U.S. Trying to Catch-up in Early Childhood Learning

In France and other countries, early childhood care is subsidized by the government, with a sliding scale based on income and staffed by caring and capable people. French parents, and by extension their society, embrace free universal public preschool because high value is placed on early childhood learning. These high quality programs are supported by the government as a societal norm, which only serves to highlight where the United States lags behind in terms of our value system.

In her New York Times article "Catching Up With France on Day Care", Paris-based writer Pamela Druckerman references the latest research by Nobel laureate James J. Heckman which confirms that young children's brains and education are shaped early and it is much easier to change the course of that child's learning when they are very young.

Herein lies our problem: American early childhood education is the most expensive in the world, but its quality does not meet the expectation that warrants such a high cost. Our leaders have pledged change in the past, but we are now seeing a multiple-prong approach to Heckman's research. President Obama wants to make sure that all 4 year-olds of low-income families attend pre-kindergarten. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her "Too Small to Fail" project aimed at children from birth to 5 years old.

These changes need to occur soon, as there are still too many children advancing from elementary to middle school that cannot read or write, even by the time they reach high school. Parents and guardians who work full-time to support their families need to know that their young children are in a quality early childhood setting that is safe and thriving. Why is quality care so important? The latest figures indicate that 54% of American women with children age 3 and under are working and 63% of those with children ages 3 to 5.

Druckerman does identify one pocket of America where the French crèche has been adopted, where babies are accepted from 6 weeks old, fees are subsidized and quality is carefully monitored: The Department of Defense (which runs one of the country's largest networks of day care centers).

If we can get it done for the military, why can't we get it done for the rest of the nation?

Read "Catching Up With France on Day Care" by Pamela Druckerman here:


Cultivating Personal Truth

As preschool aged children are beginning to discover the world around them, they are also in the process of constructing their personalities and developing their own personal truths. In this sense "truth" extends beyond integrity or ethical behavior to include their individual interests, preferences and special tendencies. At this young age, they are simply trying to sort out and categorize their world. Children will move back and forth between wishes, dreams and real experiences of their own, as well as those of their peers. It is imperative that we guide children to uncover their personal truth, and do so in a way that is meaningful.

Support students by encouraging them to follow their own interests.

Children who are soft spoken or shy will more often follow the leaders in the classroom simply because the general population is participating, and they do not want to feel left out. Encourage children to forge their own trail, and remind them that having different interests is what makes everyone special. Help them to engage in conversation with their peers when they do not want to participate in certain games or activities. Letting children know that it's okay to say no will give them the confidence to explore their own potential.

Educators have a special responsibility to guide this sort of learning.

As adults, teachers, and parents we lead by example and set the framework for our children to grow. Providing a stable root system allows our children to bloom into individuals who can rely on their own intuitions, make their own decisions and feel good about the choices they make. Bringing our own interests, enthusiasm and talents to our interactions with the children could inspire a new passion or excitement for them. For example, sharing a passion and talent for classical piano could ignite a fascination in music for a child, leading to a new hobby or perhaps a future profession. Focus on helping children to begin recognizing their strengths and skills, and help them feel capable and confident.

Truth cannot be whittled down to a simple concept or singular circumstance. It is involved in every decision and situation we face. We protect our children and provide for them basic survival, food, water, shelter, and physical preservation. We want to provide emotional and intellectual exercises so they can have a strong sense of mindfulness. This requires each individual, parent and community to evaluate the aspects of their truth and how they arrived there. Attaining knowledge and truth is a lifelong process that requires the feedback and input of those we care about and trust.