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Why Day Care Is Not the Same as School

Stop Calling Day Care School!

STOP CALLING DAY CARE "SCHOOL."

Say it with me: it's called day care. And that's OK.

If you send your kid to a place where grown-ups take care of him or her, and your kid is under the age of 3, it's not school. Stop calling it school. This is damaging to everyone involved.

In my perception, parents who send their kids to day care experience a ton of guilt and grief from other parents, friends, family members, the media, etc. As a result, many of these parents start calling day care "school" to feel less guilty, because it's somehow more acceptable to have your kid in school than it is in day care.

This is insane. School is its own thing. Day care is about care, for the day. Of course you want your kid to learn something, but the difference between school and day care is the intent. During the day, you're under-preschool-aged kid should be loved. Fed. Listened to. Played with. Cared for. You know, like day care.

School is where they read and write and listen and sit still and pay attention. Later, there's plenty of time for that. Don't rush your baby! Confusing day care with school is damaging to all of us — whether your kids attend day care or not — on many levels. Here are six reasons why:

1. This is damaging to you.

Your expectations are going to cause you major grief if you're hoping your 2-year-old is going to come home knowing basic math. Parenting is a whole exercise in letting go. Letting go of your own needs, sometimes, and letting go of your ability to control and plan everything. Do you want your kid to be reading at age 3 or do you want him to be happy? If you're telling yourself that your little one is in school, you're immediately setting yourself up for disappointment. And you're out of touch with what's developmentally appropriate for toddlers. Not to mention the emotional toll that idea will take on your kid . . .

2. This is damaging to your kid.

Children learn from play. Don't expect them to learn academics when they're not yet capable. They will sense your disappointment.
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Children learn from play. Don't expect them to learn academics when they're not yet capable. They will sense your disappointment. Just freaking love them, OK? There's plenty of time for academics. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes studies constantly about the importance of play for brain development, physical health, social development, and every other positive thing you could imagine.

When you call it school, you're shaping your child's lifelong association of what school is supposed to feel and look like. If their day care situation is play-based, then later, upon entering real school around first grade, your son or daughter might be really disappointed that "school" isn't like "school" was. If you can instead start from a place of delineating between work and play, you will, as silly as it seems, set your kid up for a healthy, lifelong work-life balance.

3. This is damaging to your daycare situation.

If day care providers feel like parents want them to teach kids all day, that's less time they can spend being kind to your kid and changing his diaper and getting him a snack. Focus on what toddlers actually need. You're outsourcing the parent-type care, so don't expect them to do the love part AND the academic part. That can't be their job. If you were home with your kid full-time, would you be drilling him or her with math textbooks? No, you'd be at the park! Don't ask your caregivers to do more than you would do yourself.

4. This is damaging to the world.

In the US, our priorities are all out of whack (hello, health care!) and one way this is obvious is in our education system. By confusing day care with school, we have ended up in a system that starts kids in kindergarten-type learning situations when they're 3! And they're just not capable of sitting still that long or learning long division or even playing in groups! In Finland, kids don't start school until age 7 sometimes. And what do they do until then if their parents work? Day care. No shame, that's just what it's called. And they get to play and be loved and be kids, because there's no ridiculous unrealistic expectation about what they're supposed to be learning.

5. This is damaging to your finances.

If you're spending extra money so that your 6-month-old can learn geometry, you're missing the boat. Focus on the developmental needs of your kid, for real. What does a 6-month-old need? To be held, to be hugged, to be fed the appropriate things at the appropriate times. We need to get out of the rat race of ever-escalating expectations and choose child care that fits our values, not societally imposed ideas of keeping up with the Joneses, Kardashians, or otherwise.

6. This is damaging to other people.

Those who cannot afford private schools or nannies or fancy day care are being told every day that their kids are "behind" when they start public kindergarten. Stop the madness, people! Five-year-olds have such a range of acceptable developmental stages and we have to stop expecting them to be robots who know everything and sit still nine hours a day. By choosing to send your kid to "school" at age 1, you're implying to the rest of her peers that they can't possibly measure up.

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