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Daycare double duty

Parents' knowledge of children's daycare experience incomplete, Concordia study finds
December 12, 2012
By Paloma Friedman

Nina Howe is a professor in Concordia’s Department of Education. | Photo by David Ward
Nina Howe is a professor in Concordia’s Department of Education. | Photo by David Ward

Nearly 1.5 million Canadian children grow up living double lives: one at home with their parents and another in some form of childcare environment. While parents hope to be informed of what goes on when they’re not around, a recent Concordia study suggests that they ought to be more involved in the daycare experience, which is a major component of their children’s development.

Nina Howe, a professor in Concordia’s Department of Education and a lead author on the study, set out to uncover what Canadian parents really know about their children’s care. “We suspected that most parents know very little about the education, training, and background experiences of their children’s educators or what goes on during the child’s day,” she says. “No one buys a car without doing some homework, so why don’t parents do some homework when selecting childcare?”

The past few decades have seen a historic change in the number of Canadian women employed in the workforce; consequently more parents require childcare. Howe says that because demand for daycare far exceeds the number of available spaces, some parents may ascribe more importance to such factors as a centre’s proximity than to its philosophy.

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, Ont., were interested in whether parents noticed a difference in the quality of their children’s education after changes in curriculum had been implemented.

The researchers singled out several aspects of the daycare experience, from the childcare centre’s educational mandate to the teachers’ education. They based their research on 44 not-for-profit daycare centres in three cities across the country: Halifax, Montreal and Winnipeg. The research team interviewed 261 parents or guardians by phone, and found that while 75 per cent of parents reported some knowledge of the centre’s philosophy, which was largely acquired from written statements issued by the educator, fewer parents - about 40 per cent - knew how much education their children’s teachers had.

Research indicates that teachers with more formal training provide more developmentally appropriate activities for the children in their care and they have stronger relations with parents. The reason lies in teacher training. Courses and field placements were shown to have taught teachers to establish rapport and open communication with parents.

“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 says. “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.”

Howe has written a new book with Dr. Larry Prochner of the University of Alberta titled Recent Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada. The book provides an overview of early childhood education with a focus on historical context, aspects of various curricula, and government involvement in education programs.     
Related links:
•    Concordia’s Department of Education
•    Nina Howe’s Research@Concordia profile
•    Journal of Early Childhood Research
•    Recent Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada

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