For Family Child Care Providers, Attaining a Degree Presents Unique Difficulties

Blog Post
April 17, 2018

To facilitate interaction among ideas presented in Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators, Series Editor Stacie G. Goffin offers opening comments. For readers new to the Series, her introduction explains the series' intent.

A family child care provider, Josephine Queen, builds from Tracy Elhert's blog encouraging in-home providers to embrace continued learning and development, including higher education degrees. Although Elhert conditioned her argument on financial and other supports being available to support this aspiration, Queen contends this goal must consider the context that makes family child care unique — both in terms of its delivery and its relationships with children and families. Too often, she argues, these unique qualities go unrecognized, diminishing family child care providers' chances for advancing their education and their status as a part of the early childhood education delivery system.

According to Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I agree. It’s not only a powerful tool; it opens doors to endless opportunities. So it stands to reason that someone who spends her days educating young children should also have an education. But what does this entail? Is a four-year degree as presently designed the best indicator of being educated? Is its present structure conducive to further educating those of us educating and caring for children in family child care settings? I think not.

Tracy Elhert contends, “in-home childcare providers need basic child development knowledge and training on developmentally appropriate practices.” I run a family child care, and I have an associate’s degree in Child Development, which I earned prior to starting my business. So I agree with her premise, but too often the unique challenges this presents for practicing family child care providers are overlooked.

Consequently, Elhert and I disagree when it comes to believing that becoming educated is dependent on family child care providers investing in “more formal education.” My resistance comes from knowing Elhert’s aspiration is not easily attainable because of our work’s unique context; costs associated with earning a degree, and our sector’s insufficient access to supports such as those described by Sue Russell. In my estimation, Elhert underestimates the impact of these variables in her advocacy for degreed family child care providers.

The family child care providers I know tend to be working or lower class, living paycheck to paycheck. This makes attaining a formal education degree financially out of reach for most of us. Some also are single parents and lack resources to pay for child care while attending classes. Plus, running a home-based business means few of us can carve out time to gain the required practical experience and requisite hours needed for degrees since, typically, working in one’s own home child care under one’s own supervision and tutelage is not credit-bearing.

Finally, as family child care providers, we are responsible for every aspect of our business, including purchasing equipment such as books, toys, furniture, food, and arts and craft and first aid supplies. Our evenings and weekends are spent preparing and organizing children’s learning environment for the next day. Time-wise and financially, we are stretched thin.

Sue Russell writes about North Carolina’s success in providing scholarships and support to early childhood educators, including family child care providers, and how their availability transformed the education level of North Carolina’s workforce. Too often, though, home child care providers are not included in these kinds of initiatives. As an alternative, All Our Kin provides us customized training and workshops, mentors and support, and resources. But similar agencies are not nationally available.

One way for higher education to become more feasible for family child care providers, however, is by having our daily experiences recognized when exploring how to boost the education level of the early childhood education (ECE) workforce. Our experiences with children should count towards education degrees we either voluntarily seek out or are required to obtain. Physicist Richard Feynman perhaps best expressed the merit of experiences such as those in abundance in family child care settings when he stated, “you can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts.”

We, as family child care educators, are immersed in the lives of the children we care for and teach. We know each one’s uniqueness and soul. We know what they love to play with, which toys or activities they prefer, which projects they delve into, and which they steer clear of. We know who loves to get muddy and dirty and covered in paint; we know which ones prefer to stay clean, which ones love bugs, which ones love water, and which ones cringe at the feel of grass between their toes. We adjust the learning environment and plan activities to reflect their needs and preferences. We know their parents’ fears, concerns, and hopes, too.

Too often higher education institutions ignore these hard-earned insights. These experiences with children and what we learn each day from them deserve recognition in the form of credit hours towards attaining a higher education degree.

Albert Wat noted that “States and communities have helped teachers with diverse backgrounds obtain higher education by investing in strategies like peer support programs, scholarships and grants, articulation between two-year and four-year colleges, and ways to give current teachers credit for their experience and competencies.” Yet, too often, family child care providers don’t have access to these opportunities. A standard expectation for the education level required of all early childhood educators, including family child care providers, would be ideal. But we need to have access to the same resources and funding provided to the rest of the ECE workforce. Course credit for the experiential learning that comes from directly interacting with children also needs to accompany formal classroom preparation.

A degree recognizing our formal education level is all well and good, but becoming part of children’s lives needs to be recognized, too. I support family child care providers attaining higher education degrees, as long as the obstacles are acknowledged and appropriate supports are provided.

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