Childcare…a distraction?

Public education is Vermont’s largest and best investment. And by re-imagining it as a publicly financed continuum of learning, we could deepen its value and cost-effectiveness.

In today’s world, where the norm is that both parents must work to raise and house a family, childcare becomes a necessity. But how is it that “childcare” has become distinct from education? We understand the science of how children learn from the womb to college, so it seems wasteful to create two administrative, professional, and regulatory infrastructures when what we really want is age-appropriate learning.

I know, childcare and education terminology convey different things to different people, and change creates winners and losers. But does that justify adding cost and complexity?

In a time when childcare is moving towards education and education is moving towards childcare and we have finite resources, wouldn’t it be a better investment in our children if we understood childcare and education to be one and the same – age-appropriate learning.

On the purely practical front, we have 20,000 fewer grade school students than we had thirty years ago and the same number of community schools. So instead of building more childcare infrastructure, why not re-purpose our underused community schools, train early education teachers in birth to age four learning, and reimagine education as a publicly financed continuum of learning?

Newborns and toddlers learn by seeing, touching, listening and interacting with others. It’s a time of sensual discovery, using random and guided play. What we know as “education” begins sometime after two when parents or caregivers begin matching language and numbers to what a child observes and senses.

Any parent would resist putting their baby on a bus to a school in the next town to be “educated” when they just want childcare. Location is critical to age-appropriate learning. Imagine a child’s migration from the family, to the community, to the region, and finally into the larger world. Newborns, toddlers and early grade-schoolers should be in the heart of their communities, near their parents. Then, as they advance in grades, they can and should migrate out to better resourced regional schools, college, and the workplace. This reflects the fact that our job as parents and communities is to raise and educate resilient, independent, young people.

To allow childcare and education to expand in cost and complexity at a time when we desperately need focus and affordability is to deny the reality that they are truly one and the same.

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