Can Day Care Help a Child Succeed in School?

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What effect does day care have on a child's success in grade school? One National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found mixed results about how day care influences children throughout their academic careers.

Starting in 1991, NICHD researchers tracked more than 1,350 children from birth through various childcare settings (at home with a parent, relative or nanny, or at day care) to elementary school. It found that children who spent time in "high quality" day care centers as youngsters had better vocabulary by the fifth grade than those who hadn't. But the study also found that day care charges had more behavior problems, even accounting for the child's gender, family income, and quality of the daycare center.

Pros

Supporters of quality daycare have discussed the array of early learning and socialization that children learn by spending time with peers and how early childhood educators are more trained than ever. Moreover, primary grade teachers applaud the way quality day care centers prepare children for elementary school. Children learn structure and routine at a young age and are responsible for putting away their coats, putting on their shoes and other independent tasks.

"I always ask my kindergarten students about their care prior to coming to school," says one Texas teacher. "Based on their responses, I may change my approach to socialization and early school skills at first, because some kids who have stayed home with a parent and haven't interacted with peers much don't know general school rules such as sharing, waiting in line, not touching others, and not talking when someone else is. Day care kids typically have all the social rules down pat."

Early educators also point to the lesson plans and early hands-on learning that day care participants get to experience. Most quality day care centers teach the ABCs, early reading, simple math and science and even general hygiene skills to their students.

Cons

The main negative about daycare is that your kids will most definitely get sick more frequently than if they are home to a single caregiver. Even at the best and cleanest of day care centers, the germs are flying! It's inevitable that children will be exposed to more illness at day care than they will at home, which can mean more trips to the doctor, more medical bills, and more sick time for your toddler.

Foes of day care have argued that preschool leads children to misbehave because children learn bad habits from watching other kids. Day cares are busy and can be a stressful environment for some kids.

Pro

  • Prepares child for elementary school

  • Children learn structure and routine

  • Learn social skills

Con

  • Children catch more colds and illnesses

  • May learn bad habits from other kids

  • Stressful for some kids

Don't Rush to Judge Day Care's Effect on Behavior

Students may act out for any number of reasons, so day care shouldn't be blamed for making children misbehave. Giving day care the rap may not be fair or accurate.

A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in the U.S. looked at the influence of both child care and the home environment on over 1,000 typically-developing children They found that parent and family characteristics were more strongly linked to child development than were child care features." This means that families have a greater impact on how a child develops than childcare does.

Children who attend child care have the same outcomes as children who are cared for at home. Whether a child attends day care or not, it is the family that has a major impact on their child’s development, with the parents’ interactions with the child being a critically important factor.

Choosing child care, whether it is with a stay-at-home parent, relative, nanny or au pair, should have one common goal: providing for the overall safety and needs of the child. Working parents shouldn't feel guilty about leaving their child with qualified caregivers nor should stay-at-home parents feel guilty about their choice to remain home with children.

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