One of the easiest ways to waste young minds is for parents to park their children at a day care center run by disengaged adults who view their jobs as little more than group baby-sitting. There’s a passive, unthinking quality to this kind of child care, with heavy emphasis on television sets and cartoon-watching, that assumes there’s nothing better to do with a child’s time.

As long as day care center operators are making money, why should they complain? As long as desperate parents have someone supervising their children during work hours, they’re OK. That seems to be the prevailing reality in low-income neighborhoods all around Dallas and Fort Worth.

The lack of adult interaction, often for 10 hours a day, means poor young children aren’t acquiring basic vocabulary and socialization skills. All of which helps explain why thousands of young children enter kindergarten each year already behind, already at risk of academic failure.

This is one way the poverty cycle perpetuates itself, and it can’t be reversed without a concerted effort to transform the passive day care formula into an active, educational experience. A North Texas organization, Educational First Steps, is doing just that at more than 90 facilities around Dallas, Tarrant and Hunt counties. The nonprofit, which coordinates with Dallas ISD and has been recognized by Mayor Mike Rawlings, will showcase its excellent work at an early childhood education conference on Feb. 16 in Dallas.

The transformation process isn’t easy or quick, says executive director John Breitfeller. When Educational First Steps specialists arrive at many of these facilities, they find unstructured, unsafe conditions where children typically wander with minimal supervision. TV sets are everywhere. Day care workers make little or no attempt to stimulate children by reading to them. Some workers don’t even know how to read.

Day care centers must apply to enter the EFS program and agree to make substantive changes. The nonprofit covers the cost to make facilities safe, eliminating sharp edges, altering locks and doors, and installing kid-friendly equipment. It brings in trainers to slowly create a structured classroom environment and turn a day care facility into an accredited early learning center. Special emphasis goes to pre-literacy, pre-numeracy, and social and emotional skills development.

A recently completed six-year study by the University of Texas at Dallas found that, among 3,557 students whose progress could be tracked through DISD, children at EFS-mentored day care centers outperformed other DISD students in first- and second-grade math. They had higher reading skills and lower absenteeism rates.

Public schools are under such intense scrutiny these days, with lawmakers, educators and parents growing nervous about the future. We won’t claim that EFS is the entire solution, but it certainly puts the focus on a much-overlooked aspect of the educational equation.

Reformulating day care

You realize, literally, it’s just a place to park your kid. And those kids, when they go to school, have absolutely no foundation. … After we are through with it, you basically have reformulated that day care into a set of classrooms, segregated by age group … and you now have teachers teaching.”


By *John Breitfeller*, executive director, Educational First Steps

Source: Dallas Morning News –