Saturday, December 9, 2006

Thoughts on Stay-at-Home Moms vs Preschool

This is an expansion of comments I made in Richard Colvin's excellent Early Stories blog...
The Carnegie Report, Starting Points, alluded to by Richard Colvin stressed the importance of nurturance and stimulation of the infant in the first 6 months to 1 year - a lot of prewiring and hardwiring of neural pathways is taking place in that first year and the simple verbal and non-verbal interaction between mommy or daddy with baby appears to be more critical than any Baby Einstein tape!

Further, the first year is surely the most critical for developing a sense of stability, security and trusting one's environment - just feeling 'safe!' Picture an infant removed from the primary caregiver and institutionalized or placed with different caregivers during that first year and how terrifying that can be to that child. This is a commonplace occurrence for the thousands of babies born crack-cocaine addicted each year whose mothers are unable to care for their children. The bonding process with the mother or grandmother or one primary caregiver is so vital for the later psychosocial development of the child.

However, my feeling is that the issue for 2-4 year olds is somewhat different. If there is an appropriate blend of social and intellectual activity occurring in a nurturing preschool environment, this may be highly effective and difficult to simulate at home. The Canadian study seems to have arrived at a fairly obvious conclusion since most stay-at-home moms by necessity are multitasking - not that there's anything wrong with that! I think the argument is similar to the homeschooling debate for school-age children. To simulate social interactions at home, one would need a daily playgroup of similar-age children. The academic stimulation would require a mom or dad who has the appropriate background which usually requires training and early childhood certification. Some could do this, but for underprivileged children whose moms or grandmoms are just trying to survive economically, this would be very difficult.... All of this again underscores the critical importance of providing the necessary funding for the early years. This means that our society has to come to believe that this is just as important or even more important than K-12 funding. Are we there yet? Don't think so! Those who are more privileged will usually have the funds to invest in the preschool years and therefore may not see the urgent need for tax money to be directed towards urban areas and those children who need it most. It's all about social conscience, but it's also about recognizing the disastrous consequences of ignoring these children.

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