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4 Things Your Toddler Should be Learning at Day Care

Jessica Chang

Access to quality early childcare is without a doubt essential. Unfortunately, parents are facing a fairly significant care gap. According to a survey released by NPR along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for every three families seeking early childcare nationwide, only one spot is available. 

And once parents do find that coveted spot, tuition for day care and preschool still comes at outrageous costs. Another NPR report states that in some regions, it reaches about 40 percent of a family’s annual income. 

According research done by the Pew Research Center on working moms, the good news is that over the last 20 years, more and more women have felt empowered to resume their careers after having children, and according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women in the workforce has more than doubled. The bad news? The amount of early childcare providers hasn’t nearly kept up with the increased demand.

More: How to Help a Toddler Who’s Scared of Shots — & Avoid a Meltdown

The childcare crunch understandably makes many parents completely desperate for quality childcare in their region. But even with the scarcity, it’s vital to make sure the caregivers you entrust with your child are the highest quality possible — and will help your child learn important skills during this critical period of development.

A child’s early care experience can also impact and determine performance later in life. Research conducted by the White House has shown that children who are exposed to education earlier in life are more likely to do well in school and pursue further education and less likely to drop out of high school. This means curriculum matters, even for our littlest ones. Essential learning and appropriate levels of challenge, consistency and support along with tracking and celebrating milestones are all key factors of a solid day care curriculum. 

How can you determine which day care is best for your child? The curriculum provided at the facility can be a great litmus test to help you make the right choice. Within our WeeCare platform, which helps families find and start affordable, licensed childcare options, the curriculum was developed using proven key principles based on the expertise of Dr. Esther Wojcicki, a renowned educator, author and advisor specifically focused on the importance of early childcare education and blended learning. 

These are the essential questions to ask to determine whether your child is learning what they need to be at day care. 

More: Early Signs of Autism Every Parent Should Know

1. Are social & emotional learning a priority?

The early years of a child’s life (especially under the age of 5) are incredibly important, as this is when kids establish the basic foundation of social and emotional development. Care providers should play an integral role in promoting and supporting our wee ones’ healthy development. These lessons can be easily and naturally incorporated into curriculum. For example, our providers practice mindfulness in one of their lessons by teaching children simply to stop and think before they act. According to a study reported on in an Oregon State University blog, this seemingly small moment can have immense value for your child’s emotional and social well-being in the long term.

2. Are curiosity, excitement & a challenging environment supported?

Make sure the day care offers an array of activities supporting an exciting inquisition, curiosity and a desire to learn for your kids. One of the continued lesson plans our providers use to support STEM is teaching children about the ecosystem through worms. They even compost leftovers from snack time to create compost juice that gets fed to the worms. This creates nutrient soil that can feed the plants that children end up eating at snack time! Not only is this a great science lesson to teach children, it’s also a sustainable practice for the day care.

3. What subjects are covered in the curriculum?

Ideally, the provider will cover English, math and science and also extend beyond the basics to offer art, music and culture. In a diverse and constantly evolving society, it’s important for each child at a young age to gain access to subjects that will expand their mind and build the right foundation for K through 12 to learning. For example, this could be as simple as an activity like storytelling from other cultures and parts of the world. One fun way I’ve seen this accomplished is through music and hand puppets made from recyclable materials found around the home. 

4. What about purposeful play?

It’s certainly important for young kids to play and have access to outdoor activities, whether in a playground, park or in a backyard. Even better, there is an excellent opportunity to enhance this play by incorporating opportunities for learning. One example of an outdoor self-directed activity for children is beanbag hopscotch in which kids can learn to count, take turns and troubleshoot beanbag blockers on the ground. Exploring the environment is also a great way to incorporate learning into play — care providers can point out birds, butterflies, flowers and other things in the child’s surroundings to help the them learn about nature in a fun way. Movement and activity is closely correlated with learning and retaining information, so purposeful play is an excellent way to promote movement while also teaching key lessons.

Ultimately, a good day care offers a program based on curriculum and activities that enhances the quality of the experience for children and parents. In the simplest terms, curriculum should be based on creating foundations at a young age, ensuring children are prepared for K through 12. How can you determine if your child’s day care is meeting these standards? For parents looking to enrich their child’s education at day care, you should be actively asking questions. Ensure you have insight into:

  • What your child is learning each day
  • Consistencies found between what your child learns at day care and what they learn at home
  • Updates on your child’s progress at day care on an ongoing basis

More: 10 Questions You Should Always Ask on a Day Care Visit

If you don’t feel confident you have access to the above information, it’s best to figure out how willing your care provider is to enhance the experience for children at day care. Do they have the time and ability to do so? In many situations, there are education-based courses and modules available online for providers to learn and apply, but if they don’t have time, it may be hard for them to implement. 

There are also resources and companies that provide caregivers with access to educational curriculum, ongoing management support and more. If you find that your day care provider is not offering the enrichment you are looking for, then it might be time to explore other day cares in your area. It should be much easier now that you’re equipped with essentials to look for and key questions to help guide your search.

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