Our children’s brains develop at a much faster rate during the first five years than at any other time in their lives. This makes every moment a learning moment for young children, and all the people they interact with. However, for children to have the best chance to develop sharp minds they need to have adequate early childhood education.
Early childhood education is delivered through high-quality childcare for infants or toddlers, and preschool for children ages three to five years old. Our children’s physical, social, and emotional development is strengthened when they are care for in a high-quality setting.
Roughly seventy percent of parents in Pennsylvania with children aged 0-5 work during the day. Many of these children spend their days in a childcare or early learning setting. In Philly, over thirty thousand children are in childcare settings. Of these children, many spend more than half of their waking hours in the care of adults other than their parents.
Many of the children in childcare settings are not experiencing a level of care likely to boost development. Here in Pennsylvania, child care programs are rated on a quality scale known as the Keystone STARS, with programs rated from 1 to 4 STARS. Childcare programs that are rate STAR 3 and 4 are considered high-quality. Ratings are based on the program’s curriculum, administration, if the program is licensed, and more.
The difference between programs rated 1 and 4 is shocking! To receive a STAR 1 rating, a childcare program only has to have a legal license in place in order to operate their facilities, but there are no strict rules against bad practices such as babies remaining in car seats while inside or watching TV all day.
STAR 4 programs on the other hand, are high-quality programs where children are played with and talked to and experience new activities, words, books, and games. These are the programs that hire caring people who do some of the hardest and most underpaid work in our society−early childhood educators.
Unfortunately, high-quality programs are few and far between. What’s worse, high-quality early education settings are largely underfunded. Teachers, being the most expensive part of any childcare program, are paid low wages. Here in PA, around half of our early childhood educators qualify for food stamps.
Nowadays, childcare has exceeded rent and mortgage rates in all fifty states. Families need support to make sure their little ones receive high-quality care. We need to ensure early childhood education programs receive the funding necessary to provide a clean, safe environment with skilled educators and staff.
Our children need early childhood education, and families need childcare—we can achieve both goals by providing more high-quality childcare. The Early Learning PA Coalition has launched the Start Strong PA campaign to build support for children ages 0-3 in early learning settings.
Supporting our young learners should be everyone’s concern!
To voice your support, sign on here.
For more information on Early Childhood Education, visit www.firstup.org. Babies are born learning!
Elizabeth Farwell Ozer is the Policy & Special Projects Manager at First Up! Since beginning work as an educator in 2004, Elizabeth has worked in numerous settings within Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia area, with students ranging from preschool to college. She has also earned two Master Degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.