Earth Sciences and the Importance of STEM Education

BoysFishingEarth Sciences Week is October 11-17, and your little ones are never too young to learn about the world we live in. Think of it as part of their STEM education, and a way to encourage good stewardship of the Earth year-round!

There are plenty of great, educational websites that include activities to get the children in your care up and moving in the great outdoors.

The Earth Science Week website even has contests and lessons for children K-12, and some can even work for children younger than age 6. Check out their visual arts contest on depicting how and, water, air and living things interact in the world around us.

Additional resources:

Planning a great Earth Science Week activity? Let us know about it!

April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month

AutismAwarenessMonthAwareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been in the news recently, with more and more advocates and celebrities sharing their stories – whether it’s helpful to the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or not.

But when Jordan Spieth won the Masters championship at Augusta National at the age of 21 last week, tying the record set by Tiger Woods in 1997, Spieth quickly turned from thoughts of his big win to his sister Ellie, who was not able to attend the tournament, and has autism.

“I love having her around. She’s an incredible sister, my biggest supporter. She is somebody who you can watch and then reflect on the big picture of life and understand that all these frustrations in a day, or in a round of golf, are really secondary.

“We wouldn’t have that realization without her.”

It’s that kind of acknowledgement and love that reminds us all of the true purpose of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month.

During the month of April, we want to take a moment to recognize the unique abilities and strengths of individual children with ASD, and share a few insights and resources from partner organizations.

In 2014, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, announced their partnership with Autism Speaks and other major autism awareness groups. Their campaign, “See Amazing in All Children” aims to reduce the stigma surrounding children with autism by dispelling some of the common misconceptions around autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and sharing quality resources for children and their families.

Autism Speaks offers a Puzzle Piece Project Tool Kit for grades K-12, meant to increase children’s understanding of autism through age-appropriate lesson plans and activities. It even includes samples of frequently asked questions from kids, so you know what to expect and how to respond to the natural curiosity of children around ASD – and we all know how curious our little ones can be!

The Administration for Children and Families has reaffirmed their commitment to individualized learning and development support for all children, including those with ASD, as well as the continuation of individualized, high-quality early learning programs to young children with disabilities through Head Start.

National Child and Adult Care Food Programs Week

Help Child Care Aware® of America support the movement to declare a National Child and Adult Care Food Programs Week (CACFP) in 2015, to help bring awareness to the USDA’s program for adult and child nutrition!

CCAoA is joining with National Child and Adult Food Care Sponsors Association (NCA) to ask President Obama to proclaim the third week in March as National Child and Adult Care Food Programs Week. You can join this cause by taking a minute to sign the White House petition.

Making sure underserved children and seniors have access to healthy food options needs to be a top priority for our country – learn more about the USDA-Proposed Meal Patterns for the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

And for more information on the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), check out Child Care Aware® of America’s Nutrition Basics!

National Child and Adult Care Food Programs Week_IMG

A group of young people at an indoor summer site enjoy a nutritious meal. They know that Summer Food Rocks! Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr.

Making Quality, Affordable Child Care a ‘National Economic Priority’

Following up on Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama today detailed his proposal for making child care a “national economic priority.”

We at Child Care Aware® of America are enthusiastic about the President putting child care front and center.  We have worked for many years advocating for high quality, affordable and accessible child care – both as a workforce support and an essential early learning opportunity.1

Perhaps more importantly, though, we are thrilled that the President has reinvigorated the conversation about quality child care so that people around the country – on Twitter, on the radio, at the dinner table and in the board room – are talking about the ways in which access to child care helps children, families and businesses.

Specifically, the President’s proposal, which he outlined today during a speech at the University of Kansas, would:

  • Make a significant investment in the Child Care and Development Fund, which helps every eligible family with young children afford quality child care.
  • Triple the maximum child care tax credit to $3,000 per young child.
  • Create a new innovation fund to help states design programs that better serve families that face unique challenges in finding quality care, such as those in rural areas or working non-traditional hours.

All three of these initiatives are good policy that will make a difference.

We already know that in 30 states and the District of Columbia, a year of  child care for an infant in a center costs more than a year of tuition for a state university. Unless we make changes, we will not be able to give children the healthy start they need, families the financial security they need, or businesses the dependable work force they need.

We also know that simply making child care available is not enough. It must be quality child care. In those first years of life, setting children up for success is critical. Indeed, as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell recently noted, “high-quality early learning experiences are also linked to increased productivity and earnings when these children become adults.” A quality child care program, is more than a place for kids to go while their parents are at work. It’s a safe, stimulating environment that provides an invaluable opportunity for early learning. That is why I am especially glad that the President included an innovation fund in his proposal. We must constantly be working to improve the child care our children receive.

To do our part to support these proposals, we need to take action now!

  • Talk to your State Representatives and Senators.
  • Those who represent you in Washington need to know that this is an important issue. Contact your Representatives and your Senators. Send an email, write a letter, tweet at them, call or stop by their local offices. Make sure that your voice is heard.


As child care advocates, we have long worked to raise awareness of challenges that working families face, and even more importantly trying to find solutions.That work has not always been easy, and it has often been behind-the-scenes. With President Obama’s new commitment to move child care from a “side issue” or a “women’s issue” to a “national economic priority,”we cannot wait to take action.   Working in a bipartisan manner, we will continue to advocate for these proposals.

Child care now is a national priority that we can all work to support.

To learn more about our working partnership with the White House to advance national child care policy, please see my recent posts about the Working Families Summit Recap and Office of Science and Technology Policy Spotlights the Importance of Early Literacy.

Hoping motherhood can inspire Chelsea to push for affordable child care

Editor’s Note: This blog is a repost of a Chicago Tribune article written on September 29, 2014 by Heidi Stevens (@heidistevens13).

Chelsea Clinton with family

For the love of baby Charlotte, can we please do something about the cost of day care now?

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, as you know, welcomed a baby girl into the world over the weekend. Charlotte’s life probably won’t be uneventful. (The New York Post already labeled her “another liberal crybaby” on its tasteless front page Sunday.)

But neither will it be disadvantaged. Her dad is an investment banker and her mom pulled in a reported $600,000 annually from NBC News, where she was a special correspondent for the past three years. Quality child care won’t break this couple.

But Chelsea could make it her signature platform at the non-profit Clinton Foundation, which counts “empowering women and girls” among its noteworthy missions.

According to the 12-year-old foundation’s website: “Our programs empower women and girls by expanding access to education, increasing economic opportunity, and providing critical health care to young mothers and their newborns. Our goal is to lift millions of women out of poverty — and with them, their families and entire communities.”

Affordable child care would be a great place to start. Currently, the Census reports that 12.5 million children 5 and younger are enrolled in child care. In 35 states and Washington, D.C., a year of center-based infant care costs more than a year of in-state tuition plus fees at a four-year public university, according to a 2012 report from the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America found that sending two children to full-time day care accounts for the biggest single household expense in the Northeast, Midwest and South. (The West escaped the list by having such exorbitant housing costs.) Full-time child care costs more than the annual median rent in every single state, according to the report.

The poorest of poor families receive a tiny bit of government assistance, but not much. Only 1 out of 6 children eligible for federal child care assistance actually received it in 2012, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

Which isn’t all that surprising, given how severely The Child Care and Development Block Grant, the primary source of government-assisted child care subsidies, is underfunded. A recent analysis of the program found that total spending on child care assistance fell by $1.2 billion in 2012 to its lowest level since 2002.

And the vast majority of families, of course, receive no assistance to offset the costs of child care.

Chelsea could use her new status as a mother — and lifelong status as a Clinton — to agitate for change. Remember when Bill Clinton said he thanks God for his high taxes?

“Hillary and I and some of our friends in this audience who live in New York probably pay the highest aggregate tax rates in America,” he told a crowd at Georgetown University in May. “And I thank God every April 15 that I’m able to do it.”

This is Chelsea’s in.

She could say, “And I thank God some of my dad’s — and my — tax dollars are being used to make child care safer, healthier and more affordable for the 12.5 million children in this country who utilize it.”

She could gather a group of her young mom friends, throw in a few Washington insiders, add a lawmaker or two, and engage them on this national challenge. She could quote the 2013 Child Care Aware report, which says, “Ensuring this care is high-quality, affordable and available for families is crucial to our nation’s ability to produce and sustain an economically viable, competitively positioned workplace. The consequences of the lack of affordable, quality child care are often overlooked, the dots are rarely connected. This does not mean the problems they produce are not real and severe.”

Cheers would fill the auditorium. Bill and Hillary would beam with pride from the sidelines. Charlotte would look on adoringly from the arms of her supportive, loving father.

And the rest of us could take comfort in knowing that someday we won’t need the salaries of an investment banker and a six-figure special correspondent to afford day care.

Summertime Child Care

Guest blog by Judy L. Francis, Communications and Marketing Associate, Child Care Aware® of America.

Summer is a beautiful season to spend extra quality time with the family, whether you’re planting flowers in the garden, going for a swim at your local pool, or flying across the country together to your favorite vacation spot.  But keeping children productive throughout summer vacation can seem like a difficult task. Research tells us that children who don’t engage in educational activities during summer vacation experience something called summer learning loss. According to the National Summer Learning Association, learning loss during the summer months can set children back nearly two months on their grade-level mathematical computation skills and low-income children can lose more than two months in reading achievement.

Children’s health can also suffer during the summer holiday. Unhealthy eating habits and inactivity can put children at a risk of weight gain and obesity. Unfortunately for most parents, the office doesn’t close when the weather gets warm. But there is a solution – a quality child care environment can keep children active and learning all summer long.

So for many families, the last months leading up to summer vacation mean a desperate search for a safe and educational setting where their child can spend 8- 10 hours a day. Get a jump on this year’s search and put your mind at ease early with these helpful tips below for finding quality summer child care.

Finding care

One of the easiest and most common ways parents find care is through word of mouth. Ask trusted friends and family members with children for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their experiences and will give you their honest feedback on any persons or programs they’ve used. If your social circle has a lack of quality recommendations, you may want to place a call to the Child Care Aware toll-free hotline. A program of Child Care Aware® of America, Child Care Aware® helps families locate child care programs in their communities by referring them to their local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCR&R). Your local CCR&R will be able to connect you to a quality, licensed child care provider in your area.

What to look for

As with any search for child care, your priority will be the quality of the environment where your child will spend so much of their time. Schedule a time to stop by and see the school in action before you enroll. Make sure there is an adequate ratio of teachers to children. The lower the ratio, the more individual attention your child is likely to receive. Pay attention to how the adults interact with the children. Are they engaged and stimulated, or do the children look bored? Ask about the teachers’ qualifications. The more training and education they have in child development, the better they will be able to understand your child’s needs and help them learn.

If the program is summer-only and you are unable to visit an active center before enrollment, try to speak to the program director over the phone where you can discuss things like program accreditation, teacher turnover, average group size, and other important details.

Alternative Options

Another option you may want to consider is enrolling your child in a summer camp. Local day camps can be active and engaging learning environments, and are often a great way to get your child more involved in a specific interest or hobby. Day camp costs may also count as an expense towards the child care and depend care tax credit, saving you money on your tax bill at the end of the year.

Have a Back-up Plan

Once you’ve chosen the best option for your family, don’t forget about a back-up care plan. Even the most reliable child care providers may be unavailable in the case of an emergency, or may want to take time off during the summer months for their own vacations. Check with your provider to make sure you’re well aware of any time-off they plan to take, and take steps to make other arrangements in advance.

With a little planning, summer child care doesn’t have to be an annual burden. Summertime should be carefree, but that doesn’t mean pressing pause on your child’s healthy development. Do you have tips for creating a summer care plan? Share them in the comments.

Virginia Progress on Background Checks for Child Care Providers


Elly and Cameron Lafkin preparing for their interview on Weekend Today, August 2013

Guest Blog by Sharon Veatch, Executive Director, Child Care Aware® of Virginia

At Symposium in 2013, I met Elly Lafkin, one of Child Care Aware® of America’s parent leaders, whose baby, Camden, died in a child care program in Shenandoah, Virginia in 2012. It was heartbreaking to hear that during the police investigation of Camden’s death, the police processed the child care provider’s fingerprints and found that the woman had several aliases and a history of criminal offenses. When Elly said that she and her husband would have made a different choice had they only known about the provider’s past, I knew I would make changing the law in Virginia a top priority for the 2013 session.

There were many things to do and we needed to do them quickly. We drafted background check legislation and materials. We met with Voices for Virginia’s Children to request that the background check bill be included in their children’s agenda. We met with stakeholders such as the Department of Social Services, the State Police, the Virginia Child Care Center Association (VCCA), the Virginia Alliance of Family Child Care Associations (VAFCCA), and the VA Association for the Education of Young Children (VAEYC) and the religious community. With each meeting we had, there were concerns raised that we sought to address.

After meeting with several state legislators, we identified sponsors to introduce the bills in the House and Senate. In January, we succeeded in getting bills introduced to require fingerprint background checks for child care providers: HB 412, with Co-Patrons of Delegate Richard Anderson, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn and Delegate Chris Peace, and SB 639 with by Senator Emmett Hanger. A fiscal impact concern started to derail the process so we worked out a compromise with the sponsors. The compromise was to require a task force to convene stakeholders (the Department of Social Services, the state police, the child care provider community, parents, etc.) and to recommend ways to implement a fingerprint check system at the lowest possible cost in a practical and effective manner. The task force recommendations would be due on November 1, 2014 with enough time to prepare the recommendations in bill form for the 2015 session.

We testified at budget hearings, committee hearings, and worked with VA legislators and staff. Elly Lafkin testified before the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee to make the case about why parents believe background checks are important. We met with every member of the House HWI Committee and the Senate Rules Committee (the committees where the bills had been referred). In the end, the bill passed the House and the Senate. Our child care team made it happen. Elly is looking forward to standing at the Governor’s side as he signs Cami’s bill into law. Next year we’ll be back with a draft bill to implement the task force’s recommendations.

Get More:
Elly and Cameron Lafkin told their story on the Weekend Today Show, August 2013, with an interview from Child Care Aware® of America.