Canoe News

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

StatsCan report has stay-at-home moms up in arms

By DAWN MCCOY-ULLRICH
Canoe Financial

HINTON, ALBERTA -- Almost 60 percent of Canadian women work outside of the home -- either by choice or because of circumstances. Working mothers are now becoming the norm rather than the exception. This means childcare is left to someone other than the parents. The decision on first, whether to work outside the home and, then choosing the appropriate childcare can be difficult and stressful.

Lately the benefits of daycare have been heralded in the media because children develop social skills at an earlier age and, in the right daycare, learning begins when the children are still infants (well maybe toddlers). To add to this, the October 14, 1999 edition of The Daily, a Statistics Canada newsletter (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/991014/d991014a.htm), reported that children who are enrolled in early childhood programs and day-care centres appear to get a head start in school over youngsters who stay at home with a parent.

In the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, the kindergarten performances of children who attended early childhood programs, day-care centres or received care from a paid worker such as a nanny, a non-relative or a relative other than a parent, were compared with a group of children who stayed at home with either parent. Two years later, the children in the first group did better in kindergarten and Grade 1 in terms of communication skills, learning skills reading comprehension, mathematical skills and understanding of concepts of time.

An October 15 headline in the Edmonton Journal reading "Stay-at-home moms may risk kids' progress" outlining the key points in the report has stay-at-home moms up in arms. "The decision to stay at home is one made with a great deal of thought and generally involves some economic and professional sacrifice", says Karen Girard, a Human Resources practitioner who made the choice to become a stay-at-home mom. While at home, Girard organized activities with each of her three children that she felt prepared them well for kindergarten. Girard also attended a community playgroup with each of her children and enrolled them in a preschool program. The study seems to suggest that stay-at-home moms do not interact with their children or take them anywhere, which is far from reality in most households.

Being reduced to a single income family without the income and tax advantages of both parents working is a choice parents make to ensure their children are being brought up to their own standards. They consciously make the choice to be the primary influence in their children's lives rather than, as many put it, have someone else raise their children. Now a government-financed survey comes along and suggests they are doing damage to their children by making this choice and that daycare is better for kids than staying at home with parents.

While the study suggests preschoolers who are involved in outside activities learn social skills that could potentially benefit them in the structured environment of kindergarten, there are certainly no guarantees. I have one son who had some difficulty in Kindergarten and half of Grade 1. He spent two years in preschool several mornings a week and attended a playgroup (with myself) since he was born. Now, in Grade 3, he is the top of his class in reading and mathematics. I have another son (maybe son is the operative word here?) in Grade 1, who was involved in the same preschool activities and is currently experiencing the same difficulties. I have every belief he will be fine once he settles down and learns to listen and work within the structure.

Is being able to listen better than your classmates and being advanced in Mathematics in Grade 1 an indication of performance in later grades? In fact, some studies have also shown that children who are ahead of classmates academically before attending school often find themselves bored in these very important years.

Unfortunately, some people may interpret this study to mean the best thing for your children is to put them in daycare. But since when has academic achievement been placed before being the primary influence in your children's lives? And is putting your children in a learning environment at a very early age positive? Children need time to be kids. Once they reach kindergarten age, the learning begins and for a minimum of 13 years, children will be pressured to learn and do well academically. Then they are pressured to go college or university to further their education. Is it really necessary to start this process earlier?

On the other hand, this study should relieve some of the guilt felt by working parents. Many feel that daycare or babysitters cannot provide the same environment as being a home with a parent, but often have few choices either for economic or career reasons. Knowing there are some advantages to daycare can put some minds at ease.

Copyright © 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.