“Parents—and this is a real sea change—understand the infant-toddle years as learning years.”
—Betty Holcomb, Policy Director, Children’s Initiatives
An article recently posted in the Wall Street Journal focused on the growing competition to find excellent early childhood programs in New York City. The change in this case is that the demand appears to be driven by affluent parents who are newly convinced that their very young children need the stimulation and guided instruction available through quality early childhood learning centers—as opposed to what has been previously provided by nannies or other caregivers.
It’s Now a Grind for 2 Year Olds, discussed this development, citing the “wave of early childhood learning centers where toddlers and infants are cared for by trained teachers.” The alarms are raised because in New York City, “getting in (to any school) can be similar to applying for an elite private school,” and that, “early childhood education programs still see long waiting lists.”
What’s fascinating about this article it that it is nothing new to those who are part of the early childhood education world. For years, there has been a national call to develop high quality early learning centers and to raise the expectations and standards for those who work there. This has largely focused on the huge need and the high cost of providing infant and toddler care to working class and/or lower socioeconomic groups. The clear importance of having very young children immersed in stimulating, developmentally appropriate settings is undeniable and well documented by research (MIT study).
Supporting efforts designed to improve access to such learning environments (especially early childhood programs that prioritize play and imagination over pre-K academics) for all families needing or wanting such care, is important. Settings staffed by competent, trained and caring adults who understand how young children learn have the best chance to be effective. Given the central importance of positive relationships in the development of meaningful learning, there is a lot to be said for finding a variety of ways to provide adults who can engage these youngest students in learning.
One can only hope that when a problem is so severe (lack of accessible, high quality early learning centers) that it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries that new momentum will be generated around expanding access to such resources to the broadest possible number of families.
Photo credit: malingering