Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

What’s the Deal With Preschool Anyway?

play-and-learn-preschoolThe word pretty much speaks for itself. The school before the “big school.” As a kid, I loved going to preschool. We got to play and make art projects. But there is more to preschool than just having fond memories of fun times. Those play experiences build the foundation for future learning!

As an adult I when I was reintroduced to preschool, I was hooked from the get-go. Play is a huge focus in preschool. Play is actually how kids learn. For instance, how many of you, as a child, played “house?” Growing up that was all I ever wanted to play. I was always the mom, I loved to be in charge! Playing house and having dramatic play areas in preschool classrooms are a way to get kids ready for kindergarten. Think about this. Kids “pretending” to act like they are in a “real life situation.” They model what they see from their own lives and what they see their parents/caregivers do all while using their elaborate imagination.

One of my many responsibilities at 4C for Children is to facilitate Play & Learn groups. We play, learn about cleaning up, read a story together that falls in line with the lesson of that day, we have our snack and parents leave with their kids once the session is complete. In addition to the children playing and learning the parents are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of the session. We use these evaluations for data and feedback on our sessions. 4C also offers parents the opportunity to fill out ASQ’s (Ages and Stages questionnaire) on their child. In a recent Play & Learn I had a child that just turned 2. His mother filled out the ASQ saying that her son could not string beads. In that very session I sat with him and watched him string beads onto a pipe cleaner. When I told this mother, her face just lit up. It was so exciting for her to learn that her son has been growing and learning different skills.

Kids are like sponges; they literally soak up all the knowledge. It is amazing to see how their minds just brighten when they learn something new. Writing their name, understanding the importance of what it means to be a friend, and more! For parents that are on the fence about preschool I would encourage you to look at the advantages of quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, preschool is not an option for all families. Search out the resources in your community; learn about some different early childhood experiences in your neighborhood. Talk to other parents, teachers and community members who are advocates for early childhood education and learn what you can do to set your child up for success in school.

Here are some local resources:

Confidence in Child Care

confidence-in-child-careAs I send my oldest child off to Kindergarten, I find myself worrying how his day at “big school” is going. Is he being kind? How does his teacher handle his love for talking his way through activities? Is he making progress? This change from our previous routine of being at child care all day has me reflecting on how comfortable we’ve become with our child care provider, and what it is about our provider that eases my mind.

Making our initial child care decision was somewhat overwhelming. We knew how important doing our research and making an informed decision was. I utilized the “Find Child Care” quick link on the 4C for Children homepage, and further explored the “Choosing Quality” tab. Ultimately, utilizing these resources and touring facilities brought us to our current child care provider.

We were greeted over the phone by a loving and professional voice that encouraged us not to schedule a tour, but to come visit at any time. To me, this signified confidence on the part of the provider. When we toured, we were immediately greeted by the director and by every teacher whose classroom we entered. The spaces were calm and organized; the teachers were warm and welcoming. I paid close attention to how the children treated each other, and how they approached the teachers. Everyone was comfortable in their surroundings, which is an essential foundation to learning. After touring the facility, we were given a copy of the age-specific parent handbooks and encouraged to ask any questions we might have. We weren’t pressured to make an immediate decision, rather, we were guided to look over the information and contact them if we’d like to enroll.

After making our decision to enroll, we were able to fill out a questionnaire regarding our children that would help the teachers with basics about our boys before they came into the classroom, as well as scheduled a time to meet with each teacher so they could ask additional questions and get more comfortable with us. This was very reassuring to a nervous mom! Knowing they had an “open door” policy meant I could stop by at any time, and I could call to check up on them. In the coming weeks we received daily communication with special notes about what they enjoyed each day. The attention to detail and development their teachers put into their notes helped reassure me that my children were well cared for. The program director asks for feedback and welcomes questions and input from all parents. The words and actions from our program say “We are partners in caring for your child.”

Overall, every parent needs to have choice in choosing child care, and feel confident in those caring for their children. We are so thankful to have found a program which partners with us as parents while truly appreciating our children for who they are. It is among the most important decisions as parents we’ll make!

All Children Deserve a Chance at a Better Life

I grew up in inner city Cincinnati, but unlike many of my peers and children in our city, I had a fair chance at a better, healthier, more fulfilling life. Preschool played a big part in my chances. Although my mother was poor, she valued education and enrolled me in a preschool program. By the end of it, I could read. Because of that, when I was kindergarten age, I was not only ready for it, I tested into a magnet alternative school. This strong foundation prepared  me to graduate from Walnut Hills, attend college and have a successful career.

The bad news is, my experience is the exception and not the rule. The good news is, there is something we can do about it. While students from low income neighborhoods start Kindergarten significantly behind children from more affluent backgrounds and are less likely to be reading at third grade level by third grade, the reverse is true for children who enter school ready. If they are reading at grade level by third grade, the likelihood that they will graduate from high school and go on to attend college and then move into careers increases dramatically.

Rather than waiting until K-12 schooling to impact children and having to spend exorbitant amounts on interventions later in their lives, ensuring that children have quality preschool experiences makes sense. The gains made in the earliest years last into adulthood and can break the cycle of poverty, as they did for me.

So how can all children in our city have access to quality child care? The Cincinnati Preschool Promise is an independent effort to provide universal access to high quality preschool for all three and four-year-olds in Cincinnati. It will provide tuition credits for all Cincinnati families to use to send their children of this age to a quality rated public or private preschool of their choice, regardless of income. Tuition credits will be provided on an income based sliding scale. The Preschool Promise is expected to serve about 5, 000 children in addition to those already served by Head Start.

Universal access to quality preschool will give ALL of our children the chance at a better life. We must extend a basic level of  fairness and justice, if in this city alone, to the tens of thousands of children who have been denied that basic fairness and justice for far too long.

As I drove through the impoverished streets of Avondale on my way to attend a Preschool Promise Ambassador training, I passed the place where my preschool once stood. The poverty and  limited possibilities surrounding it hit me in a powerful way, and I wondered where I would be had I not gone to preschool…

I ask you to join me in supporting the Cincinnati Preschool Promise. Become a Promise Ambassador today.

Please email for more information.

Much of this material adapted from The Cincinnati Preschool Promise Talking Points.

Children with Special Needs Deserve Quality Care, too!

Finding and selecting child care is challenging enough. But when you have a child with a special need it presents an even greater challenge.

Children with special needs deserve quality child care, too!

When my daughter Gabrielle was growing up, I was afraid to leave her in any one else’s care. No one could do as good a job as I could! However, our family could not afford to live on one salary so there was no other choice but for me to work. I planned well in advance and started searching for a program near my corporate office. I found a nice enough place five minutes from where I worked. I didn’t know about 4C for Children then, so I didn’t know what questions to ask or anything about what a quality child care program looks like. My criteria were cost effectiveness, location, openings and a warm and loving provider.

When Gabrielle was diagnosed with a special need and we were referred to Early Intervention (EI), I was determined that her child care experience not be shaped by her disability or have others stifle her growth. Our goals for her early years were for her to grow and blossom into her abilities.

I discovered that EI services could be delivered within her child care, but when my husband and I met with the director of her program and a Child Advocate, I was shocked when our request to have the EI specialist come in was denied. It was obvious to me from my few times visiting the program that Gabrielle wasn’t getting any stimulation or floor and tummy time, she always had a blank look on her face and was stuck in a swing or a crib. Although the director may have had her reasons for refusing EI services, we couldn’t allow Gabrielle to remain there. I was afraid for her development and wanted to put her in a program where she could thrive.

So our search for child care began again. Would anyone want to care for my child? I knew the second time around that Gabrielle had special needs and I was cautious about sharing that information. But I also knew I couldn’t not share it. I learned quickly to advocate for my little girl. When we finally found a program we liked, we had several discussions with the director regarding Gabrielle’s needs and her strengths. We explained that her teachers would have access to an EI specialist and Speech, Physical and Occupational Therapists. Even though the teachers hadn’t had much experience working with children with special needs, they were willing to learn and ready to embrace my daughter. I knew this was the right place for her.

Once I knew Gabrielle had special needs, I also knew I wanted her to be successfully included with her typical peers and to participate to the fullest extent possible. We wanted to encourage her to be as independent as she could, and I’ve always shared this vision with the various child care programs she’s been in throughout her life. I want Gabrielle to be a kid, first and foremost, and not just a kid with special needs.


Our First Day!

I am so excited; it’s our first day of day care tomorrow! Never did I think I would put a dog in day care! Now I have. I am now sensitive to all those nagging questions parents have running through their mind when choosing child care for their children: Will he be okay?  Will I like the center and the staff?  Is she getting the best care possible?  Is he learning anything while he’s there?  Will she make any friends? Will they call me if he hurts anyone or gets hurt?  LOL

We have been in the facility often, whether for grooming, browsing or heading to the vet.  So, I am familiar with the layout and the employees. I’ve watched the other dogs through the window and observed how the staff interacts with them. It really is exhausting just to watch all the activity, and I am thankful they are very interactive. But that’s what they are trained to do, right?  I think I really should ask what their training credentials are.

In the past when Elvis stayed overnight or was at the vet for an all-day excursion, I was presented with a daily report of how he did that day and I found that very comforting.  It’s nice to know what toy he liked the best, how much he ate and when he napped.  The positive comments on his personality made me feel that the staff really cared about him and wanted me to be comfortable bringing him back again.

I am really looking forward to Elvis having a very active and productive day tomorrow and getting socialized with new friends. His trainer calls him “high-driven.” I said do you mean like ADHD?  He explained that my boy would keep on going and going until his job was done, unlike another breed that might just lie down and say, “Okay, that’s enough” I like the positive spin.

It’s really nice when trainers (or teachers) can interject the good qualities they note in your dog (your child).We may have reached our threshold with any behavior that frustrates us and closed our eyes to anything positive.

I remember when friends of mine used doggie day care and how they were able to access online viewing of their dogs in action. My center doesn’t have that amenity. Just as parents do with children, we each have our own comfort level and criteria of what’s important for us in a care provider, be it for our pets or our children.  In any event, whether searching for a caregiver for your dog or child, be sure to think long and hard about the questions you will want answered before you make your choice.


Photo courtesy of Andrea Arden


Choosing Child Care Through Groupon?

There’s no question about it. We live in an age where people access information and services via technology. Parents are no different. So I commend early child care programs that utilize technology to reach parents where they are. Most promote their services online and use the web to communicate via social media. Since I value thinking outside the box, an ad I saw recently jumped off the screen at me. A child care center was advertising a deal on preschool though Groupon… this I had to see!

The program that chose this modern method of advertising did many things well:

  • Highlighted some of the benefits of quality child care, including activities that enhance early development
  • Offered parents options to meet their financial and scheduling needs
  • Painted a picture of what a child’s day might look like (activities, meals, etc.)
  • Provided an overview of their philosophy and educational programs along with locations
  • Included an “Ask a Question” link with the advertisement

The last item listed was the one I felt best about as a parent. Curious to learn what questions parents had, I clicked on the link and found they didn’t ask the same things I would have. I wondered, at first, why hadn’t anyone asked about touring the program before taking advantage of the deal, or inquired about the quality of the care and education their child would receive while there? Is it that they didn’t care, or is it that they didn’t know to ask? Having been there myself, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

When I needed child care for the first time, I was in a major state of transition. I was newly single, returning to the workforce after staying home for three years and broke. Though a teacher for a decade, I knew virtually nothing about child care and was terrified. So much so that I switched careers and became a center director. That way I knew for sure what was going on with my children! My foray into the early childhood field was supposed to be temporary, but six years later, my job is to share my experience in order to help other parents move out of that scary unknown child care place into a place of being educated, equipped and empowered.

If only I’d known back then what I know now! In sharing what I now know, I use this CARE acronym to summarize how parents can get started:

Contact 4C. You’ll learn what to look for in a quality setting, what questions to ask and whether you may be eligible for financial assistance.  4C does not make recommendations, but we do offer free referrals. There are three ways we can help you find child care.

Ask questions. What type of care works best for your family’s needs and schedule? Ask about vacancies, ages served, cost, location, hours and days of operation. And don’t forget to ask the six questions for providers:

  1. What training have caregivers received on how to care for children?
  2. How will my child learn and grow?
  3. What shows it’s a healthy and safe place?
  4. How is family involvement encouraged?
  5. Is this program quality-rated, accredited or working toward it?
  6. How well is the program managed?

Research. Visit and interview two or three places. Spend about one hour at each program while children are there. Observe the program in action.

Evaluate. Ask for and check references. Evaluate each program using 4C checklists. Keep in mind what is best for your child and family’s needs!

The child care advertisement that caught my eye is really no different than a friend referring you to a center. In either case, you should educate yourself on what to look for in a quality setting and then equip yourself with the information to make the best decision. Making these choices isn’t always easy, but it’s always important, so a discount or freebie shouldn’t cause you to lower your standards when weighing your options.

If you follow the suggested tips above, you’ll feel empowered to select the best possible care and education for your child, regardless of its cost.

Now that’s a good deal.

– Tammi

Robots Work for Free

One of the latest GEICO car insurance commercials begins with a sharply dressed mother complaining about the cost of child care, and her choice to use robots to care for her children because they “work for free!” While I admit I laughed when the little girl was squirted in the face as the robot tried to give her a juice box, the parent educator and professional in me says “Whoa!”

Choosing a quality provider isn’t about saving money, but cost is a factor for every family. Cost of care, especially in the current economy, is a huge factor parents face when finding a great match for their child. Infant care in our area typically runs around $190 a week, and that doesn’t take into account centers who go above and beyond our minimum state licensing requirements. Their costs can be higher, but the true “cost” of finding care is in the quality of care provided.

When parents looking for care visit a center or family home provider, I encourage you to do what we learned in grade school: stop, look and listen. Stop and be a child for a moment. Get down on your child’s level. Are there things you can get into that you should not be able to reach? Is the floor clean? Is this an environment you want to be in for eight hours? Do the caregivers smile and look friendly?

Really take a look at the space. Is it bright, colorful and inviting? Are you seeing an environment where your child is going to learn? What activities have the teachers prepared for them? Do they have choices to make throughout the day?

Listen to what the children are saying. Are they enjoying themselves? Are they using indoor voices or are they crying and screaming? How are the teachers conversing with the children? Are they encouraging or berating? Are they nurturing and building relationships with the children?

I am a frugal shopper and love to use coupons and get the freebies as much as anyone else. But when it comes to your most prized possession, your children, don’t settle. Make sure you aren’t going for the “robot care” because it’s free, or letting the cost of care be the only, or even the most important, factor in your decision. When 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5, reflect on what your choice is really going to cost you and your child in the long run.

– Debbie

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.