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Not long ago there was an intense debate in Germany over early childcare, with conservatives advocating incentives for mothers to stay at home and progressives advocating for improving early childcare so mothers could continue their careers without too much disruption.

The advocates of housewife-mothers claimed that children given into early childcare (at the age of three) would later experience problems in their emotional development as a fixed person to relate to would be missing from them.

I am quite skeptical of this claim as other countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) have quite an intensive early childcare system and I cannot imagine that all their children are troubled.

Have there any studies been done on this question?

EDIT I see that this might be a bit broad and depends both on the parents as well as on the daycare. So let us make some of the parameters equal and suppose that the parents and the childcare educators are both just as qualified in terms of education. Is it then problematic that the child in a childcare center has not a single reference person, i.e. today it's Alice, tomorrow it's Bob etc.? This was argued by the conservative part.

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Are there negative developmental effects?

Assuming that childcare has any effect at all (e.g. more socialization, more familiarity with strangers), that same effect could be described as "negative" (e.g. less dependent on or 'close' to parents): so, whether any given effect is "negative" might be a (hard to quantify) subjective / value judgement.

I expect it also depends on the type of daycare. For example, putting a toddler into an overcrowded warehouse to watch TV isn't the same as putting them into a daycare environment that's richer in various ways (with better teachers, curriculum, socializing activities, teaching materials, etc.): so IMO the question is too broad to be meaningful ... the answer is, "well it depends on which daycare."

You're talking about daycare's "opportunity cost": that by going to daycare children forego the opportunity to spend formative years with their parent[s]. And that depends on whether the parents are available (on whether they're working); and also, partly, on how rich the experience of spending time with them is (whether they're interested, available, educated, educating, etc.): so, the answer is also "well it also depends on which parents."

conservatives advocating incentives for mothers to stay at home and progressives advocating for improving early childcare

That sounds like it might be a political question (not just an educational/developmental question): e.g. motivated by the perceived role of (private) home and family versus (public) state.


EDIT

suppose that the parents and the childcare educators are both just as qualified in terms of education

The childcare educators might have two or three years of specifically ECE college training (developmental psychology, curriculum planning, etc.); and, 5 to 20 years of teaching experience, of teaching 10 or 20 children each year.

I'm not saying that parents would be less qualified, but their qualifications are normally different (unless they're trained and experienced daycare teachers themselves, which most people aren't).

'At home' and 'at daycare' are also different environments: the daycare has a peer group of 10 or 20 other children in the class (so there's socialization), likely a different time-table, and a different set of physical resources (I'm thinking of having and understanding e.g. the "Montessori materials").

I don't think it's sensible or possible to try to narrow the question by assuming that parents and teachers are "just as qualified" (i.e. that their 'qualifications' are equivalent).

Is it then problematic that the child in a childcare center has not a single reference person, i.e. today it's Alice, tomorrow it's Bob etc.? This was argued by the conservative part.

My experience with daycares is that there are two or three more or less constant teachers per classroom. There may be some small variation, for example:

  • One extra teacher for half the day every day, if there are more children in the classroom for one half of the day (e.g. because some children do half-day kindergarten and half-day daycare)
  • An occasional substitute teacher if a principal teacher is temporarily ill (or, for a longer period, on maternity leave)
  • An occasional special-subject teacher (e.g. a visiting musician once a week, or a visit to the local municipal library, for the librarian to read a story)

A child is likely then to be with the same two or three teachers for the whole year (and maybe for more than one year in succession).

I'm talking about where the teachers have permanent (and more or less full-time) jobs, and the child is enrolled for every day for the whole year: the child would have a class, and that class would have a regular set of teachers.

I don't know of a situation where there's "not a single reference person": IMO there are usually reference people (children and teachers get to know each other within the first week or so), and if there are several reference people (almost always at least two adults per class simultaneously: not 'on successive days', but at the same time) then that's not a bad thing either (people don't usually have political objections to there being more than one parent, for example).

There is (so I'm told) some bonding (trust, knowledge, affection) which develop between the (regular) teacher and the child (to call the existence of such a relationship "negative" would be, IMO, unfortunate, but that's my political opinion).

  • No sources: I'm criticizing the question, not giving an answer! FWIW My mum and my wife have both been daycare or kindergarten teachers. My mum was a Montessori teacher; and I was with my wife when she studied for her more traditional (non-Montessori) two-year 'Early Childhood Educator' college diploma ... so I know something about 'daycare' and early childhood development. There's some perfectly competent, even outstanding, home-schooling happening too. The question of "which is better?" depends on the specifics: IMO good daycare is 'better' than non-child-centred parenting; and, vice versa! – ChrisW May 15 '11 at 15:26
  • I edit my question to make it more definite. As for the question being political: Yes and no. The conservatives put supposedly scientific arguments forward to defend their understanding of the role of family and women. The latter part is political, but the former part (the scientific arguments) are not political and should have some answer. – Lagerbaer May 15 '11 at 15:27
  • @Lagerbaer - I edited my answer to add to your edit. If the main criticism is that there's more than one teacher per class, it may be important to know that it's same set of several teachers every day. Children also often have the same set of several close family members every day - I don't see how having "several" reference points is a bad thing (especially if you assume the adults communicate and agree with each other). – ChrisW May 15 '11 at 16:34
  • @Lagerbaer - I get the impression that maybe you don't agree with the conservative argument. I'm not sure what their argument is, in fact: maybe you're not expressing (quoting, citing) their argument well. – ChrisW May 15 '11 at 16:36
  • @Lagerbaer - If I were conservative I might advocate to give parents not the incentive but the opportunity to stay at home, as an alternative to daycare: because parents are good, and not because daycares are bad. That might be more expensive (labour-intensive) than daycare though, needing one adult (parent) per one or two children, instead of one adult (teacher) per five to ten children. – ChrisW May 15 '11 at 17:32

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