emerge. Verbal interaction is no exception.


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