Editor’s note: the following is column from the Mendocino County Office of Education.
Mendocino County, CA – In recognition of the essential role of early learning and care in the development of children and appreciation of the essential role of all childcare providers, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors recently proclaimed May 2021 to be Child Care Provider Appreciation Month in Mendocino County. For years, researchers have understood that the human brain undergoes as much as 90 percent of its development between the ages of 0-5 years of age, so it should come as no surprise that quality care and preschool for young children has a lasting effect on their development.
Early learning advocates are encouraged by President Biden’s recent announcement that he wants to extend free public schooling in the United States to include preschool. Kristin Hills, M.Ed., Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) Director of Early Learning and Care, said, “The truth is, people in the early learning and care field have been working tirelessly for more than a decade to get folks from outside the field to understand that care and education for the 0-5 set are completely intertwined with children’s future success. You cannot educate a child without caring for them and vice versa. Every interaction with a young child has the potential to build their communication skills. Every exploration has the potential to build their cognitive skills. Every time they hear music or move their bodies or play with playdoh, they are building their physical skills.”
Childcare providers who understand child development create preschool experiences that teach children how to recognize and manage their feelings, get along with others, and learn many other skills that will benefit them socially, emotionally, and academically.
On May 10, the New York Times published an article titled, “Life Outcomes, Not Test Scores,” highlighting findings from a recent study that showed the beneficial impacts of pre-kindergarten schooling. The study followed two cohorts: one with students who won a lottery to receive free preschool education and the other with students who began formal schooling at kindergarten. Although test scores did not show significant differences, “nearly 70 percent of lottery winners graduated from high school, compared with 64 percent of lottery losers, which is a substantial difference for two otherwise similar groups. The winners were also more likely to take the S.A.T., to enroll in college and — though the evidence is incomplete, because of the students’ age — to graduate from college,” according to the article’s author, David Leonhardt.
While the brain is developing most rapidly between birth and five years old, the brain is not fully formed until people reach their mid-twenties and having competent, compassionate childcare support throughout the elementary years helps children (and their families) thrive. During the pandemic, childcare workers of school-aged children helped children attend distance learning education, provided homework assistance, and offered educational enrichment activities that augmented school-based education.
MCOE’s Kristin Hills noted the important economic impact of high-quality childcare and free preschool education locally. She said, “A lot of families need two wage-earners to meet their basic needs in our county; if there are children in the household, this is not possible without outside childcare. Childcare also frees up adults for the local workforce.” In 2018, a Mendocino County Board of Supervisors’ proclamation stated that childcare provided the equivalent of $6 million of gross receipts to the local economy. Other estimates are higher.
Hills hopes more people will consider devoting their careers to the care and education of young children. Requirements to be a childcare provider vary. Head Start is a federal program locally administered through North Coast Opportunities and by three local Tribes that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and family involvement services to low-income children and families. Head Start lead teachers must obtain a bachelor’s degree in child development. The California State Preschool Program (CSPP) is a similar program administered at the state level. CSPP site supervisors and teachers must complete an associate’s degree in child development. Finally, home daycare providers must complete a minimum of 12 units of child development classes and must keep up on current health and safety regulations; no small feat during the pandemic.. All of these settings are considered “childcare” by the California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division.
In Mendocino County, the Office of Education manages the State Preschool Consortium, a collaboration of ten school districts operating sixteen State preschool sites throughout the county. The programs serve income-eligible three- to five-year-old children for three hours a day, five days a week. Programs offer a rich classroom environment with well-qualified teachers.
Hills said, “I appreciate the Board of Supervisors recognizing the important contribution of childcare providers. These hard-working and often highly skilled educators are sometimes overlooked and underappreciated.”
In the words of the recent Mendocino County proclamation, “Childcare providers serve more than 2,000 children across settings, providing an essential service to families who need childcare to work, provide for their families, and contribute to the overall health of Mendocino County’s economy; and quality early learning and care providers provide a foundation in skills across developmental domains, including: social emotional, self-regulation, language, literacy and communication, cognitive including math and science, physical and arts.”