Monday, September 10, 2007

Day Care and IQ

So my son, Jasper, started day care this morning. Up until now, he's been cared for by a nanny during the day at our house while I've also been working at home. So this will be a transition for both of us (though the center is only 2 blocks from the house - so I will be a frequent lunch time visitor!)

Day care is a very controversial issue in our society, so it's been studied a reasonable amount, both for its effect on social development, and its effect on academic development. The findings are fairly mixed. That's because the quality of day care matters a great deal. High quality day care can actually improve language and academic development among at-risk children by giving them the stimulation they might not get at home. This can reverse the measured drop in academic ability that can sometimes occur for these children as they grow. For middle-class white children, high-quality day care appears to have no particular effect on language or academic development one way or the other, according to this study. On the other hand, long hours in not-so-great day care can increase aggression.

Every time a major study is released, the chattering heads on television give it lots of airtime. This commentary from City-Journal on Fear and Loathing at the Day Care Center, hints at some of the controversy. It is "common sense" to many people that children are best cared for in their homes, by their mothers. Some research does show that children of mothers who spend more hours devoted to childcare and less to working have higher academic achievement in early adolescence. But this same study found that women who have high levels of satisfaction with their childcare arrangements also had children with more scholastic competence in 6th grade. Women who are also satisfied with their "roles" have children with more scholastic competence. In other words, a woman who devotes her time to childcare simply because this is what everyone says she "should" do, but who isn't happy about it, isn't really gaining much by that choice.

I find it all fascinating. The issue of maternal employment and child achievement always gets people riled up. I'm curious what choices others on this board have made with their children, and whether they felt it affected academic achievement.


Anonymous said...

I think a moderate amount of time in a high quality daycare is optimal for the child. I would define moderate as a half day schedule or two or three full days (not 7am to 7pm) per week. Unfortunately, if you have more than one child, after paying the cost of high quality day care, the net gain for one parent’s salary often doesn’t seem worth it.

Less expensive options are very often less than desirable options.

Anonymous said...

I have two adult children, who spent half days with family/in home daycare while I worked before they started school. One was a classic underachiever in school, the other is a high achiever. Both are moderately gifted. I think their achievement levels are based on their temperament.

I have a 6 y/o now, spent full time in daycare from 12 weeks of age until starting school. Highly gifted, he skipped K and started right in first grade. He was actually a behavior problem the last year or more in daycare. We now realize that he was bored most of the time. Not sure how it will ultimately affect achivement, but he is now in 2nd grade, with 3rd grade for math. Doing fine, but showing signs of being even a bigger under achiever than his brother.

I'm not really sure that the daycare experience affects achievement, although it can certainly impact early development, as the studies you cited have shown.

Anonymous said...

One difficult thing about this research is that is really hard to make sweeping generalizations because the quality of care children get is in large measure determined by social class. There is great child care available for people who can afford it, and there is a lot of less than adequate care for people who can't.

Our child had a stay at home parent. For good or bad I'm not really sure seems to have contributed to his academic achievement and acceleration. More time at home as a preschooler allowed more free time to read and fulfill of what seems to be a hardwired desire to learn as much as possible as fast as possible.

I suspect in an environment without such an age range of materials and without so much time alone the progress would not have been as rapid (though it still would have been out of step with most age peers). I won't say that is all a good thing though because allowing that self driven focus made it all the more difficult to find a school fit in kindergarten.

Taia said...

I think the farther a child is from the norm, the less well childcare can meet his/her needs. The books, toys and activities will be suited to the average child and children with needs at either end of the spectrum will get ignored in the bustle.

My eight month old started childcare 3 afternoons/week at 6 months. He does OK, but I won't pretend he gets much care beyond feeding and diaper changes- and he is the only baby with an experienced (25 years) provider. I hope that the other children and the beautiful facilities provide some compensation. And at some point, children should learn to entertain themselves, in my view. Until 4 months, though, he was too fussy to be in childcare because he cried much of the time at home.

Each child is different and moms who can afford it work or don't work depending in part on whether their children can adjust to childcare.

Part-time childcare is very difficult to find and almost as expensive as full-time ($800 vs. $600/month in a center in my area)

The Princess Mom said...

My oldest (and most gifted) was in childcare pretty much full-time from five weeks old until age 4. After 4, he was in half-day and later full-day preschool. Both the daycare and preschool were Montessori-based. All of it was better than what awaited him in the public school kindergarten.

The other two were home with Mom or Grandmother until they were old enough for preschool. I did my best but was completely overwhelmed with the two of them (13 months apart). That's part of the reason Klaus (the oldest) went to preschool, he wasn't getting much academic stimulation (other than Blue's Clues) at home.

I don't think there is any point in beating yourself up about daycare vs. stay-at-home. If you're doing something you hate--be that working or staying home--you should stop it. Even gifted kids need a happy family more than they need expensive educational toys or piles of books.

Lessa, Mom to ds12, 13 and 16

Anonymous said...

We did both stay-at-home Mom and daycare---the daycare to reduce the workload on Mom and to provide some social interactions (no kids on the street to play with as we had experienced as kids).

Started half-time daycare at 18 months, and gradually increased to fulltime the year before kindergarten.

We were fortunate to have really good programs available to us, and to be able to afford them.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I, both teachers / gifted program coordinators in Washington, DC, recently enrolled our two year-old in a twice weekly 4 hour co-op with 9 other kids her age. Mom has been taking a break from working outside the home since our daughter was born. It has been very helpful for us to see her growing socially as she meets and interacts with new children. Our loquacious daughter was totally quiet for the first two weeks of the co-op (she also got sick) before finally starting to speak up. Carefully introducing a young child to structured and unstructured play with others her age has great developmental value.

maria said...

These strands of discussion always leave me feeling mildly ill. I am a moderately gifted adult, a mother of two boys, and a teacher of gifted elementary students.

I chose to work, because I love my job as much as I love my family. I was lucky to be able to afford a high quality day care for my children. I feel that my two boys are stimulated, socially well developed, and still have a lot of play time to help them grow.

I think that we need to consider not just ourselves, but also the message we send to the girls of today who will be the mothers of tomorrow. We tell them out of one side of our mouth that they should pursue careers of high quality. Careers that really require them NOT to give up time at work, or they will lose the career path. On the other side of our mouth we are already teaching them to feel extreme guilt over that choice, if they also chose to become mothers.

What is a woman to do? Give up her career? Give up her opportunity to create and nurture a new life? Isn't there some way we can do both at least well enough to lay off all the guilt?