Should daycare teach children?

My wife and I are expecting our first child in January and like good yuppies we are looking for full-time daycare for when our daughter reaches 4 months or so. Right now we are considering three places. One of them made a point of telling us that they start teaching the kids some basic reading, writing, counting etc skills starting in the third year. When we then asked the other two places if they did something similar they seemed surprised at the idea of trying to teach kids so young. And a couple of family members we spoke to seemed to feel that teaching anything at such an early age would be a wasted effort, or worse, would put unnecessary pressure on the kids.

I know that there are a million different schools of thought on everything related to childraising, but I wanted to see what Dopers thought about this. Since I expect most of the responses will be anecdotal I am putting this in IMHO. In case I get lots of factual information, the Mods are free to move this to GQ.


Basic reading,writing and counting is being able to say your ABCs, being able to count - probably at least to twenty, being able to write their name, and write letters, maybe knowing sight words going into Kindergarten (which isn’t uncommon). Yes, absolutely. If you were home with your kids, you’d be working on being able to count and recognize letters and write their names.

I have an anecdotal story - I think I absolutely suffered from not having daycare. I wasn’t in this country and missed a lot of the basic groundwork that a lot of other kids had, and I was a bit behind. I caught up soon enough, but it probably would have been better the other way.

Of course they should “teach.” The question is–how rigorous is the program? There’s a big middle ground between no teaching at all and trying to produce baby Einsteins. There’s no point in trying to make kids read before they’re ready or to memorize the major battles of the Civil War, but not doing any academics at all seems like a major wasted opportunity.

I really liked how they did it at my son’s day care/preschool.

They started with “school” when they were about 3, or maybe even before. The early focus was basically getting used to the idea of coming to the table and sitting down and paying attention to a lesson. The early lessons were just a few minutes long and were on subjects like “the color red.” The lessons got a little longer and a little more academic as time went on, but were never particularly long or taxing. The bulk of the time was spent on play and coloring and all the stuff that preschoolers should be doing. When he went to kindergarten, he had all the expected knowledge and was well prepared for the routine and expected behaviors of regular school.

Do the other two seriously not do any teaching at all? No colors, numbers, or letters? Saying that trying to teach a 2-3 year old anything is a waste of time is seriously underestimating them. I think my daughter is pretty smart but not super-genius level and she was able to learn the major colors, to count to ten, identify at least half the alphabet, and write her name (it’s only 3 letters) by the time she was three.

She goes to daycare and they have a teaching component. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There isn’t any pressure though. In her current class they have one letter every two weeks that they work on in “circle time”. They look at it, try to write, repeat back words that start with it, and bring in objects that start with it for “show and share”. They also have a theme every week like native americans, rocks, insects, etc. The majority of the time is still spent on strictly kids stuff like the playground, gym, and napping.:slight_smile:

A kid definitely needs to have the basics that Dangerosa mentioned by the time they get to kindergarten or they will be at a big disadvantage. I remember learning the alphabet via the “letter people” when I was in kindergarten. Apparently that doesn’t cut it anymore.

I went to preschool, not daycare, so obviously there was more learning focus, but I was 3-4 then, and I vividly remember learning a lot and loving it. I don’t remember specifically learning reading and counting, though we might have. I already knew those when I got to kindergarten, but that could have been all my parents’ doing. But I remember other things:

  • They poured colored liquid into a clear cup. Then they poured it into another cup that was skinnier (so the liquid was “taller”). They explained how it might look like more, but it was the same amount, in a different shape. Then they put some marbles in the cup, and the liquid rose higher. They explained that the marbles took up the space where some of the liquid was, and pushed it out of the way. I actually knew that already, because my parents read me Aesop’s fables.

  • They had a life-size model torso, with removable organs. They talked about what the organs were and what they did. We were also allowed to take it apart and put it together like a puzzle. That gave me a surprisingly clear understanding of anatomy.

  • They took us to a farm and talked about the animals. They told us how cows eat, then barf up their food, chew it some more, and swallow it again. They let one of our teachers put her hand in a cow’s mouth and feel the cud. They also showed us how wool was spun into yarn.

There was no pressure; they just presented us with stuff and let us absorb whatever we could. If they did do letters and numbers, I’m sure they did it in the same way. I think the fact that I remember all these things thirty years later is testament that it wasn’t a waste or a detriment in any way. And as **Green Bean **said, these were special, brief “activities”. We had maybe one a day. We also just played a lot, and whatnot.

It was probably the best time of my life.

We started Son 1.0 in a daycare setting that had an instructional base when he was about 16mos old. It wasn’t that we wanted him in school per se so much as we wanted him in an environment that stimulated him at the appropriate developmental level. A babysitter who just turned on the TV while meeting the more basic needs (food, clothes, nap) did not appeal to us as much. Of course, hubby and I had just finished our Masters in Education, so that was fresh in both of our minds.

Son 1.0 has thrived and learned, through play, counting and the alphabet. It’s not like they give homework or tests; they just have fun and games that have an educational basis. “Math” is sorting by color; “reading” is storytime, etc.

Funny, despite our shared Masters, what we learned that imprinted so strongly on both was–let the kids PLAY. Let them learn by PLAY. So, all these commercials for getting your baby to read by 18mos and the like do not entice us, and neither do we feel pressured when we hear so-and-so’s daughter is already writing her name at 3. Our son is recognizing letters and words, and it’s still a game; when he’s ready, he’ll do just fine. Rather, we try and expose him to learning opportunities–playing dominoes is a new fav, and trips to the barn to see the horse as well as a local small airport are favorite stops, too.

I’ve already figured that for Son 2.0 (due in less than 4 weeks), I’ll have him in a basic baby care setting initially as the basic needs will be what matters most to me. Then, come fall when I go back to school and he’s about 9mos old, we’ll look into a place with a developmental approach.

Just another anecdote here. My daughter just turned two, and although I’m doing the SAHM thing she does go to preschool two days a week. They definitely throw in some “academic” time, even at this young age. She’s learning colors, can count to three, and is learning how to sit at a table for “arts and crafts time” or sit on the rug for “story time.” And she’s thriving on it…when she sees me get out her school backpack and lunch pail, she gets all excited, and she drags me down the hall to her classroom when we get there. And when I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think she’s especially brilliant or anything–most kids this age can learn a little bit about the basics. No reason not to if they’re ready, and it will help them make the transition to kindergarten and beyond, as someone said upthread.

You might consider how this reflects on the level of socialization the kids at the various centers get at home. As described in this thread, kids who are getting good basic socialization at home can learn some things at this age. Kids whose socialization at home has been poor or nonexistent seem to struggle with the learning routine even at kindergarten age.

I don’t think it’s a question of if they should teach them, but how they should teach them. Your child will be spending between 30-50% of their waking hours in these people’s care–of course they should be learning during that time. But that’s what babies and kids do, they learn. Even everyday, mundane tasks can teach them something when everything is still so new. Counting buttons as you do up her coat. Pointing out objects and giving their names. Identifying animals and the noises they make. Talking about sounds and letters during storytime.
I wouldn’t want my 2 year old sitting at a table being lectured to with a powerpoint presentation, or even to sit still for an “educational” video–but throw a new experience at him, talk to him about it, and he can’t help but learn something. Point being, make sure the school’s “teaching” style is realistic when it comes to how they expect babies and young toddlers to learn.

I learned to read before age 3, just from sitting in my mom’s lap while she read me stories. When I started pointing out that she’d missed a word, Mom figured I was memorizing them through repetition, bought a couple new books, and said I should read to her. And I surprised the heck out of her when I did just that - struggling on unfamiliar words, of course.

I agree with the others who said to check into how the teaching is done. TV/videos - not so much, but playing, reading stories, interactive stuff that can help the kids learn too are wonderful things.

This is exactly the curriculum in first year of kindergarten here. (They learn to count backwards from 10 as well). If it’s expected knowledge for your kid going into kindergarten, they should probably learn it. If they’re going to learn it then anyway, then it would be a waste of time to learn it before, and might make them think school is boring and dumb.

You said ‘in the third year’ - does than mean from age 2? That seems a little young to be worrying about numbers and letters. They need to be learning social skills, motor control skills, a million things about how the world works. I wonder about the day cares who aren’t going to teach anything, but I also wonder about a day care who can’t think of anything better to teach than numbers and letters.

thanks. From the responses so far it looks like not only do people agree that kids should be given some basic teaching from an early age, but that most (US?) programs do offer some teaching. I wonder if maybe it comes down to differing definitions in these daycares of what constitutes ‘teaching’ as such. Perhaps we need to be more specific when we ask them.

To answer Weedy, by ‘from the third year’ I mean from 3 years old, which technically would be from the 4th year of life (at least I think this is what that daycare meant).

Out of curiosity, has anyone had their kid in a daycare that does not ‘teach’ in any form?

When I was a wee babe, I went to “daycare.” The care givers would ask learning type questions (“What color is your coat today?” or “How many tricycles are there on the playground?”) but there was never actual lessons or sit-down learning time.

I did just fine in school, but it did take me quite a while to learn to tie my shoes.

This Cracked artcle, " 7 things dat “good” parents do that screw up kids for life" says that you shouldn’t teach kids stuff, “school style” before age six.

Ha. Maybe they’re right - I didn’t start school until kindergarten and I was out of my house at 19. :slight_smile:

More anecdotes: The Littlest Briston went to a home-based day care where they spent a good amount of time on educational activities. When she was three, we were at a restaurant and she was coloring on the placemat. I ordered a burger with mushrooms, and TLB said to me “Daddy, how do you spell ‘mushroom’?”.

“Sound it out,” I said to her. I didn’t expect much, but she had started figuring out how to sound out short words.

“Mmmmm…mmmmm. M!
Uhhhhh…uhhhh. U!”
…and so on. A minute later, this was on her placemat.

So, yeah…it likely helps. Whether it’s at all meaningful down the road is a whole other matter.

Consider the Ayn Rand School for Tots. “Helping is Futile”