As more research emerges about how rapidly a child’s brain develops at an early age, some educators say a shift is taking place that is causing parents to look at early care centers as more than just a “baby-sitting” service.
Paige Kubik, vice president of development and communications for Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers, said it’s important that teachers interact with a young child by having conversations and engaging them in problem-solving activities.
“One of the important things about early childhood education is that you have teachers with that kind of training and teacher stability is very important,” Kubik said.
Sheltering Arms was founded in 1888 with the mission of providing affordable child care to low-income families. Since then, Kubik said, needs have changed and the centers are providing affordable child care to parents and children from all walks of life.
In some cases, Kubik said, the job turnover rate at early care centers ranges from 30-40 percent each year, which makes it difficult for a child to establish a trusting bond with a teacher/caretaker.
There are 16 Sheltering Arms Centers in the metro Atlanta area, including three in DeKalb County. Kubik said the center serves approximately 2,500 children ages 6 weeks to second grade, which includes children in after school programs and summer camp.
Kubik said researchers at Harvard University have recently shown that if children are exposed to language and are in a supportive environment at a very early age, they make strong positive connections in their brain.
“If they’re not exposed to that and they sit around the TV and watch cartoons every day those connections will never be made, and you can’t make them down the road,” Kubik said.
Sheltering Arms has a turnover rate of only 10-15 percent each year and Kubik attributed this, in part, to the success of the Sheltering Arms Georgia Training Institute, which offers an on-site, accredited early childhood education center that serves as a model in child development and family support.
“Young children learn by touching and doing,” Kubik said. “It’s got to be very experiential and the teachers have to be very creative in how they structure activities that will also develop those fine motor skills and critical thinking skills.”
Lauara Johns is director of quality initiatives for Bright from the Start, a program of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), which is responsible for licensing and inspecting approximately 6,000 child care centers around the state.
“We’re trying so hard to help parents to move away from this idea of day care and child care,” Johns said. “Parents need to understand that the brain is developing at such a rapid rate between birth and the age of 4 years old.”
Johns said studies have shown people learn more between birth and the age of 4 than any other time in their lives.
“It’s so interesting that we put such a huge focus on a college education when actually if you look at the developing brain, you learn so little in those four years of college as opposed to what you learn in a quality infant or toddler pre-school program,” Johns said.
Parents should start looking for an early care center as soon as they’re expecting a child, Johns said, and as early as six weeks after the child is born. Johns said parents should look for a center that helps children grow in four specific domains of learning: cognitive, social, emotional and physical.
Johns said the cognitive domain involves an infant’s language, literacy and problem-solving skills. Their social domain involves communication issues and developing skills to get along with other children their age.
“A child’s emotional domain allows the child to have good self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence and their physical domain helps them utilize not only their mind and body connection, but how to become a healthy citizen,” Johns said.
Kubik said an opposite trend exists in early child care, rather than looking at such places as “baby-sitting centers” she said some places focus too much on a child’s academics or what adults think of as higher-learning skills.
“That’s not developmentally appropriate and the children will miss some social skills that they should be getting every day,” Kubik said. “We try and keep it someplace in-between.”