Look for child care that offers a balanced program

Scripps Howard News Service

There are several consequentially different answers to the question "What exactly is child care outside the home?" and parents who use such child care should constantly re-evaluate their answer as children grow up and move from one stage to another.

Too often parents are not aware of what they are buying or why. There are too many questions, disappointments and frustrations because parents don't or won't ask the right questions or read the material sent home.

Ideally, child care encompasses the full care of a child without the parent.

It is not an easy thing to do. In an ideal world, a child would be at home and doing things with a parent. Ideally, a child would have a host of brothers and sisters to play with.

In today's world, many children don't stay home, and many don't have brothers and sisters to play with, so the next best thing is a child care that encompasses the full care of the child.

The full care of the child must mean that an adult comes forward who can relate to the child on a very special level. This enables a child to fully engage the environment and find a foundation from which to learn. Where there is a lot of turnover in staff, this can't happen.

Children in child care act as brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters may, from time to time, hurt one another, but they shouldn't present a constant threat. Bullying and threats come from homes and child cares where there is little supervision.

In a good child-care situation, ages will vary and play between younger and older children will be a teaching/learning experience. When children are artificially grouped by age, learning that naturally goes on among the different ages will stagnate.

The ordinary play of the day should be constantly changing, just as it is at home. New toys, new experiences, new challenges are a rightful part of a child's day. Just as at home people come to the door to visit, so should visits be encouraged at child cares. Child cares are not prisons or holding tanks for kids. They are supposed to be alive with possibilities.

All good child cares will promote solid, whole programs that include a host of teaching and learning and doing. But no matter how good a program is, how independently a program is run, how much schools and day cares do for the children, parent cooperation is still the single most important element.

Parent cooperation means understanding the program. It means knowing that today is picture day and tomorrow we go to the pool, and the next day we are closed because it's a holiday.

It means understanding why a child must wear a coat, tie shoes and socks, come fully dressed, bring a bathing suit, a pillow, a can of corn, paper towel rollers, or a picture from home, and then following through with the right object.

Getting involved with a child's day is the duty and responsibility of parents. When parents buy child-care hours, they are buying much more than a locker at the bus station. They are buying an environment for their child.

When families gather at the end of a day, the children should have as much to say about their days as mom and dad do. It's called the sharing moment. If children are not encouraged to share their daytime experiences, the parent/child communication connection will be broken.

If someone asked, "What does your child's daytime program provide?" would you be able to answer knowledgeably?

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)