I began my formal career at the US Department of Education managing federal grant programs that supported educators of very young children. Early childhood education has been my first love in education policy—help the youngest students have a strong start in life, and you get a strong return on investment (specifically, a $7 return for every $1 invested on early childhood education, on average).
I work with a premier early childhood public charter school in DC. I spend much time considering what quality early childhood care looks like, including the environment and teacher-child interactions.
We were fortunate to find an amazing in-home childcare provider when Bug was five months old, via a friend’s reference. We looked at her place only—write a deposit check, no long search. In the year-and-a-half that Bug has been with this woman and her assistants, she has learned manners and said words in several languages. She has been loved and made friends. It’s been a fantastic experience.
We realized in February that it was time for Bug to move on, as she had become nearly the biggest and oldest child there. It was clear she had outgrown this wonderful environment. For a week I was heartbroken—emotional and upset at a sudden need for change. I would tear up when Bug said the provider’s name, knowing that in a few weeks she would no longer see her. I knew Bug would leave eventually of course, and could see that she was already aging out. I thought we could wait until September to make a clean cut for either a new childcare or a preschool. I wasn’t sure if at two-and-a-half, Bug would really need proper preschool in September. Perhaps we could save that experience, and our money, for the following September.
I spent that week doing Internet research, and I put 50 preschool names into a spreadsheet just to sort it all out (a spreadsheet I plan to share with the Vienna Moms). I made phone calls and visited eight childcares and preschools. Not only was I looking for the right fit for Bug’s personality, I was seeking a high quality care environment that I am familiar with through my work. It was exhausting, and only added to my propensity for spontaneous crying during those days. I saw too many programs that had about 50% of things I liked, and a strong 50% of things I didn’t. It actually spurred a new business development idea for me: performing audits to put these centers further into the realm of high quality. I stuck a pin in that.
Along the way, I felt a constant tension that I would be squashing her exploratory spirit by giving her structure so she can function in a world of rules and systems. But according to the culturally dated yet developmentally relevant book I’m reading, Your Two Year Old: Terrible or Tender, “Two needs routine.”
At 3pm on Friday of that week, we made a decision on a place. I believe we found a gem of a program that is a mix of childcare and preschool. I learned from this experience that, as obvious as this may seem, childcare is not finite. This new childcare could be the right match, or we can find that Bug needs something different in a few months time. It will be all right if we need to switch her once or twice more before we all get to kindergarten.
Following are the programs I looked at that I really like, that are also still on the table for the future: