In the video, 42-month old Sam uses the play structures at a park to imagine the sequence of events needed to ride a bus. Although he has never been on a school bus and has only taken a city bus twice in his life, Sam has learned enough about taking a bus through his pretend play, by listening to stories/books about riding a bus, or by singing songs about buses. He tells us in the video that he needs to look for a bus stop, ride the bus and get off the bus to get to a destination. He uses age-appropriate vocabulary words such as “vehicle,” reflecting his understanding of word categories that are appropriate during a conversation about riding a bus. He uses sequencing vocabulary words such as “first” (inaudible) and “then” while describing how bus-riding works.
Sam’s play and conversation at the park were rich in language, emotional, social, and sensory experiences. This is not a one-time occurrence for Sam. He is fortunate enough to visit a wide variety of parks and play areas in the metropolitan area in which we live with either me, since I work part-time, or with his babysitters that care for him in his home. By way of visiting many different parks, museums, and play areas, as well as by moving through a day with me or his sitters (e.g., going to the dry cleaner, to the market, etc.), there are countless opportunities to build vocabulary and other crucial school readiness skills while taking in his surroundings.
Seeing Sam at this park makes me worry for infants and toddlers who remain within the same “four walls” of a home daycare (i.e., receiving care in licensed daycare in someone’s home) or center-based child care setting. I am aware that there are walks in the neighborhood surrounding a home daycare or center-based child care setting as well as a playground-type experience on the home or center’s property. Some home care providers and center employees may even take infants and toddlers beyond their immediate physical environment to have a “field trip” experience at a museum, park, grocery store, bank, or another place that Sam gets to visit on a frequent basis. But, my guess is that most children in full-time home daycare or center-based child care settings mostly stay put in their immediate surroundings 40 or more hours a week.
It should give all of us something to think about. How can a child who is stimulated by/in mostly one setting develop the same level of vocabulary, emotional, social or sensory experiences as a child who has a much wider variety of experiences? If we truly want our early education programs for 3- and 4- year olds, such as Head Start, or our public schools to be able to educate children equally as well, then they must all arrive to preschool or school programs with the experiences that Sam and other children like him have received from the beginning of their lives. It’s simply silly for any of us to think that children who have poor or limited brain stimulation from birth to 3 years old will be as ready for school as those children who had rich experiences either at home with a parent/care provider and/or excellent, quality care in a home daycare or center-based child care setting with a wide variety of “outside world” experiences.