Surrounded by friends, teachers, crayons, letters and blocks, children in Montgomery County child care and preschool programs are learning more than their peers who stay home, according to an annual study.
About nine in 10 children who entered kindergarten after attending a nonpublic nursery school in the county were fully-prepared for kindergarten for the 2011-12 school year, compared to seven in 10 children in home care, according to this year's State Readiness Report released in March. Overall, 1,458 students came from a nonpublic nursery and 1,758 came from home care.
There are 11,419 kindergartners enrolled in the county school system this year, and teachers give the screening to all students.
The results show the importance of early childhood education and the effectiveness of programs in the county, said Beth Molesworth, program manager for Montgomery County's Early Childhood Services division of Health and Human Services.
But this year, 2,000 county children were put on a waiting list for the Child Care Subsidy Program because of a March 2011 state enrollment freeze; 1,829 county children were enrolled as of April 2011.
This might cause less readiness in the future, Molesworth said.
“It is so important that children get this readiness before school, because if they are unprepared when they enter school, there is already a gap there, and that gap will just increase,” Molesworth said.
The program issues vouchers to eligible families in need of help with the cost of child care. While, before, families would be eligible under income requirements (making less than $24,277 in a family of two), now to be considered for the waiting list, a family also must be receiving Temporary Cash Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, or have a disabled child. Families with income assistance receive a full voucher for specific child care programs.
This year, the overwhelming reason that county parents could not enroll their child in child care was cost, according to the Maryland Child Care Resource Network 2012 demographics report.
The weekly average cost of full-time child care for children ages 2 to 4 in the county is $245, according to the report.
The total number of Maryland children served by the subsidy program is expected to decrease from 25,617 in fiscal 2011 to 20,365 in fiscal 2012 because of to the freeze, according to the State Department of Education.
These children often end up at home or with a neighbor, watching television, and do not get the benefit of professional child care, Molesworth said.
Of children entering kindergarten this year, 5 percent who previously were in home care were not prepared, while 1 percent of children in private preschools or child cares were not prepared.
Professional child care teaches students skills in all seven disciplines evaluated by kindergarten teachers at the beginning of the year — language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts, physical development and social and personal skills, said Valerie Rojotte, education director at Montgomery Child Care Association. The association teaches about 1,000 county children in 14 child care centers.
“Learning begins at birth,” Rojotte said. “A rich environment that stimulates childrens' development in ways appropriate for their age should start from the beginning.”
Child care curriculum is aligned with that in kindergarten, teaching pre-literacy skills such as letter recognition, pre-math skills with blocks and sharing with stations such as housekeeping, according to Molesworth.
“In science activity, we would talk to kids about making predictions, and introduce them to words related to the community,” Rojette said.
The freeze in subsidy program is a huge concern for advocates across the county who realize the importance of early learning, Molesworth said.
“We know that young children need lots of things happening, prior to them entering kindergarten,” she said.