A new study has revealed that parents who send their kids to daycare often don't have much knowledge about what goes on there day-to-day. Nina Howe, a professor in Concordia's Department of Education and a lead author on the study, discovered when she set out to measure parents' knowledge about the conditions of their daycare that even those parents who considered themselves involved in their children's education frequently didn't have the tools to judge how good an environment their chosen school actually had.
Howe said that it was with some surprise that she found that many people spend more time researching a car purchase than they do evaluating childcare options. Many of the parents didn't have the knowledge of education, training and background experience that would have made them more effective at paring down their options to the best.
These kinds of findings are important in light of the fact that a growing number of women – who traditionally provided childcare for their kids at home – are now entering the workforce and are increasingly utilizing off-site daycare. In the past several decades, the demand for slots has outstripped supply, so for many parents geographic and convenience factors have become more important than the quality of childcare provided.
The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Research, was part of a larger project on delivering professional development to early childhood educators. Howe and her colleagues Ellen Jacobs and Holly Recchia at Concordia's Department of Psychology and Goranka Vukelich at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario were interested in whether parents noticed a difference in the quality of their children's education after changes in curriculum had been implemented.
By questioning parents about several aspects of the daycare, including the education philosophy of the center and the teachers' previous experience, researchers found that a full 40% had no knowledge of how and where the teachers trained or previously worked, although 75% admitted that they knew a little bit about their daycare's "educational mandate." In total, 261 parents were interviewed over the phone regarding ~44 not-for-profit day care centers.
"Parents are often unaware of the role that teacher education plays in providing high quality care for children; they think that an attractive centre with a warm and nurturing teacher is sufficient," Howe explains.
"While these factors are important, parents need to know what the centre's philosophy is, what kind of activities are offered to the children, how the day is organized, and so on. Considering that many children spend eight to nine hours a day, five days per week in childcare, this is a critical question."
For parents who want to fill their knowledge gap, Howe lays out a number of things to watch for, including the previous training of those who will be interacting with the kids directly. Research has shown that daycare instructors who have more formal training in early childhood development both provide a more stimulating environment for the children and work better with the parents.