A lesson from family child care

As a child in Lagos, a neighbor took care of me while my mother left for work.  My provider, a kind, old woman of seventy years, read books, sang songs, and kept me under her watchful eyes. Story time was my favorite because it meant going on an amazing adventure to unexpected places and making new friends. Even now, my mother always tells stories of my playful moments so I have never forgotten my caretaker. My child care experiences set the stage for my exploration of family child care in New Haven.

Earlier this year, I took a class entitled Child Care, Society, and Public Policy, jointly taught by Jessica Sager and Janna Wagner of All Our Kin. Topics like child development, the child care workforce, developmentally appropriate practices, the cost of care and current child care policies provided the backdrop for intensive discussions. In addition, visits to child care programs were a component of the class.

As part of the class, I observed community child care programs in New Haven. When I entered one family child care program, I immediately saw a shelf of books in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Books were at children’s level and available for children to read, touch and explore. The provider was guiding the children in morning circle. This is a time for reading stories and sharing ideas. Five children sat around the provider, who read from a storybook entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The provider interacted with the children, asking them questions, talking about the illustrations and animated the story with energy and enthusiasm.

More than just a time for stories, I saw the morning circle as a tool for engaging the children’s imaginations with words and images. It helped them connect learning with fun.  Most importantly, reading stories added to their vocabulary. In this family child care setting, the children are from low-income backgrounds. Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) compared the vocabulary development of children from low-income homes to the vocabulary of children from professional and working class homes. The findings were astonishing: by age three, children from professional homes heard more than 30 million vocabulary words. Children from working class homes heard about 20 million words.  Children in low-income homes only heard 10 million.  Unfortunately, the gap grows wider each year.

Reading is an effective strategy for addressing this discrepancy in the language development of low-income children. Newman and her colleagues (2001) explored an extensive body of research to explicate the crucial connections between reading, vocabulary acquisition and early literacy development. Children develop these skills when they create their own stories, use words to create fantasy worlds, explain information, or give information to others (Snow et al, 1995). Neuman (1997) explores the child care provider’s role in this early development. With just ten hours of training in story reading strategies and the availability of print material, the study finds that child care providers were better equipped to engage the children through stories.  As a result, the children’s literacy skills improved.

Family child care providers play an important role in children’s early development. It is imperative that providers receive the proper training in literacy and language to attend to children’s cognitive development. Because of All Our Kin’s training, the provider in New Haven had the skills and knowledge to nurture a spirit of curiosity and a love of learning through reading to children. Watching her read to the children, I was reminded of my own early experiences, and the pleasure in books and stories that has brought me to Yale.

Contributing Author: Dorcas Akinwande, Ezra Stiles 2013

-Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
-Susan Newman et al., “Why Books Matter,” in Access for all: Closing the book gap in early education. International Reading Association (December 2001).
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