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A New Spin on Day Care

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Whether day care is right for a very young child "depends on the child, certainly, but also on the child's family life," says Patricia Waters, assistant professor of early childhood education at Towson University in Towson, Md., and an educator since 1957.

"I realize that for some families, there may not be a choice whether to put a child in day care," she tells WebMD. "Some families want that extra stimulation, in addition to what they're providing at home. But if social activities are provided, if parents bring young children together for socialization, I see no need to put the child into a day care center before the age of 3. If there is conversation, books, labeling going on, if families are going places and having experiences, that's what's important."

Waters works with Baltimore public school pre-K programs set up for children with language needs. She's seen firsthand the difference a good program can make. "In September, the classrooms are very quiet and children speak in one-word replies, and they have very meager vocabularies. Some come in not knowing their own names. By May, those children have just blossomed. I put it all to the credit of that environment, that stimulation. Thank goodness those children are brought out of their nonstimulating environment. They have the potential, but it just has not been awakened."

Bond agrees that much cognitive stimulation can be accomplished at home. "I'm a great proponent of reading to children from birth, taking them to the bookstore, the library," she says.

If these "rich experiences" don't take place at home, Bond says, "we find that these children do extremely well when they get into a very enriching day care environment. The teacher can instill this love of learning and can also work with parents to see the importance of this.

"We find where children come from homes were language is limited, where it is not a high priority, children may have a 3,000-word vocabulary at age 6," she tells WebMD. "In homes where language is a high priority, children will have a 20,000-word vocabulary. Language development is an important predictor in how children will succeed in school."

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