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and a distraction from being more engaged with the children.

Caregivers and parents want assurances and appreciation from each
other. Often both groups feel unsatisfied with what they get.

Meanwhile, from the children’s perspective, life is getting more
crowded, rushed, and regimented into scheduled, short blocks of
time. Children spend too little time outdoors, in the world of real
work, or with meaningful relationships and a sense of community.

They rarely get to be alone, to play for as long as they like, or to be
with children who are not their own age. Caregivers and teachers
come and go, and no one takes a special interest in children for long
or gives them a sense of history or belonging. Most of the adults in
their lives seem obsessed with whether children know their colors and
numbers. Talk of getting “big enough to go to school” sustains little
hope for engaged interest or meaningful learning.

Early care and education programs are a daily fact of life for
children and families in the United States. On the way to work each
morning, most parents leave their children in the care of someone
outside their families, usually in settings that look far more structured
and institutional than where they spent their own childhoods. Some
children are fortunate enough to be in quality family child care, but
before long, the provider goes out of business or parents move their
children into a preschool setting they believe will help the children
be ready to succeed in school. Well-meaning parents focus on their
young children’s education in a narrow sense, not considering the
larger picture of their childhoods and the real experiences needed for
success in life.

Rethinking What We Need
It is estimated that young children today spend approximately twelve
thousand hours in group care and institutional settings before they
even get to school. This means that children are spending the bulk of
their childhoods in our programs. Childhood in the last few decades
looks different from what most people reading this book remember.

Growing up in a neighborhood; roaming freely on the block; climb-
ing trees; playing street games; making creations with logs, stones,
or found junk; having regular family gatherings; playing with chil-
dren of all ages as the neighbors watched out for everyone—these
are things of the past. The experience of participating in the daily
life and meaningful work of the community is less and less available
to young children. Instead, most children today spend their days in
programs with large groups of children the same age, isolated from
Chapter 1 Guiding Your Program with a Vision 19
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