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My sweet little daughter called me “Miss Linda” all weekend. She even called her grandma “Miss Linda.” Miss Linda is her teacher at daycare, and she doesn’t look anything like me. My daughter isn’t accidentally mixing us up because we look alike. She is mixing us up because she loves us both. When I woke Prim up yesterday, I put my hand on her little forehead and rubbed her hair. She woke up and said, “Mom, Miss Linda is warm like you are.” I asked her what she meant and full of expression she said, “When Miss Linda wakes me up from nap she pats me real easy like this and she’s warm just like you are.” I have already shared these stories with Miss Linda because I want her to know how important she is and that she isn’t just making a difference from 8:20ish-3:30 Tuesday-Friday for our family. Her impact, and the impact of the other teachers, transcends far beyond the actual time they are present with children. I’ve seen the other children run up and accidentally call the teachers “mom.” I’ve listened as my daughter plays with her toys in her bedroom and recites the nursery rhymes, lullabies, and bible verses that her teachers have taught her. I’ve tried to capture in my memory her excitement as she tells me about her day, because I know how quickly she is growing up. I’ve thanked God for her teachers, for who they are, for their kindness, and prayed that He will bless their lives and the lives of their families.

So often childcare providers, whether they are in a daycare setting, a home environment, or a public school program, are not given the full appreciation they deserve. The statistics are clear. Start Early, an organization championing early education for nearly forty years, echoes tons of other voices and studies who all recognize and advocate for the importance of early childhood education. Start Early reports, “The first five years of a child’s life are the most important for healthy development and long-term well-being. The experiences and relationships formed during this period of rapid brain development build a foundation for future learning and success.” They also share the following crucial points about children who are in early learning and care programs of good quality: “Are 25% more likely to graduate high school, are 4x more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, earn up to 25% more in wages as an adult.” The link between brain development at young ages and future success is astounding. Arizona PBS through Arizona State University confirms these ideas: “The human brain — the command center of the entire body — is not fully developed at birth. A newborn’s brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year and keeps growing to about 80 percent of adult size by age three and 90 percent — nearly full grown — by age five. A newborn has all of the brain cells (neurons) they’ll have for the rest of their life, but what really makes the brain work are the connections (synapses) between those cells. In early childhood, these connections are made at an amazing rate — at least one million new neural connections every second, far more than at any other time in life.”

Early childhood education has been around for a long time, but Smart Start reports that in 1960 only about 10% of three and four year old’s in the U.S. were in a classroom setting. As more women began to work outside of the home, this began to change and more and more families needed help caring for their children during working hours. Those who work in early childhood education become more than a job title to the families they support. They often become friends, and then family, and they often spend more time with the child than members of the child’s own extended family. They are a crucial part of the child’s physical, social, and emotional well being. They are a first reporter to Social Services when something isn’t right. They love, protect, and educate children to the best of their ability, maintain their own education and credentials required by their state, and often don’t get paid nearly what they deserve. How could we ever pay them what they are truly worth? The service they provide means a child has a safe and happy learning environment and an opportunity to interact with other children. The service they provide is a comfort to a parent, sneaking out with tears in their own eyes as they hear their child cry at those initial drop offs as the experienced teacher tells them, “Go, go – it will be fine.” The service they provide is a service to society – growing the minds of the next generation to be thinkers, to be problem solvers, to be kind, to be able to communicate, to share the slide or the swings with kids whose culture, religion, race, etc. may not be the same as their own. Childcare can also provide an early opportunity to love and bond with adults who may have a different skin color. What matters is the heart and the way we treat other people, and my child at 4 years old is able to internalize these truths not only because of what I have taught her, but also from her own experiences. Hearing her call me “Miss Linda” is beautiful.

This holiday season, I encourage you to reflect on those who care for the littlest ones in your life and then tell them what it means to your family. Show them your appreciation. In the midst of the caregiving, I’m sure it is sometimes easy for them to forget the immensity of their influence.

I know for me and my family, we couldn’t do life the same without them. My girls have been enriched by the influences of teachers at their daycare and we are forever grateful. Every hug, every feeding, every diaper change, every first step, every potty training attempt, every tear, every nap time wake up, every boo boo, every gentle correction, every picture day a mom like me totally forgot – those things have not gone unnoticed. Before you know it, your child is 5 and beginning Kindergarten. Don’t forget their beginning. Don’t forget the first teachers and caregivers who were there to love and support your family through those wonderful and challenging years.

Resources used:

“Early childhood brain development has lifelong impact.” Arizona PBS Arizona State University, azpbs.org/2017/11/early-childhood-brain-development-lifelong-impact/#:~:text=90%20Percent%20of%20a%20Child’s%20Brain%20Develops%20by%20Age%205&text=Incredibly%2C%20it%20doubles%20in%20size,full%20grown%20%E2%80%94%20by%20age%20five. Accessed 11 Nov. 2020.

“History of Preschool in the US.” smart start Each child. Every community., The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., 2020, www.smartstart.org/history-of-preschool-in-the-us/.

START EARLY Champions for Early Learning. START EARLY, 2020, startearly.org/who-we-are/?ms=FY21-ONG-PSG-GOO-GEN-XXX.

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