All preschools are not the same. Many years ago, when I lived in West Philadelphia and was looking to enroll my child in a childcare center, I observed several. I was shocked at what went on while there and couldn’t imagine what went on when I was not. Teachers yelled at young children, and many of the centers were dark and dreary. The one center I loved was a private one, but I could not afford it. I became slightly depressed about my search and more concerned for my child. Shortly after, I decided to open a family child care center and called it, the Fun Factory Daycare Center, where children learned through play, and that is when my early childhood career was born.
As an early childhood specialist, I know the importance of quality childcare, licensed centers, and how accredited childcare centers level-up basic care. “A study by the Education Trust, an education civil rights advocacy group, showed that out of 26 states and their preschool programs, a mere…4 percent of black children in those states were enrolled in ‘high-quality’ state-backed early-learning opportunities.” New research that took more than a decade to complete was recently released. This research has essential points to look for at your child’s center.
“no state with a substantial percentage of black…children provides high access to a high-quality program for both 3- and 4-year-olds”
Another problem is the pre-k to prison pipeline. If your child is getting suspended or kicked out of their childcare program for misbehaving, it might not be your child’s fault. It is likely the way the physical space is set up and perhaps even unconscious bias from teachers. The Oxford Dictionary defines unconscious bias as “an unfair belief about a group of people you are not aware of and affects your behavior and decisions.” When young children are suspended from preschool, it starts a downward spiral that repeats itself throughout the child’s school career because they begin to see themselves as “bad kids.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means if they believe it, they will become it.
Public preschools often don’t offer the same quality as private accredited preschools, and unfortunately, these public preschools are primarily located in urban cities and are affordable for working families. The study by the Education Trust also found that “no state with a substantial percentage of black…children provides high access to a high-quality program for both 3- and 4-year-olds” (edweek.org). The difference between private and public preschools can affect a child’s development.
Here is what the study found:
Centers that say, “No.”
When three to four-year-old children are constantly hearing “no” with the absence of affirmatives, it can have a detrimental effect. Hearing negatives like “stop,” “don’t do that,” “don’t touch it,” and “no” without experiencing positives like “yes, you may play with that toy” or “you can’t throw the ball at people, but you can throw it in the basketball hoop” is not mentally healthy for children. If the preschool building is not inviting for young children to be their authentic selves, i.e., being able to touch everything in their eye line, then it is not child-friendly and is stifling their development.
Children learn best through their senses and private schools often design their physical learning spaces based on this model. Think of children’s museums. Children’s museums are created to be safe and touchable. Children can walk and play in these safe spaces without being told “no.” Providing safe and touchable spaces for children should be the norm at every child’s preschool.
Jean Piaget was a psychologist who developed the theory of learning through play, and it’s one of the most followed theories in early childhood development. Private preschools adopt and use his approach to create custom spaces for children, with a smaller ratio of children to teachers. This means children also get cared for more intimately than wrangled in a herd.
What To Do
What can you do when you can’t afford a private preschool and your child’s preschool isn’t child-friendly enough? Show up. Public schools operate the majority of the public preschools in most states. Show up at the school board meetings. Call and get on the agenda. Speak up. Take this study with you and demand that the school board members review it and form a committee to create change.
President Joe Biden is fighting for more public preschools as universal preschools, but what can’t happen is that they put small children into spaces that are not conducive for their tiny bodies or for learning at their developmental levels. The government must think child-centric first when creating physical spaces for our children.
Is it licensed?
Is it accredited?
Is the teacher to children ratio enough?
Are the teachers interacting with the students to encourage them to converse?
Are there at least two entry security points and the entrance to keep strangers out of the building?
Do the teachers raise their voices?
Are there cameras for parents to virtually watch online?
Is the director onsite daily?
Do the teachers converse when the students are on the playground? (They should be watching the kids).
Can you drop in anytime to observe the classroom or have lunch with your child?
Is there daily to weekly information coming home about what the child needs, including lessons, etc.?
Is the center child-friendly and inviting for them to touch anything and everything?
Are the rooms bright and happy spaces?
Does the center use electronic screens and devices as babysitting tools?
Do the children play outside daily in a safe space?
JOURNALIST AND CEO OF SUCCESSFUL PARENTING MEDIA
Janice Robinson-Celeste started her journey with a degree in education. She became the early childhood specialist and parent educator for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and for the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center. This is where she began her formal career of public speaking. Robinson-Celeste was with African American Women on Tour and has traveled nationally speaking to parents and professionals at various expos, and includes Disney as a client. She has been a director of NAEYC accredited childcare centers and a multimedia news journalist covering the education beat.
Later, she founded Successful Black Parenting magazine, obtained her M.B.A., and won several awards, including one from Allstate as a Woman of Triumph, alongside Patty LaBelle. She was a journalism professor for Hofstra University in New York, taught multimedia to teens at several high schools, and is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post. In addition, she won a Sara Award for her work from Women in Communications, the Benjamin Franklin Technology Award, and an Apex Award for her multimedia talent. She is a best-selling author of several parenting and children’s books. Robinson-Celeste held the title of Mrs. NJ United States (2015) and is currently the executive producer of Ethnic Animations and the publisher of Successful Black Parenting. She resides in Los Angeles with her dog, Gigi.