Opening a preschool/daycare center is something I've been toying with for years. In college, I had big dreams about opening day care centers at places of business. I thought it would be awesome if places like hospitals or big office buildings had day care centers on site. Parents and children could be in close proximity, maybe even get together for lunch. I still think it's a great idea. Slowly however I became disillusioned with the whole business of day cares center. There was something so awful about it. On many mornings I would see sleepy children dropped off at 6:00 a.m. as parents rushed off to work, sometimes reprimanding children for wanting one more hug, one more kiss because they were going to be late. Usually it was these same children who were picked up, again in a rush, at 6:00 p.m. by harried parents thinking about what to make for dinner and how quickly could they get the kid down for the night. Day after day watching all these people on the treadmill of life left me exhausted. Watching the poor kids just left me emotionally drained.
Don't misunderstand, I never once questioned the parents love or devotion to their children. I was sure these kids were loved. I understood that living in Los Angeles usually demands two working parents. Traffic in L.A. usually demands a long commute. In fact, dropping a child off by six a.m. and picking them up by six p.m. was a heroic feat for some. I think I would have been okay with things if the day care centers offered some respite from the rush, rush, rush of daily life for the children. In fact, the centers were just as chaotic as the life outside it's doors.
Granted there is always noise and some sense of chaos when you have 12 three year olds in a classroom. Most schools had 2 to 5 year olds and increased the number of kids after two o'clock with after school care. That's a lot of kids and obviously quite a bit of noise. The thing was that even in school the kids were over scheduled. My lesson plan for instance has an activity every 15 to 20 minutes because that is the average attention span for the preschool aged set. That's a heck of a lot of activities. Then there are the lights! Goodness, fluorescent over head lighting riles me up and I think it does the same for kids. Have you ever noticed the walls at a day care center? It's difficult to focus on any one thing because they are so busy. There is usually no place to rest your eyes. Of course, there are the many, many plastic brightly colored toys. Curse you Little Tikes! When exactly does a child get to disengage? When does he have a free moment to think?
I get that parents want to feel they are getting their monies worth. If they are paying for care, they want their child to learn something, not just play all day! My question is what exactly is it that they want their child to learn? Do children need to be mini adults to have worth? Do they need to rival Einstein at age three?
Having my own children has given me a better insight to what parents want for their kids. I think most parents would agree that they want their children to be healthy, happy and successful in a career or pursuits that brings them satisfaction. Great! We have a starting point. So to be healthy you have to have a bit of luck. After all, you could do all the right things and your child can become sick. You have to have a well balanced diet over the long run. I say this because especially with children we need not fret if they decide to eat only white things for a few days. In the long run, a healthy diet will work it's magic. You need to have access to fresh air, fresh water and to nature in general. You need to have love and affection. Having all these I think would also make for some pretty happy children.
Now, the trick lies in the "successful". How can we make kids be successful? The truth of the matter is we can't. What we can do is expose kids to experiences that they can learn from. We can give them room to explore and experiment without fretting over them. We can set a daily rhythm where they can feel secure in the predictability of the day. We can trust that these same children don't need an array of brightly colored plastic toys to stimulate their imaginations. We trust that God equipped them with vivid imaginations already. We need only to allow them to put them to use. We can give children tasks that can be mastered giving them an inherent sense of accomplishment.
So I think that it's time to try something new. It's time to offer working parents, not just a place that cares for their kids, but a place where their kids can be kids, in all their glory. It's time to have a place where children can play, relax and learn, but more importantly and place where a foundation for future learning is well established. A place where children can thrive. I'm working on just such a place. Stay tuned.