As some of you may know, I have been pursuing my child care administration credential through UWM. Over the last few months, I have had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the similarities and differences between the mainstream approach to early childhood education and LifeWays model of child care. I have had lively discussions with other administrators, students, professors and early childhood professionals about our work. I have compared tuition, pay scales, programs, regulations and policies across the country.
I have also read a lot of mainstream articles, studies and academic journals on the subject. The thing that keeps coming back to me is how LifeWays is completely aligned with what the academics and researchers define as best practices for early childhood education. Yet, our practice is entirely different from the mainstream modalities. Over the course of my continuing education, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of early childhood professionals are in agreement about what children need, but something is lost in the application of this knowledge.
For example, experts agree that children need consistent, warm, nurturing care. Yet, traditional centers are modeled after primary schools. Children are separated by age and move to a new classroom every six months or year. From the mainstream point of view, the main barrier to providing continuity of care is high turnover. But, looking at the bigger picture, it is apparent that constantly moving children from teacher to teacher and class to class deprives them of the consistency that they need.
LifeWays is completely unique in our approach to continuity of care. The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards guiding principles state that “positive relationships are essential for the development of personal responsibility, capacity for self-regulation, for constructive interactions with others, and for fostering academic functioning and mastery. Warm, sensitive, and responsive interactions help children develop a secure, positive sense of self and encourage them to respect and cooperate with others.” Voices for America’s Children takes this a step further with the assertion that “stable, consistent relationships with a limited number of caregivers” is a defining characteristic of quality care.
LifeWays practices reflect our firm belief that having consistent caregivers, especially from birth to three years old and, preferably, up to primary school age, is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being. Not only do children thrive in the presence of consistent, nurturing caregivers, but they also benefit from forming relationships with people of all ages. Blended-age groupings give children the opportunity to learn and grow together, helping others with varied capacities while forming meaningful relationships with one another. The children can clearly see their place in the continuum of growing up when they are surrounded by people of all ages throughout their days. Children, families and caregivers thrive in an environment where they are continually building relationships that foster healthy growth and development. It is not enough to simply have positive interactions. Continuity of care is essential and it is the foundation of LifeWays approach to early childhood education.
Benefits of Mixed-Age Care
Healthy Attachment - Having consistent caregivers is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being.
Parents and caregivers establish long-term, trusting partnerships.
Fosters bonding and individualized care.
Older children have the opportunity to lead, instruct, assume responsibility, and nurture others. They strengthen their existing skills and knowledge through the process of tutoring others.
Younger children are exposed to more complex play, advanced language, and educational activities by observing and imitating the older children. They often learn better from other children than from adults.