Saturday, April 14, 2007
Mommys, step one is to not think this is a blanket rule, but, yes, "you are what you eat." Sorry. Couldn't avoid that cliche 'cause it's true. I'm a man, and no I could never understand what it feels like to have a bun in the oven, but let's think through this reasonably:
1. Mom gets pregnant
2. Mom eats anything she wants.
3. Mom may eat a disproportionate amount of junk food (chips, etc.)
3.1 Mom may eat a diproportionate amount of fatty meat and fried stuff (fried chicken, greasy bacon, etc.)
3.2 Mom may not eat much green leafy stuff (lettuce, spinach, brussel sprouts, etc.)
3.3. Mom may gain more weight than she needs or desires.
4. Baby comes out a bit bigger than normal and has a danger in being overweight as a tod.
Doesn't sound too good, eh? Well try this compromise:
1. Mommy gets pregnant
2. Mommy sticks to gaining no more than 25-30 pounds as goals.
3. Mommy sticks to eating a diet overwhelmingly dominated by veggies and fiber....
4. ...but Mommy EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE indulges in one of her less healthy cravings (some fried chicken, bit of cake, some lovely chocolate)
5. Mommy sticks to 25-30 pound goal.
6. Baby comes out a normal weight and is not in any inordinate danger of being overweight as a tod.
7. MOMMY IS MORE ABLE TO SHED PREGGER'S WEIGHT AND GET BACK TO SEXY BODY QUICKER AFTER BABY.
This study is a piece of a larger study (This is a big file) done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). A lot therefore needs mentioning even before we talk about this particular study. I can't highlight everything, but I will try to cover some nuggets of info. NPR's Tom Ashbrook did a wonderful broadcast concerning this issue on his On Point Show.
The NICHD (a part of the NIH) began this study way back in 1991 with the overall focus of investigating the myriad types of non-maternal care settings that families used for children. This not only allowed for a clear understanding of what types of child care settings were used most often but also it would show the precentage of parents NOT using child care. If we focus on specifics, the larger study sought to find out (1) how children's cognitive, social, and physical attributes were affected depending the chosen child care, (2) how certain families with certain demographics (race, SES, and the lot) use certain child care, (3) how homemaker-care was better or worst than child care, (4) how child care itself (not other factors) most directly influenced child care, (5) whether particular child care settings (e.g. family day care) affected children's academic outcomes differently depending on their family/cultural background, and (6) how family characteristics (like prevalence of sensitivity, both parent's education, etc.) positively or negatively affect children who do not attend day care .
Remember, please that this is a longitudinal study split in four Phases (Infant/Toddler Phase from 1991-94 , First Grade Phase from 95-99, Second Grade Phase from 00-04, and the current Third Grade Phase lasting from o5 to now) and that 1,364 babies were taged to be tracked since 1991. Today they would be fifteen years old. All of the are no longer tracked, and the number has dwindled with each successive phase. The count at the end of Phase III was about 1,073 kids.
The study I spoke of at the beginning of this posting helps forward all six goals (although discussion in the media is focused mainly on Goals 3-5) and is focused on the development of children between 4.5 years old 11 years old. Lots of previous studies connected to the big project focused on the affects of children UP TO age 4.5 (during Phase III of the study). It reported the as the quality of child care increases, then the proficiency of a child's preacademic and languge skills increases. On the other hand, as the number of hours of child care increaes, then the prevalence of behavior problems increases, not language or preacademic skills.
Again, the study in the news in the past month focuses on the completion of Phase IV (The Third Grade Phase) and its controversial results and implications. To begin with, I see one "hole" in the data collection that must be brought out: only 293 of the children actually had complete records of all the predicted and outcome data collected. From a nit-picky standpoint, that could already cause some raised eyebrows because, in essence, only 293/1,364 children were really and truly tracked as they had intended in the first place. It makes for a small group of children and thus a possibly slightly less representational field. How do we know that 60-80% of those children were not Caucasian or that 85% of those children were African-American. Such possibilities would create a the need for a more careful method to generalize to the greater population of children.
I think the method of data collection for how often child care was used was quite good (phone interviews done everything three months for the first three years and every four months from Age 3 to now). Again, some may nitpick on having parents report on the nature of their child care arrangements in such way and may advocate surveys as a more efficient way; however, surveys can invite dishonesty and the creation of rapport through continus interviews would eventually have proven more sincere...my opinion of course as a early childhood researcher.
The reserachers also collected data (as they did throughout the entire 15 year sudy) on the quality of such child care, the type of child care, various statistical controls for maternal characteristics, parenting quality, primary school classroom experiences, after school experiences, and child outcomes (the standardized test achievement stuff). Most were done using commercial, norm-referenced instruments like the HOME for the parenting quality data. Data was analyzed using HLM (Hierarchicial Linear Modeling--see here for more info because it's way beyond the scope of this simple blog to understand).
Now, let's talk about the results/implications IN BRIEF--there only two. Remember, too, that this study reflects center care versus a parent caring for the child at home. The most obvious understanding is that only 21% of parents had their kids in center care between infancy and 4.5 years old compared to 19% who kept them home themselves (or with a relative). Please keep in mind that the data is suppose to reflect children enrolled in Head Start programs, too. So I'm am quite surprised of the low precentages in this supposedly representative population when compared to more state-wide data as compiled by the NIEER State of Preschool (another huge file). All of the other data need personal study and an Ed Research 101 overview before you can really understand it. I will address it as best as I can in later parts in layman terms.
First, (Belsky, Bruchinal, McCartney, Vandell, Clarke-Stewart, & Owen, 2007):
Sounds good, but please remember that this is a general idea and that it is focused on standardized testing. Not much is said about the type of schools that these children went to, so we can never divorce the affects of child care from the continued quality or eroding or quality as the child goes through the school system.
children who experienced higher quality early child care (of any kind)
displayed somewhat better vocabulary scores in fifth grade than did children
who experienced poorer quality care.
Second, (Belsky et. al, 2007):
children with more experience in center settings continued to manifest
somewhat more problem behaviors through sixth grade.
This can be HIGHLY miscontrued if educational experts do not explain its generality. It refers to children not ALL children in center settings. Please keep in mind that child care settings will always have both behavior-problem kids and well behaved kids whether your are in Watts or Beverly Hills. It's just like life: we have superlative people and stupid heads running around in our world. You deal with both the same way by handling what you can control: yourself. The same goes with children in child care. As parents, we must be cognizant of making sure we know that (1) quality, (2) accessiblity, and (3) affordability will be our ultimate guides in determining where we put our children.
Quality refers to ensuring that the child is in a clean safe environment, ensuring the child's caregiver is trainied in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION (just any degree will NOT do), ensuring the the center is well equipped with enough resources, and ensuring that the center is systematically run with a handbook/organized guidelines. Furthermore, the child care center must have a curriculum in place that is evidence-based/approved by the greater society of child care experts. Such a curriculum includes a predominantly play-based, not direct instruction, curriculum that requires children and adults to engage in LOTS of casual constructive dialogue. The curriculum should be well-support by a classroom with enough child accessible, age-appropriate materials utilized in a space that is not too small for the children. Lastly, the center itself must be devoted to THE FAMILY of the child by helping them meet their needs and inviting them to make decisions about the programming of the center that relfects their cultural and community lifestyles no matter where they come from.
Accessibility is exactly the way it reads: can I get there efficiently and consistently.
Driving across the town for a Grade A center is not as attractive as going right down the street to the Grade C center when doing the later will ensure that all of your bills are paid on time. Does choosing the C center hamper the child's development and increase behavior problems? It depends on the parent's involvement. If the parent is not actively visiting and checking out the center to make sure everything stated is being done, then the child will be hampered whether the center is Grade A or Grade A++++. On the other hand, if the parent is constantly volunteering, seeking parenting advice, helping his child at home, collaborating with the teacher, seeking out ways to help the community get involved, and advocating for better and better quality, then the Grade C center will work out fine. As you can see accessiblity and quality collide here as does...
Affordability! Let's face it, behavior problems are dependent on who's at your center, not necessarily on the SES or geographical location of it. Certainly, many centers in poverty-stricken areas have children with many behavioral issues, but that does not mean that affluent centers do not face similar problems but simply have the means to get kids what they need. For the centers in poverty-stricken areas, affordability is a main thing that may keep them open. Everything may be on a budget. The teachers may or may not be well trained. The center may or may not be well-equipped. The curriculum may or may not help the child feel successful...but the PARENT can control all of these simply by being there POSITIVELY interacting with the child. That's the ticket. That's what makes this research a big, but carefully worded, and controversal study.
Reflect on that, please.