Make children’s care the best it can be
Written by Ted Maple
Filed Under Opinion Letters to the editor in the Indianapolis Star
Education reform is a hot topic this year. However, one key reform has been absent from the discussion: early-childhood education. Given that children are learning from birth, we must recognize that we will never have a strong education system as long as we continue to largely disregard the first five years of a child’s life as “pre-learning” years.
Since we have no public pre-kindergarten program in Indiana, and Head Start reaches only a small percentage of children, we turn to the private sector — child care. Tens of thousands of children in Central Indiana spend their days in homes, centers and ministries — programs that parents choose and pay for to care for and educate their children.
The fact that so many children are cared for outside the home isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What matters is how they are cared for. When children are talked with, played with, provided developmentally appropriate learning materials and allowed to explore their environments, they are very likely in high-quality child care.
Research has shown over and over that when children are in a high-quality child-care program, they are likely to be more successful in school. If we want to improve math and reading achievement, reduce dropout rates and prepare kids for college, we should ensure every child is in a high-quality program.
Fortunately, parents have many options. They have teachers who have received specialized training and provide a safe and stimulating classroom for children. They ensure that classes aren’t too big or too crowded and are well-supervised. Children are actively learning about their world and how to interact with each other. These programs are often nationally accredited and participate in Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY rating system. Parents should always look for a child-care program that has achieved the highest Paths to QUALITY level (Level 4) or is progressing toward that goal. Some of United Way’s partner agencies — The Children’s Village, Day Nursery Association and St. Mary’s Child Center — have already achieved Level 4, and many more are working toward that distinction.
We should also make certain that all children are in programs that meet basic quality criteria. After all, the success of my children and yours also, depends on the success of their peers. Unfortunately, Indiana does not require all child care providers — even those receiving public funding — to meet basic health and safety standards.
Children are in danger every day because of substandard care. This is why United Way supports changes to this state policy as a fundamental condition for a community that aspires to have all its children ready for kindergarten and succeeding in school.
Bottom line? Child care is important. It allows us to work and support our families. But it will only educate our children and prepare them for success in school if the quality is high. Parents, policymakers and the public can join United Way of Central Indiana and Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children by choosing to support excellent programs, encouraging those who are working to improve, and pushing our leaders to elevate quality for all.
Maple is director of Success By 6 at United Way of Central Indiana and board president of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children.