Saturday, September 21, 2013
From infancy, a human child begins to connect with the world around him. It has been discovered that a baby's engagement with life begins long before he actually enters the world. A mother's state of being affects how a fetus develops, and based on my own experience and observations, the disposition of the child when he gets here. Amazing! But the implications for how we interact with babies are of particular importance.
When we think about a newborn baby, we think of crying. That is their means of communication from the earliest days. Each baby has a unique cry, and often times there are several different cries, which is what presents the challenge for parents. What does he need, want? What is she trying to let us know? Hungry? That's often the first thought. Wet? Lonely? Just wanting attention? The cry of a baby has spurred countless debates. In a much earlier decade it was recommended that mothers allow babies to cry. Some believe that you can never spoil a baby. It is fascinating to listen to dialogue and observe the behavior of new parents as they try to figure out the new impetus to their joy or sorrow.
Parents are the first point of contact when it comes to raising a child, but in the 21st Century, there often is a very significant other party who has almost equal influence in the rearing of a child. Early care and education providers often spend as much as 9 or 10 hours with children, shaping them from the earliest months of their lives. Over time, this role has become increasingly important, and vastly different from when "daycare" began in the 1940s.
So, what does it take to be good at this profession? Consistency, balance, proper attitude. It is ironic, that more often than not, these are not the people who choose to be early educators. Over time the pool has changed, but if you assess the majority, it would likely surprise you the number of less than happy people who work with young children.
If babies are born vulnerable to the ways and mores of their families, how can we equip parents and early educators with the knowledge and tools to guide good beginnings? Since babies do not get to choose who they are born to, is there merit to the idea to identify a set of fundamental principles, a very basic few, that we might agree on and use as our touchstone in raising children in the 21st Century. Observation has led to the belief that parents, environment, and economics are chief determinants in how a child's life is shaped. Beyond that, experiences have the most major influence. And many, many children have their first experiences based on the early care and education programs they are attending from as young as six weeks of age.
Childcare programs are like ice cream, there is a variation in quality - ingredients, flavors, sizes - and a range of price. I suppose you could also compare it from the perspective of whether or not it is good for you. In America, the reality is that few parents feel they have an option of whether or not to enroll their children in childcare. The complexity comes from how they value the time their children spend there each day. again, the ice cream…how much is okay to eat, and do you pay more for a better brand with better ingredients, or go for the bargain which is more suspect?
Translated to early childhood programs, it means that parents should consider quality first, but often they don't know where to start. States have different standards, but some standards are better than none at all. The challenge in the profession is in how the people who work in the field feel about the work they do, and the value they place on it. That is a powerful element in determining the impact a program will have on a child.
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