Office of Science and Technology Policy Spotlights the Importance of Early Literacy

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was written by Child Care Aware of America staff member Michelle McCready. Michelle is our Director of Public Policy, a working mother to her young son, Aiden, and a dedicated advocate for child care policy.

Yesterday Child Care Aware of America joined the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to highlight early literacy challenges and successes in communities across the country and share best practices and lessons learned. The word gap refers to children in low income communities starting school with 30 million less words  than their peers of higher socioeconomic status. The day consisted of advocates, led by Too Small to Fail, alongside top researchers and scientists, as well as federal and local policymakers, discussing the importance of creating a strong literacy foundation for all children.

Panelists

This strong literacy foundation helps prepare students for kindergarten and  sets children up for better outcomes throughout their life. This foundation also supports a workforce needed to compete in the global economy and create a prosperous future for generations to come. In the first three years of life early language and rich literacy experiences are especially important. As research has proven, the brain undergoes its most dramatic development during this time as children acquire the ability to think, speak, learn, and reason. As a mother of a 19 month-old son, I get to witness this dramatic development every day. On our ride home from child care, I talk, read, and sing with him and see how his vocabulary is exponentially blossoming.

But it’s not just my son. On a typical day more than 11 million children under age 5 spend an average of 35 hours a week in the care of someone other than their mother. About one-quarter of these children are in multiple child care arrangements. In these settings, children are naturally communicating with their caregivers on what they think, feel and are experiencing. This “conversational duet” not only promotes language skills, but also critical thinking skills, and strong social and emotional development.

Speaking and honoring home language is also critical.  Children  need to have lots of fun and meaningful chances to talk, read, and pretend-write in their home language. Each of the opportunities to interact build skills that will help all children be prepared for a successful life.

Make sure to visit ChildCareAware.org to get more information on how you and your child’s caregiver can best build your child’s early reading and writing skills. A call to your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) can give you additional information about literacy resources.

Also, make sure to check out what some of our coalition partners are doing: Too Small to Fail’s Talk, Read, Sing Campaign http://talkreadsing.org/. And ZERO TO THREE’s new web portal, Beyond the Word Gap http://www.zerotothree.org/policy/beyond-the-word-gap/, which offers multimedia resources to help parents, professionals, and policymakers to support early language and literacy.

Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

PBS NewsHour on the Cost of Child Care

Last week PBS NewsHour aired a story about child care and featured three families whose stories represent millions of others in the United States today; the story of families who find it is sometimes more affordable not to work, than to pay for child care, and the quality of child care they can afford.

I sat down with PBS NewsHour for the broadcast as well. We are often contacted for  comments, facts and history on the rising costs of child care – but few stories capture the real point behind our Cost of Care reports; that child care is an economic and education issue that affects everyone.

The cost of child care is certainly financial news, but more importantly the cost of child care highlights how our nation’s child care system is preventing families from working because it’s simply too expensive and families don’t often know what they’re really getting for that price.  Instead of a child care system that empowers families to make a better life for them and their children, we have a child care system that is fragmented and frankly, in too many cases, simply unsafe.

This summer, Child Care Aware of America will release its annual Child Care in America State Fact Sheets. These reports lay bare the numbers beyond cost – availability, how families pay for child care, what states pay to subsidize child care and many more facts about working families today. We look forward to the dialogue.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the PBS NewsHour broadcast? Watch,  then comment below.

 

Quality Child Care gives Families Peace of Mind

Child care providers have a deep and resounding impact on the children and the families they serve. This Provider Appreciation Day, we asked parents to send in stories about the early learning professionals in their children’s lives and the positive impact they have had on their family. The responses were overwhelming. Below we’ve highlighted  a few to sharewith you today, as we celebrate and honor the teachers that care for our youngest learners.

Preschool children in classroom with teacher“I really enjoy Scaife Day Care. They have been providing my son with great care since he has been three months and now he is five years of age.” –Crystal Davis, Milwaukee, WI

“I would like to thank, recognize and express sincere gratitude for the care my daughter, and family as a whole receives from Mercy Cares for Kids, especially the staff in Infant 2, Karan, Alketa and Leah. These ladies take care of my child as if she were their own while I am at work, they take on the duties of ‘mommyhood’ and the respect, care and comfort they provide to me and my daughter is exceptional. Every day is planned with social, educational and developmental information. Taking on the task of playing a large role in raising someone else’s child is neither something that is easy to do, nor a job for everyone. It takes a special person to be respectful, competent and devoted to young children. My appreciation for the care they provide to my family could never be expressed through words, and in attending events and functions at the site, it is evident that the entire center encompasses these wonderful traits.” – Julianne Brown, Albany, NY

“I love [Cozy Care] and their values. When the owner Traci Poellnitz, told me how the nursery and daycare is about EDUCATION I couldn’t believe myself. I thought wow… these preschoolers are learning Arabic! I’m all about education so when I heard what they do, I thought, this is a no-brainer.” –Alex Spencer, Cincinnati, OH

“When my son was born, I spent the first year of his life being a stay at home mom. It was amazing and I loved every day of it! However, I did have to return to teaching the following year. It was very hard for me to leave my son. He started off at an in home daycare. Things just weren’t working out. Communication was horrible, and my son did not have a daytime routine/schedule. This is when my husband and I decided to try him at a learning center. We were VERY nervous at first. We didn’t know what to expect, and we didn’t know how our son would adjust. Well, it’s been almost 5 months now and we couldn’t be happier!! My son is receiving EXCEPTIONAL care at Fundamentals Early Learning Center, and is learning new things every day! He absolutely loves his teacher and all of his classmates. We spent all of last week on vacation, and all he talked about was his teacher back at school and his classmates. This made my husband and I extremely happy! We are so proud and thankful to be a part of the Fundamentals family! We appreciate them!! “ –Whitney Lewis, Central Louisiana

On Family Circle Learning Center
“Best child care my husband and I have experienced. The teachers are great with the kids. We trust that our babies are well taken care of away from us!! Thank you for loving our babies as much as we do.” –Sherri Armendariz, Renton, WA

“I write a testimonial every year. Lenora is a fantastic provider for all the children she cares for. I am going on my eighth year with my children in her care. Tomorrow she is taking them to the strawberry patch. She always does fun and education trips with the kids, so it makes it a special time for them to look back at when they are older.

Thanks so much for all that you do Lenora. You are appreciated more than you know. I (and my family) would not have made it the past 8 years without you!” –Holly Price, Durham, NC

Quality child care providers are education professionals. Working families get peace-of-mind when they know their child is in the care of a trusted, quality provider. They are an integral part of a family’s support system.  This Provider Appreciation Day, we urge you to not only celebrate the early educators in your life, but also to remember that their training and professional development directly impact the quality of care they are able to provide. It’s time to create a quality child care system that works for families and providers and pays a living wage to our child care professionals.

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

Beyond Appreciation…Gratitude for our Nation’s Child Care Providers

Editor’s note: In honor of Provider Appreciation Day, today’s post shares a personal account of how Lynette’s child care provider supported her son and family in a time of crisis.

It was a few days after my son’s second birthday. The day began, hurried as most and late as usual. I was doing my best to reach the office by 9AM.  I hadn’t quite mastered the art of juggling of work and parenthood (Do we ever? Perhaps that’s a question for another blog). But, I remember enjoying our time together after settling into the car for our 20 minute commute to his child care provider. It was our special time…talking and singing to our favorite music on the radio.

My search for a child care provider was typical of many….looking through lists, asking lots of questions, and trying to find the right person to partner with in the nurturing of my son while his father and I were at work.  With extended family on the opposite coast, we desperately needed and depended on the right person.  After two months, we found her.  The sleepless nights were over and I began to breathe again.

This particular morning went smoothly.  I arrived at her home, chatted a few minutes about how my son interacted the previous night and about our morning commute.  I gave him a big kiss good-bye and was off to the second phase of my trip to work.  I  enjoyed my daily ride on the Metro; it provided helpful transition time to recalibrate from being a mommy to a manager. Crossing the river from Virginia to DC was a symbolic bridge between family and work.

When I arrived to the office emotions were running high.  I had no idea what was going on.  A group of my colleagues were gathered around a workstation with the radio on.  There had been a plane; it hit a tower in Manhattan. Soon a plane would hit the Pentagon…very close to home.  It was about 9:20 AM,  September 11, 2001.

The rest of the day was a blur.  The phones weren’t working, and we couldn’t reach anyone.  The trains were shut down, and there was no way to get back across the river into Virginia.  There were rumors of more attacks, explosions, threats.  I couldn’t reach my son.  I couldn’t reach him…

After what seemed like days, I finally was able to reach her.  She was so calm, so reassuring.  “He’s fine, don’t worry,” she said. ” We are all playing and eating and we are fine.  He is safe and loved.”

At that moment, when I needed her most, when he needed her most, during one of the most challenging days in our nation’s history, my child care provider held both my son and I in her heart and in her arms.

I finally made it to her home and to my son several hours later.  He was happy, safe and sound. That night I put my son to bed squeezing him tight and holding him for hours.

I will always remember the feeling of not being able to reach him at a moment of crisis; to hold and protect him.  I will always be grateful for the woman who welcomed us into her home and family and who we welcomed into ours.

The effects of that September day lasted for weeks, months, and for many of us, for years. Now 14 years old, my son still talks about her. It is clear she made such an impact on him.  Mostly he remembers the nurturance, care and affection she provided him. For that I am forever grateful.

On this Provider Appreciation Day I hope everyone says a word of gratitude to the special child care provider in their life.  I still do!

Buzz on early childhood is good; progress still needed

Struggling to get out of poverty: The Two Generation Approach” tells on NPR, the story of two mothers who participate in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Career Advance program. It’s one of at least three stories I’ve seen over the past week highlighting early education, the benefits and the costs.

Career Advance puts to practice the “two generation” approach to ending poverty, by providing quality early childhood experiences to children while at the same time supporting their parents’ economic advancement.

Starting education at age four is too late
NPR’s new education team also laid out some answers to the question; what is quality preschool?  The story does well to share the facts on early education in this country, and it also rightly, if not intentionally, highlights a huge gap in the way we think about early childhood education.   We need to ensure we consider the entire developmental continuum.  Preschool is important and we cannot forget about the babies.

Children learn from birth, and of the 1.1 million families who received child care referrals from child care resource and referral agencies in this country, more than half were for infants and toddlers.  Babies and toddlers must receive the same level of quality in child care as they should in preschool programs they enter at age four.

Or, as written in a 2011 Forbes article about George Kaiser: “Oklahoma, like a lot of places in America, has universal preschool, but it begins only at age 4, at which point many poor kids are so far behind their rich peers that they’ll never catch up. Early Head Start programs for infants and toddlers offer slots for only 3% of Tulsa’s 10,000 low-income kids, a rate similar to the national one.

‘Reaching 50% wouldn’t be impossible, at $30 billion per year,’ says Kaiser, except it would never happen because the dispossessed don’t have many lobbyists.’ ”

Parents pay costs of early education
The NPR story was also compelling because it also showed the depth of investment needed to achieve positive results. The program got off the ground thanks to support from The George Kaiser Family Foundation. The program is now funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most families, it’s the parents who pay for child care – quality or not.

Cost of Care graphic

Our “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report”  generated more than 400 media stories across the country last fall and has seen a renewed interest following the Pew Research Center’s report on the increase in women opting out of the workforce to stay home with their children as well as a Washington Post story.

The question I get asked most often is why is child care so expensive? The simple answer is, running a quality program costs a lot of money, and in the business of early learning, the bulk of the cost is absorbed by the families.

The more important question is, what are we, or are we not, getting for that price? Are families getting quality care for their children? Families cannot do it alone. In the end, we all pay the cost for low investment and low quality for our children, even in health care.

The health connection
James Heckman, the Nobel laureate who made the economic case for early childhood investment,  recently released findings of a link between investments in quality early childhood programs and preventing chronic disease.

Professor Heckman and his colleagues continue to demonstrate through research that investments made early in quality early childhood programs prove to prevent challenges later in life. Watch the video about Heckman and his team’s research on chronic disease and early childhood programs.

We need to spread the word that early investments matter and quality child care programs have proven to have many beneficial outcomes for our children and their future.

Provider Appreciation
This Friday, May 9th is Provider Appreciation Day. As we seek solutions so that all families can access the opportunities inherent in quality child care we must also applaud and honor the providers of that care and the important work they do each day, in partnership with families, to nurture and prepare our nation’s children for school and beyond.

Will you commit to showing appreciation for those who are helping to raise a brighter future? Join us www.providerappreciationday.org

 

 

Let’s Move! Child Care Celebrates 3rd Anniversary—Sign Up and Take the Quiz Today!

Editor’s Note: This is a special announcement from our partners at Let’s Move! Child Care. 

This June marks the 3rd anniversary of Let’s Move! Child Care and we’re having a special drawing to give away classroom toolkits sponsored by Nemours, a child health system. These toolkits are full of kid-friendly physical activity materials that can be used in classrooms with children ages 2-5.

Early Care and Education providers who sign up and take the checklist quiz between June 1st and June 13th will have their names entered into the drawing for a chance to win a toolkit. By signing up, you can join the nearly 13,000 child care providers who have committed to working towards the Initiative’s best practices for healthy nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding support, and screen time. Watch this video to see how it all began.

Getting started is simple. Signing up and participating are free.
To enter the drawing, visit http://www.HealthyKidsHealthyFuture.org between June 1st and June 13th to sign up and take the Let’s Move! Child Care Checklist Quiz. You will receive a participation certificate, have access to free tools and resources, and the checklist quiz can help your program build an action plan to start meeting the Let’s Move! Child Care best practices. There’s also plenty of information and tools on the website for parents to help their children learn healthy habits.

Sign up today and take the quiz to become a recognized Let’s Move! Child Care provider!

If you are already registered and have taken the quiz, send us your success stories!  Send your story to LMCCStories@cdc.gov with the subject line “LMCC 3rd Anniversary” by May 28, 2014. Entries should be no longer than 500 words. Be sure to include a contact name, phone number, and e-mail address.

Thanks so much for your support and hard work to ensure young children grow up healthy!

The Let’s Move! Child Care Team

Additional Resources from Child Care Aware® of America

Suggested Tweets:

@letsmove Child Care turns 3 in June. Learn how you can celebrate and win! #RYH4ChildCare

Are you signing up for the @letsmove Child Care drawing? #RYH4ChildCare

Child Care providers can help children build healthy habits. Learn more @letsmove Child Care

Links:
Let’s Move! Child Care with Child Care Aware® of America