Can Daycare Help Your Child Learn?

Almost three-quarters of all Canadian children attend some form of childcare, usually because both parents work outside the home. Some parents send their children into a daycare setting to improve their child’s development. But does daycare really help children learn?

Below, we pose some of the common questions about child care and show what the experts determined.

Do children who attend daycare develop better than children cared for at home by a parent?

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in the United States, children cared for exclusively in their homes by parents do not develop in different ways than those in a daycare setting. In fact, child care settings have less of an effect on kids’ development than parent and family characteristics.

Parent-child interactions are shown to have a major influence on child development. Children of attentive, responsive and sensitive parents providing positive stimulation during interaction provide better outcomes. Organized families with routines, play materials, books and other stimulating experiences enable better cognitive and social development. This means that children attending a daycare center develop similarly as children cared for within the home setting. Family and parent interaction are the biggest impacts on child development.

Are professionally operated child care centers better for children than private, in-home child care arrangements?

Aerial view of kids doing arts and crafts

This second question can be answered both positively and negatively. The NICHD study found the following results for children receiving care in a professional center:

  • Slightly better language and cognitive development
  • Higher pre-academic skills with numbers and letters
  • Less behaviour problems at ages two and three
  • Increased behaviour problems at age 4-1/2, including aggression and disobedience)

As the above findings reflect, there are benefits and drawbacks to professionally provided daycare. At the same time, these results indicate that at-home care also provides benefits and drawbacks compared to out-of-home care.

Does which child care center your child attends really matter?

It is important for a child to feel welcomed and supported in an environment that protects their safety and health. But recent studies indicate that only a slight percentage of children in daycare receive the quality of care that stimulates and promotes positive development.

Research indicates that only about one in three Canadian childcare centers encourage cognitive, social and language development in children. This is parallel to findings about U.S. daycare centers. According to the NICHD, important factors and attributes of caregivers toward higher-quality child care include:

  • Showing a positive attitude
  • Discouraging negative interactions
  • Providing positive physical contact with the children
  • Asking questions
  • Encouraging the children
  • Singing songs and reading books
  • Responding often to the child’s vocalizations
  • Encouraging and advancing the child’s behaviour

The most important factor in a child’s cognitive and language development is the language used by the person or people caring for them.

Do licensed and regulated child care centers provide better care quality than those not meeting these standards?

Most regions have government-regulated minimum standards for daycare centers and in-home child care providers. Some of the standards include adult-to-child ratios, provider training and group size. Canadian child care settings meeting these standards, whether in a professional center or in a private home, are called “regulated.”

The NICHD study affirmed that regulated child care centers provide better development outcomes than those meeting fewer standards. As well, the same organization also found a connection between regulation and the care provided in a center. The more standards a center met, the more positive the environment for children, according to the NICHD.

Finding the Best Child Care for Your Child

Whether you need an in-home child care provider, or one caring for your child outside of the home, it is important to consider the above findings. Overall, look for a childcare setting that provides the positive interaction necessary for healthy development. Also, pay attention to red flags that indicate your child is not stimulated or supported in the daycare as they should be for optimum development.