REGIONAL— The results are in on the benefits of early learning for young children. Several recent studies, including long-term research, from across the U.S. have shown that children, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, who are provided high quality, licensed daycare or structured preschool learning do better in school and as adults.
In addition, economic studies have demonstrated that investments made in early learning and quality childcare bring big returns, as much as $7-$12 of economic benefit for every tax dollar that goes towards providing quality care and learning for children. Children who attend quality daycare facilities with a strong educational mission earn higher wages, on average, than those children who aren’t provided such experiences. They are likely to do better academically in school and are less likely to be incarcerated later in life.
While adults might see a child’s play as inconsequential, it turns out there’s a lot more going on than many of us realize, said Amy Richter, director of the Little Eagles Childcare Center in Tower. Little Eagles recently opened at the Tower-Soudan Elementary School with major funding support from the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and the Northland Foundation.
“Play is very serious work for preschoolers and all children,” said Richter. “We use a curriculum that helps to support our staff to lead the children through play-based learning. We strive to help them to use their words to resolve conflict with friends and to also use their words when they have big feelings such as frustration, sadness and anger. This play-based learning helps children to build the social-emotional skills needed to be successful once they move into Kindergarten.”
Quality, licensed childcare facilities are designed to meet the full range of developmental needs for young children, from academic, to emotional, to physical. Here in Minnesota, the licensing process is rigorous and licensed facilities must include a long list of educational objectives, toys and equipment that ensure that children are getting the support they need to thrive. Such centers are designed to facilitate exploration by young minds while also developing things like fine motor skills, physical senses, and muscle tone. Many quality centers, such as Little Eagles, utilize well-established curricula designed to help young children learn basic skills. “We follow a daily schedule and routine that incorporates the children in making decisions and helping us to plan their day of ‘work,’” said Richter. “We spend time during the day recalling the events of earlier in the day to help children recognize how their planning builds their day and to establish the sense of routine.”
They also provide the opportunity for a child to develop socially, through guided interactions with other children that provide a basis for both emotional and intellectual growth. And if your child is lagging behind in some areas, trained childcare staff can recognize the signs, and offer help and support to address any developmental issues or concerns.
“Children learn in different ways. We attempt to meet children where they are at developmentally and build on their individual needs and strengths,” said Richter.
Many families, particularly in rural areas and small towns, often rely on a network of friends and family to provide care for their young children. That often results in care that is of inconsistent quality and that rarely provides the kind of stimulating environment that can truly engage young children in playful learning.
Quality childcare facilities also provide a consistent and safe environment for young children. Teachers and assistants, such as those at Little Eagles, are well-trained for their jobs. A childcare license is different than a business license. When a childcare program receives a state license, it means the staff is trained in more than just early learning. They are required to be trained in health and safety procedures like safe infant sleep practices, teacher to child ratios, hand-washing, emergency preparedness plans, and cleaning and disinfecting materials and surfaces. Staff in licensed programs will also have to pass a background check.
For many families, the cost of quality childcare is often seen as a major impediment— but it shouldn’t be. Many families in Minnesota qualify for the childcare assistance program, a program run by counties, including St. Louis County. Childcare providers can usually help families work through the paperwork they’ll need to apply for this assistance. Early Learning scholarships are also available and providers can help families sign up for this program as well. Tax credits also provide a way for families to help recoup some of the cost of childcare.
It’s worth the effort, said Richter, because the early years are so critical to a child’s development. “We all recognize that children benefit from attending school beginning in Kindergarten and beyond. But their toddler and preschool years are just as important, if not more so, which is why providing the kind of enrichment a quality childcare can offer is so critical,” she said.