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Early Education Programs For Toddlers: Are They Essential?

I work from home and send JD who is 2 1/2-years-old to day care (some say I'm wasting money and should be able to work and take care of him at the same time--OK). Until JD was two he worked with me. Let’s face it, babies eat a lot and sleep a lot, so it was easy to be productive when he was younger because his epic naps afforded me peace and quiet to work (most of the time he napped in the swing that I positioned next to my desk). I cringe every month when I write the tuition check (it’s a lot on top of my other monthly expenses and thank God for the NJ day care tax credit)—but a new study made me smile and OK, then cringe when I wrote the June check.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health released a study Thursday that concludes children who attend high-quality day care centers as infants and toddlers do slightly better on academic tests at age 15. This is good news, I suppose, but it also makes me roll my eyes a bit.

See, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and my brothers and I didn’t attend any sort of day care program until we started pre-school at age four (did you?). I also have mom friends who didn’t enroll their toddlers in a program because they aren’t currently working in their profession, but I do know they are serious when it comes to socializing their kids, be it at the park or a play-date, as well as working on colors, shapes, ABC's and 123's. Sure, JD goes to school and follows a curriculum—his daily activity sheet boasts about the new sign and Spanish word he learned, the art project he created, the story read at circle time, the numbers, letters, shapes galore he can identify, social, physical and emotional activities, but I don’t think any of it is out of my doing (in high school I worked at a day care in the 2-year-old classroom after school). On the two days he’s home with me, we do all of the same stuff he does in the classroom (minus the sign and Spanish), in addition to meet friends at the park so he can play with kids his own age.

That said, I don’t think parents should beat themselves up about studies like the one above, especially in this economy. As a single parent, I have no choice when it comes to JD attending school three days a week because I have to work full-time and can’t get anything done when he’s home (he invades my office and says, “Mommy get up!”), plus it’s not fair for me to put him in front of Sesame Street while I send out emails or work on assignments—frankly, when he’s home, my concentration on work is LOST. It's gone, baby, gone!

Tip: I recently stuck this worksheet to the fridge. I think it’s a great tool for parents, regardless if their toddler is in or not in a school program. Check it out and see where your toddler is at, when it comes to the various language, social and emotional, math and physical and wellness bullet points. I checked "no" for some and it’s nice to know what JD and I should work on together, because parents and teachers are a team when it comes to a child’s education and potential!

Tell me what you think of the above study and if your toddler is currently enrolled in a program (why or why not). What types of learning activities do you do at home with your child? (Sometimes JD and I go on shape and color hunts. We hunt around the condo for circles and things that are red.)