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Nurturing and teaching preschool children, those who are 5 years old or younger, is the job of preschool teachers and child-care workers. Found in daycare centers, nursery schools, preschools, and family daycare homes, these workers play an important role in a child's development by caring for the child when the parents are at work or away for other reasons. Some parents enroll their children in nursery schools or child-care centers primarily to provide them with the opportunity to interact with other children. In addition to attending to children's basic needs, these workers organize activities that stimulate the children's physical, emotional, intellectual, and social growth. They help children explore their interests, develop their talents and independence, build self-esteem, and learn how to behave with others.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers must work in two different worldsthe child's and the parent's. At the same time that they create a safe, comfortable environment in which children can grow and learn, they must also keep records of each child's progress and discuss the children's progress and needs with the parents. They must try to involve the parents as much as possible in the child's learning process, encouraging parents to increase their child's learning and development at home. Some preschools and daycare centers actively recruit parent volunteers to work with the children and participate in administrative decisions and program planning.
Most preschool teachers and child-care workers perform a combination of basic care and teaching duties. Through many basic care activities, preschool teachers and child-care workers provide opportunities for children to learn. For example, a worker who shows a child how to tie a shoe teaches the child and also provides for that child's basic care needs. Through their experiences in preschool and child-care programs, children learn about trust and gain a sense of security.
Young children cannot be taught in the same manner as older students because they are less physically, emotionally, and mentally developed. Children at this age learn mainly through play. What results is a less structured approach to teaching preschool children, including small group lessons, one-on-one instruction, and learning through creative activities, such as art, dance, and music. Interaction with their peers is an important part of early childhood development. Preschool children are given an opportunity to engage in conversation and discussions, and learn to play and work cooperatively with their classmates. Preschool teachers and child- care workers play a vital role in preparing children to build the skills they will need in elementary school.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers greet children as they arrive, help them remove outer garments, and teach them how to dress and undress. When caring for infants, they feed and change them. In order to ensure a well-balanced program, preschool teachers and child-care workers prepare daily and long-term schedules of activities. Each day's activities must balance individual and group play with quiet and active time. Children must be given some freedom to participate in activities in which they are interested. Recognizing the importance of play, preschool teachers and child-care workers build their program around it. They capitalize on children's play to further language development (storytelling and acting games), improve social skills (working together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox), and introduce scientific and mathematical concepts (balancing and counting blocks when building a bridge or mixing colors when painting). (A statement on teacher aideswho assist classroom teachersappears elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Helping to keep children healthy is an important part of the job. Preschool teachers and child-care workers serve nutritious meals and snacks and teach good eating habits and personal hygiene. They see to it that children have proper rest periods. They spot children who may not feel well or show signs of emotional or developmental problems and discuss these matters with their supervisor and the child's parents. In some cases, preschool teachers and child-care workers help parents identify programs that will provide basic health services.
Early identification of children with special needs, such as those with behavioral, emotional, physical, or learning disabilities, is important to improve their future learning ability. Special education teachers often work with these preschool children to provide the individual attention they need. (Special education teachers are covered in a separate statement in the Handbook.)
Preschool care facilities may be in private homes, schools, religious institutions, workplaces where employers provide care for employees' children, or private buildings. Individuals who provide care in their own homes are generally called family daycare providers. (Child-care workers who work in the child's home are covered in the statement on private household workers found elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Watching children grow, enjoy learning, and gain new skills can be very rewarding. Working with children, preschool teachers and child-care workers often improve their communication, learning, and other personal skills. Also, the work is never routine; each day is marked by new activities and challenges. However, child care can be physically and emotionally taxing, as workers constantly stand, walk, bend, stoop, and lift to attend to each child's interests and problems. Preschool teachers and child-care workers must be enthusiastic and constantly alert, anticipate and prevent problems, deal with disruptive children, and provide fair but firm discipline. They must be able to communicate effectively with the children and their parents, as well as other teachers and child-care workers.
To ensure that children receive proper supervision, State regulations require certain ratios of workers to children. The ratio varies with the age of the children. Child development experts generally recommend that a single caregiver be responsible for no more than 3 or 4 infants (less than 1 year old), 5 or 6 toddlers (1 to 2 years old), or 10 preschool-age children (between 2 and 5 years old).
The working hours of preschool teachers and child-care workers vary widely. Daycare centers are generally open year round with long hours so that parents can drop off and pick up their children before and after work. Daycare centers employ full-time and part- time staff with staggered shifts to cover the entire day. Some workers are unable to take regular breaks during the day due to limited staffing. Public and many private preschool programs operate during the typical 9- or 10-month school year, employing both full-time and part-time workers. Many preschool teachers may work extra unpaid hours each week on curriculum planning, parent meetings, and occasional fundraising activities. Family daycare providers have flexible hours and daily routines, but may work long or unusual hours to fit parents' work schedules. Some preschool employees suffer burnout due to long hours, stressful conditions, and low pay and benefits. Turnover in the occupation is high.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers held over 1 million jobs in 1994. Many worked part time. About 4 out of 10 preschool teachers and child-care workers are self-employed, most of whom are family daycare providers.
Over 60 percent of all salaried preschool teachers and child-care workers are found in child daycare centers and preschools, and about 15 percent work for a religious institution. The rest work in other service organizations and in government. Some employers run for-profit operations; many are affiliated with a local or national chain. Other employers, such as religious institutions, community agencies, school systems, and State and local governments, are nonprofit. A growing number of business firms operate daycare centers for the children of their employees.
The training and qualifications required of preschool teachers and child-care workers vary widely. Each State has licensing requirements that regulate caregiver training, ranging from a high school diploma, to community college courses, to a college degree in child development or early childhood education. Some States require continuing education for workers in this field. For instance, Virginia requires that all workers in daycare centers receive 8 hours of courses related to child care each year. Formal education requirements in some private preschools and daycare centers are often lower than in public programs since they are not bound by State requirements. Often, child-care workers can obtain employment with a high school diploma and minimal experience.
Many States prefer preschool teachers and child-care workers to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which is offered by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition. The CDA credential is recognized as a qualification for teachers and directors in 46 States and the District of Columbia. There are two ways to become a CDA-through direct assessment or by completing the Council's 1-year training program. Direct assessment is appropriate for people who already have some background and experience in early childhood education, while the training program is designed for people with little or no child development education or experience. To receive the credential, the applicant must demonstrate knowledge and skills acquired through formal training or experience, that meet certain nationally recognized standards for working with young children, to a team of child-care professionals from the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition.
Some employers may not require a CDA credential, but may require secondary or postsecondary courses in child development and early childhood education, and possibly work experience in a child-care setting. Other schools require their own specialized training. For example, Montessori preschool teachers must complete an additional year of training after receiving their bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related field. Public schools typically require a bachelor's degree and State teacher certification. Teacher training programs include a variety of liberal arts courses, courses in child development, student teaching, and prescribed professional courses, including instruction in teaching gifted, disadvantaged, and other children with special needs.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers should be mature, patient, understanding, and articulate, and have energy and physical stamina. Skills in music, art, drama, and storytelling are also important. Those who work for themselves must have business sense and management abilities.
As preschool teachers and child-care workers gain experience, they may advance to supervisory or administrative positions in large child-care centers or preschools. Often, however, these positions require additional training, such as a bachelor's or master's degree. Other workers move on to work in resource and referral agencies, consulting with parents on available child services. Some workers become involved in policy or advocacy work related to child care and early childhood education. With a bachelor's degree, preschool teachers may become certified to teach in public schools at the kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school levels. Some workers set up their own child-care businesses.
Employment of preschool teachers and child-care workers is projected to faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Job openings should be plentiful as many preschool teachers and child-care workers leave the occupation each year for otheroften better payingjobs, family responsibilities, or other reasons. High turnover, combined with an increased demand for preschool teachers and child-care workers, is expected to create many openings. Qualified persons who are interested in this work should have little trouble finding and keeping a job.
Although the number of children under 5 years of age is expected to decline slightly through the year 2005, the proportion of youngsters in daycare and preschool will increase, reflecting a shift in the type of child-care arrangements parents choose. Many parents turn to formal child-care arrangements for a variety of reasons-they may need two incomes; they may find it too difficult to set up a satisfactory arrangement with a relative, babysitter, or live-in worker; or they may prefer the formal arrangements for personal reasons, such as a more structured learning and social environment.
Continuing high labor force participation among women of childbearing age will also contribute to employment growth among preschool teachers and child-care workers. Mothers of very young children have been joining the labor force in growing numbers, and this pattern is not expected to change. Moreover, women are returning to work sooner after childbirth. Many employers are increasing child-care benefits to their employees in the form of direct child-care assistancesuch as vouchers and subsidies for community child-care centersmore flexible work schedules, and on-site daycare facilities.
Pay depends on the employer and educational attainment of the worker. Although the pay is generally very low, more education means higher earnings in some cases.
In 1994, median weekly earnings of full-time, salaried child-care workers were $260. The middle 50 percent of child-care workers earned between $190 and $330. The top 10 percent of child-care workers earned at least $430; the bottom 10 percent earned less than $130.
Preschool teachers in public schools who have State teacher certification generally have salaries and benefits comparable to kindergarten and elementary school teachers. According to the National Education Association, public elementary school teachers earned an estimated average salary of $36,400 in 1995. (A statement on kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teachers is found elsewhere in the Handbook.) Preschool teachers in privately funded child-care centers generally earn much lower salaries than other comparably educated workers.
Earnings of self-employed child-care workers vary depending on the hours worked, number and ages of the children, and the location.
Benefits for preschool teachers and child-care workers also vary. Many employers offer free or discounted child care to employees. Some offer a full benefits package, including health insurance and paid vacations, but others offer no benefits at all. Some employers offer seminars and workshops to help workers improve upon or learn new skills. A few are willing to cover the cost of courses taken at community colleges or technical schools.
Child-care work requires patience; creativity; an ability to nurture, motivate, teach, and influence children; and leadership, organizational, and administrative abilities. Others who work with children and need these aptitudes include teacher aides, children's tutors, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, early childhood program directors, and child psychologists.
For information on careers in educating children and issues affecting preschool teachers and child-care workers, contact:
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
Association for Childhood Education International, 11501 Georgia Ave., Suite 315, Wheaton, MD 20902-1924.
For information on the Federally sponsored Head Start program, contact:
Head Start Bureau, P.O. Box 1182, Washington, DC 20013.
For eligibility requirements and a description of the Child Development Associate credential, write to:
Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, 1341 G St. NW., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005.
For information on salaries and efforts to improve compensation in child care, contact:
National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, 733 15th St. NW., Suite 1037, Washington, DC 20005.
State Departments of Human Services or Social Services can supply State regulations and training requirements for child-care workers.
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