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Too Much Child Care?

Parents and child care providers are up in arms about a study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne which purports to show that too much time in child care can damage children’s long-term academic and social development. The Melbourne team says they have the data to show that children in centre-based care more than 30 hours a week, perform worse academically, socially and emotionally. But providers have rejected the findings, saying a range of factors influence a child’s development.
(Source: The World Today, Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

In my family album, I have a photo I took of my daughter many years ago when she was almost three running along the top of a dry stone wall. The wall was about five feet high and about two feet wide.

I was at home with my daughter every day from when she was a six-month old baby until she started school at the age of five. When she was a toddler, she wanted to climb walls. I was very keen for her to develop self-confidence, so I always said “yes”; I held her hand for as long as it took while she found her balance and inched step by step along the top of just about every wall we encountered on our rambles around the village where we lived. In time, she didn’t need me to hold her hand as she strode boldly over walls that were often above my head height – I walked by her side, arms out at the ready like a goalkeeper, just in case.

When I took that photo, I was ten feet away with the camera.

My son had a very different early childhood to his older sister. We’d moved from the countryside to the big city where the pace of life was more hurried. Both my wife and I were working full-time and our baby son spent most of his week in child care of some form. I hardly spent any time at home with him.

Finally, when my son was almost three, I quit my job to be his at-home parent.

One day shortly afterwards, we were out and about in our neighbourhood and there was a low brick wall. It was quite narrow, but only about two feet high. My son looked at it.

“Would you like to climb that wall?” I asked him. He nodded.

But he did nothing. I waited. “Would you like me to hold your hand?” He nodded again.

So I took my son’s hand and he gingerly climbed up on the wall and pigeon-stepped slowly and wobblingly along it squeezing my hand tightly and looking all the while as if he was about to fall off. It could have been the very first time he’d ever walked along a wall. Perhaps it was.

All those years before when my daughter had learned to walk along walls, I’d, literally, been there every step of the way. I’d been willing to trust her and share the risks. I was her parent. She wanted to do it, I wanted her to get what she wanted and we worked together to achieve our goal.

Would I have invested all the attention and energy and patience that I did if I was a child care provider looking after someone else’s child? I doubt it.

To start with, I would have had other children to look after as well and simply wouldn’t have been able to devote the time to it even if I’d wanted to (which I probably wouldn’t have done). And what if the child had fallen and been badly injured? I wouldn’t have wanted to take any kind of risk that might cost me my livelihood. No, I think “Get down off that wall!” would have been my most likely response.

So, now, while helping my son develop his self-confidence is still very much a central issue in my life, I can only look back and wish that I’d been there for him when it really counted.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m critical of any of my son’s child care providers. Why would I be? They were simply doing their job.

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