Thanks for joining today's online education forum on preschool and day care with Professor Theresa Steger.
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Q: I had a great primary education experience while living in the Jane-Finch area and later North York. I remember tutoring private school students in university. Is there truly much difference between private and public education up to Grade 3 or so? My son is almost 4 and will be going to school in September. Day care and private schools are very expensive, but I have yet to truly understand what benefits are to be gained by a private school?
A: The differences between public and private education comes down to the specifics. For example, private schools may offer lower teacher-student ratios, may be open to one gender only, may have a particular curriculum focus, such as the arts, or science, may offer specific programming unavailable in public schools, etc. It is these particulars that often influence a family's decision to attend private school. They may also have a history or family tradition of children attending the school (sometimes for generations) and so have a degree of comfort with having their own child attend a school where they themselves were students.
Private schools, by their very nature, are selective. Families who put their children in a particular school often share similar values and, to a certain degree, the financial means to pay for a space, because, as you said, these spaces can be expensive. This is not to say families do not make sacrifices to have their child attend a private school. The point is that these families are similar to some degree in that they are willing to make the necessary sacrifices because they are committed to the type of private education they expect to receive. In some schools this may be reflected in the curriculum and in the overall school-community life and this is something families need to keep in mind when deciding about an individual school. The same is true for public schools. Some families attend public school because they feel they have no other option (often due to finances), but this is not the only factor. Others believe public school is effective, at least to a certain degree. There are some families who believe strongly in the idea that all children deserve quality schooling, regardless of financial means, and that children must learn to work together with the range of diverse learners that they believe are more represented in a public setting. These families may choose to send their child to public school because they think it is more inclusive.
As a whole, children from both public and private schools go on to do a range of things after graduation, including acquiring successful jobs, attending university, raising families, attaining a certain level of personal satisfaction, etc. There is no evidence that either group is limited. However, these are group statistics. For an individual child, the child and family may come to the decision that either public or private school is the best option for them.
Q: How do I find out the safety record of the school and if there are any complaints against the school?
Q: Maybe you can tell me where I go to get information on the various day-cares in York Region - I don't mean hours of operation or vacancies, but statistics on accidents reported, or the number of licensing infractions (such as breaking fire codes, teacher ratios, etc.) I have contacted the ministry responsible for day-care licensing in York Region and they have pretty much put up a brick wall with regards to providing me the information that they gather when their inspectors go out and visit these licensed day-care centres. First I was told they do not provide that information to the public, then, I quoted the "Freedom of Information Act," and they changed their tune, telling me they WOULD have to provide the information but I would have to request it in writing. When I did so, I received a call from their office telling me I would have to pay for the "man-hours" for one of their employees to compile this information for me and it would cost me several hundred dollars to do so. I can't believe I am the only mother to ever try and figure out a "good" day-care from a "poor" one. All of my friends have chosen to put their children in private day-care so I don't have a reference point to find out which ones are better than others. People will spend hours researching hotels on the internet before they go on vacation - why isn't anyone researching these day-cares? I have just contacted my local MPP regarding this matter and I am about to write a letter to my local paper, hoping to find 200 parents each willing to spend a loonie so that I can get this information and distribute it to the other paying parents. Why won't the gov't agency release this information? What are they afraid of?
A: I expect you are not the only parent attempting to get this information and you are correct in that it should not be this difficult. Asking a centre directly for the site visit report may be useful. Centres may be willing to share these reports with you, at least if you agree to read the report on-site at the centre. For centres who are not willing, it sounds as though you are exploring many possibilties. Contacting the licensing office again, and asking them to put their telephone response to you in writing is important. You might wish to mention to them your intention to go to the media. In addition to your plans to work through your MPP, you may be able to connect with other families through programs in the community. York Region has some wonderful programs offered through the public libraries. Pediatricians and elementary school teachers may also be able to provide information on particular centres or ways to connect with other parents who are looking into programs. Perhaps together you are more likely to get the information you are looking for. In addition to the statistics, personal experience with the centre and consideration of your own standards are important for decision-making.
Q: My daughter is two years old. I am looking into putting her in a preschool. Here are some of my questions: What should I be assessing when choosing a school for her? Are preschool/daycare rated some way by someone or some organization? How are these school regulated? Where can I find information about it?
A: I have addressed some of these points in other responses but a summary would include such factors as: - Is the centre licensed? - Teacher qualifications - Teacher and family turnover rates - Quality of interactions between staff and children - Materials which are open-ended and can serve a variety of purposes, accessible to children, and safe - Extended periods of time for play - chosen by the child - Opportunities for indooor and outdoor physical play - Safety, feeding, toileting (including toilet training), and sleeping routines -Undesirable/unacceptable behaviours and strategies used to respond to these.
Licensed centres do meet minimum requirements, based on site visits. Perhaps the most effective and time-efficient means to access this information is to ask the childcare centre director/administrator. If a centre is unwilling to provide this information, you may need to take further steps. The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services may be useful in your efforts to learn more about this.
Q: We are looking into a preschool for our daughter who is almost 3 years old. Is there any big advantage to Montessori schools? Are there any statistics to show how former Montessori preschoolers perform versus those who took regular preschool?
A: I am not aware of a Ontario-based study looking at long-term effects of Montessori education compared to other early education experiences. When such studies do exist, they are often commisioned by the program which they are intended to evaluate and, as a result, what becomes public information may be censored in some way. As I mention in some of my responses to other questions, there is great variation among programs, even programs which profess to be based on a particular philosophy. To be certain a program suits your daughter and your family, you are best to visit the program and spend some time there.
Q: My daughter recently started Montessori and while I've heard it's great, I don't quite understand all the rules. For example, she gets in trouble when she steps on a certain "mat" or is in between activities. Is it supposed to be this strict?
A: First, Montessori programs, like all programs that say they follow a particular philosophy, tend to vary greatly. It is important to see what actually happens in each site and to ask questions about why things happen the way they do. It may be hard to know in advance what to ask, because it is often after your child has spent some time in the program that the questions begin to surface. Keep asking the educators for the rationale behind their practices. In your case, don’t hesitate to ask both for the reason behind any concerns when your daughter is “between activities” and the specific strategies that the teachers use when this happens. If you believe your daughter is taking some time to observe others or wander around looking at things, in order to make a decision about what to do next, then find out from the teachers what their response is to this time. Again, individual children and families want and need different things from the care and education programs available.
Children need time for choice and decision-making everyday and programs for young children should be based on learning through play. Where programs are controlled primarily by teacher decisions, there is little room for children to learn how to make choices, manage their own time, and learn to self-regulate their own behaviour – critical skills for continued learning. Some programs value independence more than others, with some placing an emphasis on social skills. Be certain to ask program administrators for philosophy statements and examples of how this philosophy is put into practice. Check out the typical schedules for each day, a week, and a month and be certain to spend as much time as you can within a program, with your child, before coming to a decision. There is nothing wrong with making the decision that a program that is “great” for others is not a match for you and your child.
Q: What are the reasons for a "Day Nursery" pre-school program in Ontario requiring such a high adult/child ratio as compared to an elementary school's junior kindergarten program? My understanding is that currently 3- and 4-year-olds in a day nursery require a ratio of 1 employee to 8 children, whereas primary school classrooms, (ie: JK-Grade 3) can have an overall average of 20 students per teacher. Developmentally, which is the better option?
A: There is no question that, if all other factors were equal, an 8:1 ratio is preferable to a 20:1 ratio. However, it is difficult to compare programs in child-care centres with those in elementary schools, as the teacher qualifications, programs, and other services provided tend to vary greatly. The ratios are influenced primarily by cost and, but when combined with the other factors, the issue becomes more complicated. Ratios can be lower in child-care, partly as a result of the low pay that many ECE professionals receive.
Generally, people are beginning to recognize the specialized education and resulting skills and abilities that it takes to work effectively with young children. There are few, if any, elementary teacher preparation programs responding to this distinction and providing education focused on children in JK-3. Due to the current legislation, most teacher certification programs range over JK-Grade 6. Elementary teachers are required to have university degrees, in addition to their certification program, and they are expected to learn strategies for teaching in the context of a larger class and teaching many subject areas effectively. It would be wonderful if programs that combined the specialized focus on young children (currently part of ECE education), with the skills, strategies, and advanced education, which is part of Bachelor of Education programs, became the norm for all JK- Grade 3 teachers.
Another key point that comes from your question is the statement that 8:1 ratios are required in each ad every preschool childcare classroom. The idea of maximum class sizes is still not mandated by the Ministry of Education. To their credit, the government has moved towards restrictions on average class sizes in the primary years.
Q: A boy at my daughter's day care has now bitten her three times, always on the forearm. They're not fighting or anything, but for some reason he does it only to her. There's no bleeding, although marks on her skin, but I still think it's a serious situation that the teachers aren't addressing properly because it keeps happening. I want to ask that he be moved to another class or what should I do?
A: Biting is common in older infants and toddlers. For this age group, biting is typically used as a form of communication. Some children who bite do so in response to frustration. They may not have the language that they need in order to express themselves, and turn to biting as an alternative. Biting can also be simply an effort to be noticed.
Knowing this, however, does little to deal with the concern a parent faces when their child has been bitten, particularly when it is repetitive. You mention your concern that the teachers are not addressing the issue properly. Have you asked them about specific strategies they use in response to biting?
While this may seem highly unlikely, the family of the child who has bitten another child is typically equally as concerned about the incident(s). While on the surface some may appear to downplay the incident, typically no adults want their child to hurt another child and are very anxious when this happens. They may be more comfortable discussing solutions with the childcare staff than with you, as this can be a very embarrassing situation for the family. I have seen some families remove their child from group care as a result of this situation and I am concerned about the sense of isolation that can go along with this. I support the idea of working together towards a solution. While this might mean patience on your part, you should be able to get some answers related to your concerns about specific strategies that staff are using to respond to biting.
Q: I am thrilled that the government has approved money for more child-care spaces ... for school-age kids. When will they be doing something about providing quality infant spaces??? I go back to work soon, and I don’t want to have to "settle" for something. I want the best for my daughter!
A: You are absolutely correct about the need to look for the “best” care you can find for your daughter. Infant spaces, particularly in high quality centres, often have very long waiting lists, so beginning to look early is important. Be certain to check out the qualifications of the childcare professionals to see if they have ECE degrees or diplomas. Qualifications and low staff turnover have been shown to relate directly to the quality of care. As a result of the “Best Start” initiative, there is a movement to create a College of Early Childhood Educators. One of the outcomes of the creation of such a governing body is likely to be a requirement for all childcare teachers to have ECE qualifications.
In your search process, be sure to spend as much time as you can in the child-care centres you are considering. Ask about their routines for sleeping and feeding, as infant care should be responsive to the individual routines of the baby. The centre should have a “transition” time, where you will bring your daughter and stay with her, gradually increasing the time she spends at the center and in the care of the childcare staff. A particular challenge for families who have an infant in childcare is that the infant is not yet able to communicate in words and tell you about what happened during the day. As a result, you will need to be aware of non-verbal signs that suggest your daughter is adjusting well. Is she sleeping, eating, and generally content? I always encourage families, regardless whether they choose center-based or home-based childcare, to arrive unexpectedly, at various times during the day.
Q: Hi there. Regarding daycare/preschool, what should a parent do when a 2-year-old comes home having learned a very bad swear word at school? Thank you.
A: There are a number of possible choices for ways to respond. First, you may find that ignoring the word works best. Drawing unnecessary attention to it may only serve to encourage the child to repeat it again – typically to gain attention. Ignoring a swear word that the child is not regularly exposed to may result in the child quickly forgetting about it and not using it again. However, if this does not work, or you are uncomfortable with the suggestion, you could choose to explain to the child that you find that word rude and ask (or require) that it not be used in your home. In the case where the swear word is used as a synonym for some other word that you prefer, you can directly tell your child, “In our house, we say xxx.” This is particularly useful for slang words related to body parts, bodily functions, and those that are derogatory to individuals or groups of people.
Repeating swear words is a common behaviour for children of all ages and you will continue to have to find effective ways to respond to it for many years to come. As the child gets older, they may actually find the shocked response of an adult to be humourous and, therefore, it is important that you have some idea, in advance, of how you would prefer to respond. One further note … given that you believe your child first heard this word at the childcare, you may wish to inform the staff that this language was used (and may still be being used).
Q: I have two children, 2 and 3 years old, and work full-time as does my partner. We just hired a nanny, and I'd like to give her some ideas for activities to do with them. Do you have any suggestions?
A: First, and foremost, it is important for any caregiver to take cues from the children. You, your partner, and your nanny should ask, “What are the children interested in?” For young children, activities which are open-ended –- allowing the child choice and a chance to make decisions about what to do and how to do it –- are most appropriate. For example, rather than your nanny setting up a traditional “craft” activity, where the final product is predetermined, allow the children to freely experiment with a variety of materials (paint, playdough, sand, water, goop). It is important to remember that it is not the product of children’s play that make it a learning experience, but rather the process of experimentation and engaging in play. Let the children be the judges of what is to be done at an activity and how long they want to spend there. There should be regular time for reading books, listening to music, singing, and experimenting with various writing/drawing materials, like crayons and markers. Block building and sand and water play have been shown to support children’s mathematical understandings. Building can occur with “found” materials at home, like washed yogurt containers, empty film canisters, egg cartons, and cardboard boxes. Having a dress-up bin with discarded shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, purses, hats, etc. can lead to hours of pretend play. This drama allows children to learn about various roles, try out new skills, and is proven to support language and social skills.
Keep in mind that “over-programming” is not the answer. It is important to remember that the pots and pans in your own cupboard and the plastic cooking utensils may be more interesting to the children and provide invaluable learning experiences
Q: Is it better for a child to be in day care or stay at home with mom? I have this debate with my friend all the time; she thinks that no matter what, it's best for mom to stay at home. I'm not so sure.
A: This is one of those questions to which there is not a single answer. Each family has different circumstances that will impact the decision to have their children attend a daycare. The factors relate both to the adults and the children. Some women (and men) are very committed to being at home with their children. Others find a balance between work and family more suited towards their personal goals. Not everyone has the choice to stay home or go to work. If you are a family where this is a viable option, you will need to consider your circumstances. It is not simply a matter of finances, as both staying home and going to work impact family life with children. Some women (and men), who choose to stay home, believe they are better able to respond to the stresses related to primarily caring for a child all day, every day, often on their own, than they would be trying to focus at work, knowing someone else was looking after their child. Other parents feel that they interact more effectively with their children when they have spent time engaged in work, interacting with other adults, or simply having had some time to themselves. Parent satisfaction, and the resulting quality of care, is the key issue here.
The unique characteristics of each child also should inform this decision. Some children adapt well to childcare and education settings. This may make it easier for a parent to go to work, knowing that the child is happy. In cases where the child finds the separation difficult, even after an initial adjustment period, a parent may find him/herself so preoccupied with wondering about the child’s emotional state that s/he is not experiencing the rewards s/he expected from going to work. With this in mind, if a family makes the decision to place a child in care, finding the right environment will be critical to the well-being of both the parent and children.