Category Archives: Early Childhood Education

The Trend of Comparing Daycare & Preschool Costs to College Tuition

day care costs

As I walked closer to the door of the childcare facility on campus, my two-year-old daughter’s arms tightened around my neck. As a single mom attending the University of Montana, I had to take my toddler to daycare daily in order to attend class. Every day she screamed in protest when the staff pried her out of my arms, and I would walk away with tears in my eyes. Daycare was a costly necessity, and the choices overwhelming, but nothing ever felt quite right.

Fast forward to Seattle two years later: my daughter is four. I dropped her off at 7am in order to make it to work by 8 am. I left work at 5pm, made my way through traffic to pick her up by 6pm. My young daughter spent 11 hours in daycare. Home by 6:20pm, I threw dinner on, fed and bathed her, and tucked her in. I had only 90 minutes on work days with my child. The rest of the time she was being raised by random staff members at a huge daycare center.

One day I had an epiphany. I could make money and have her with me at the same time if I opened my own school. I could offer a level of care that would reassure parents that their child was more than just safe and content. I could create a program that fulfilled children’s basic needs but also nurtured them in a way that was as close to parental love as possible. I could fill their little tummies with nutritious organic food, and provide a curriculum that would provide a true advantage as they entered grade school. I could provide a family away from home, using an eco-conscious curriculum that incorporated principles of sustainability and ecology.

And I did it. I returned home to St. Ignatius, located on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, and opened Advantage Academic Academy. I developed the curriculum by interviewing kindergarten and first grade teachers from several school districts to find out what they felt the main gaps were and the most important learning skills. I also researched dropout rates and statistics to learn the most common factors contributing to academic failure.

I cared for well over 100 children over the next eight years, graduating more than sixty into kindergarten. I then opened two more centers in the nearby city of Missoula, an Infant and Toddler Center and a Preschool Center. I’ve been running my own programs for over twelve years.

It’s been satisfying and challenging, expensive and rewarding. Recently I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend, however. There are conversations making the rounds on social media about how daycare/preschool is almost, as or even more expensive, than in-state college tuition. These posts are followed by many comments from people who agree. They talk about how “insanely” expensive it is; how its “ridiculous” and “something needs to be done”; how hard-working families are getting ripped off; how it’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed.

Here is my response:

First of all, very few people are getting wealthy running daycare centers or preschools. Maybe some CEO’s of huge chain centers with multiple locations, but certainly not many independent owners like myself.

And yes, it IS a significant expense for parents. Multiply the tuition for a year by the number of kids being cared for and you see something well into the six figures. Seems like we’re making out fine, right?

Well, let’s remember a few things:

Most college professors teach classes with anywhere from 50-100 students. One teacher, with possibly a TA, teaching all those students. I, however, have to have a staff member on the floor at all times for every four children in my infant center and one staff member at all times for every six children in my preschool.

In other words, every day, between my two centers I have to have five or six staff on the floor at all times, 50 hours a week. It takes all income from two children to pay the salary of one staff member, so 10-12 children’s tuitions go directly into teacher salaries.

That doesn’t cover any of other many expenses. Colleges don’t need to pay the huge liability insurance fees required by caretakers of small children, for example. In addition, I serve all-organic food to my precious people four times a day. For 25 munchkins, that’s 100 organic meals every day, and 2000 organic meals a month. If you know what even small bag of organic groceries costs, do THAT math!

College students are adults who can take care of themselves. They don’t have university staff wiping their poopy butts and runny noses; putting them to bed, getting them up and cleaning up after them all day; making sure they are happy, healthy, and safe; AND teaching them colors, numbers, letters, and phonics; teaching them to read; and instilling in them awesome social skills: how to share, be polite, use their big child voices instead of whining; how to cough in a way that keeps toys and playmates unsprayed. It’s a significant expense, but shouldn’t it be? The care & education of what means most to you in LIFE?

My staff and I do one of the hardest and most important jobs on the planet. We’re lucky when we get to work with parents who appreciate that and understand what a HUGE undertaking it is. The liability of taking care of people’s precious children and their INFANTS–often keeps me up at night. Ten employees and over thirty families rely on me every day for their lives to run smoothly. If my doors aren’t open, none of them can go to work.

In spite of all the money involved in running these programs, I never made enough to afford my own heath insurance until recently, thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act.

One of the grand ironies is that thanks to what I do, a lot more children will MAKE it to college. Look at the stats about how important early childhood education is to children’s academic futures!

I want people to consider these details before concluding that childcare providers are somehow making more money than university professors. Wouldn’t that be great!? The cost of childcare and education should be right up there with rent/mortgage, transportation and food as a priority. And which of those categories means the most to you and for which is the most at stake?

Overall this trend of comparing daycare and college tuition costs is ridiculous because the only thing they have in common is the fact that education/learning is happening in both places. The care of young children is a completely separate service to educating, and early childhood professionals do both. So you are actually getting twice the service for your money as opposed to when you send your young adult children to college.

As I reflect on this, I see that it’s not just about early childhood education. It’s about the skyrocketing costs of running any small business. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, as Seattle has just done, would put me out of business, unless I were to raise my rates again significantly. If I pay teenage aides and PT entry-level employees $15, what do I pay my more qualified FT employees? $18? $20? Keep in mind whatever base rate I pay an employee I have to add roughly another $3+ dollars an hour to pay on every employee’s taxes (FICA, unemployment, workers compensation, Social Security etc.,) which means that each individual staff member would absorb the tuition of 4 children. I would have to close the infant center, which has a 1:4 teacher/student ratio, or start charging $10 per hour for tuition. That would make full-time tuition almost $2000 per month!

But people are already up in arms about paying $6 per hour. Maybe this conversation really needs to be about tax breaks for small businesses. That, and more subsidies for not just low-income, but middle income families, like myself, who are always the ones who slip through the cracks.

It’s time we take child care seriously, and treat child care providers with the respect—and salary—we deserve.


Five Language Children


More and more these days families are giving attention to the concept that emotional well-being is an important part of our children’s overall health. Whether they’re sorting out toy sharing with siblings, facing changes in playground social politics, or learning how to get their emotional needs met from their parents most effectively, our children are faced daily with the ebb and flow of their emotional body. As parents, we all want to give our children the best possible chance at success. One of the best ways to do so is through expressing our unconditional love and showing how much we appreciate and value them. But is the message really getting through? Continue reading Five Language Children

10 Promising Practices of Early Childhood Education For Sustainability

Curriculum is integrated and place-based.

An integrated curriculum grounded in one’s place—the local human and natural community— is key to Education for Sustainability in early childhood. In order for children to become citizens who are engaged in creating sustainable communities, they must care for, and understand the interconnectedness of their human and natural community and world. To foster this sense of caring and proclivity toward action, children must first be provided with the opportunity to explore and connect to their places, guided by their senses of wonder and curiosity.

EXAMPLE: A preschool class steps out the school doors to explore the community around them. Building capacity for safety and learning, the teachers start with short excursions outside the school yard, practicing walking safely on the sidewalks, sticking together, and going a little further each time out. As children’s capacities grows, the class takes pictures of favorite or interesting spots. These photos are printed in triplicate to use in the classroom in a matching game and to be added to the class map. During a bread unit, the class visits various neighborhood stores to buy and taste a variety of breads representing many of the cultures in the classroom.


Learning and curriculum are play-based and emergent.

Learning is seamless and is led by the child’s sense of wonder, curiosity, and innate ability to construct meaning through play. The teacher acts as a guide, creating opportunities for child- directed discovery, as well as facilitating learning experiences that build on the conversations, play, and questions that emerge from classroom dynamics and adventures.

EXAMPLE: A camp for preschool-age children spends the days outdoors in the forest. As the campers explore sections of the forest they create areas that represent Olympic challenges. Log walking and stump jumping are popular. Other campers create and play in castles and pirate ships fashioned from old stumps. When the teacher discovers a red eft, she gently captures it and invites the children over to examine it, and lets them take turns holding it. As she marvels at it with the children she asks them, “What else do you think we might find living here?” Later, the teacher suggests to the children that they could try walking like the red eft they found.

play based

Sustainability is a lens.

When decisions need to be made, we might ask, “What would be a more sustainable choice?” Rather than being an add-on, Education for Sustainability provides an opportunity to use sustainability as a lens to envision the entire school or program— from how decisions are made, to curricular content, to purchasing supplies, configuration of outdoor play spaces, and connecting with families. Thinking and decision-making are guided by finding the optimal intersections of environmental integrity, social equity, and economic prosperity.

EXAMPLE: A private pre-k program has a mission of social and racial justice and a commitment to maintain no racial majority within its program. Therefore, they offer sliding-scale tuition, and have eliminated the traditional financial aid and tuition program.


Campus and classroom demonstrate and practice sustainability.

Young children learn by doing. When the campus demonstrates and models sustainability practices, young children innately learn, and
thus practice, sustainability. In early childhood the implicit practices are just as important as the explicit curriculum. Practices such as classroom composting, reusing supplies, and democratic decision making in partnership with children all implicitly model sustainability for young learners.

EXAMPLE: Recycling, using environmentally friendly cleaning products, composting, and gardening are all regular parts of the pre-k and kindergarten classes’ daily routines. In an effort to help young children to really understand composting, one class uses a small, clear plastic bin to collect food scraps, dead leaves, plants, and a few handfuls of soil to witness the process of their food being broken down into compost.


Young children explore their connection to and relationship with the natural and built world through developmentally appropriate Big Ideas of Sustainability.

There are big ideas, or underlying concepts, that are fundamental to understanding and demonstrating sustainability. In early childhood these Big Ideas of Sustainability are: cycles, change, fairness, community, diversity, and interdependence. These ideas are integrated into the natural rhythm of and learning that happens in early childhood. Young children explore these big ideas and their relationship to them through inquiry, play, and exploring their classroom, school, and neighborhood communities in relevant and meaningful ways.

EXAMPLE: Preschool-age children dive into the Big Ideas of Animal and Plant Cycles, and Change Over Time, as they explore what happens to the garden and animals in winter. Trips to the snow-covered garden show that small creatures are making tiny tunnels through the snow. Garden plants, grasses, and weeds have gone to seed and many of the seeds are scattered on the snow. Their teacher reads books about animal adaptations in winter and the class decides to set up a similar habitat in their classroom. Teachers supply plastic tunnels, white sheets, and some puppets, and the children create an indoor habitat to mimic what they found outdoors. This focus leads to continued observation as the snow melts and plants begin to grow again in the spring.


Young children have a voice, make decisions, and draw connections between their choices and the impact on their worlds.

Children need to see themselves as capable, knowledgeable, and participatory citizens. They need to be given the opportunity to make decisions, share their thinking, advocate for their needs and fairness, and problem solve to make a difference. Young children are capable of understanding and observing change over time, and how they affect their small world through everyday actions and words. When children are given the opportunity to shape their own world in childhood they will grow to have the ability to shape the larger world.

EXAMPLE: Kindergarten students decide it is important for their neighborhood and schoolyard to have animals and plants, to be clean, and to
have safe places for kids to play in. Students go on neighborhood walks to evaluate if these features are present in their neighborhood and schoolyard. Following the walks, students brainstorm projects the class could do on a schoolwide Day of Service to meet the needs that they had uncovered on their walks. Students plan and carry out the creation of a shade garden to provide a habitat for animals, build two sandboxes, and organize a neighborhood clean-up.


Local and cultural perspectives are considered and learned through building healthy relationships with family, classroom, and community.

Investigating and exploring the local community is key to Education for Sustainability, especially in early childhood. Young children need to be connected with their natural and built communities in positive and healthy ways. They need to explore and experience natural cycles, human diversity, and healthy relationships with others and the environment. The local human and natural worlds are the context for learning and provide a framework for global comparisons as a child’s worldview expands. Children investigate differences and explore multiple perspectives, respect, tolerance, and diversity.

EXAMPLE: As a part of their study of THE LITTLE RED HEN, the first grade begins to study the life cycle of wheat and the role bread plays in our diets. They visit a variety of local ethnic markets, grocery stores, and bodegas to find the different kinds of bread people in their community eat. At school, they hold a taste test and try all the different bread, sharing with one another the types of bread they eat at home.


Learning is relevant and connected to children’s lives.

Embedding sustainability into the fabric and life of the curriculum and school is essential to developing the attitudes, skills, and knowledge in our children so they can contribute to and build sustainable communities now and into the future. Our young citizens need to see themselves as a part of their community and need their learning to be reflective of the lives they are living. When we allow the community and students’ interests to guide learning and curriculum, academic achievement and engagement is high.

EXAMPLE: The kindergarten classes conduct a yearlong study of Community Helpers. As they learn about all the people and organizations that play meaningful roles in their community, and discover what they do, the children quickly begin to understand the importance of every member of their community. As the children explore how we all depend on each other, they start to appreciate the role these people and organizations play in their homes, classroom, and neighborhood communities. Through daily interactions, as well as several service projects, the children come to realize that, in fact, they are Community Helpers themselves.


Children practice inquiry and open-ended questioning.

Scientific literacy and inquiry is crucial to building sustainable communities. It is essential for children to develop a healthy attitude toward, and understanding of, the environment. Inquiry is more than just asking questions; inquiry requires the learner to think critically, find and process information, use that information in real-life situations, and regularly engage in reflection—all vital twenty-first-century skills.

EXAMPLE: In a pre-k classroom, essential questions span several units of study. Questions are open enough to explore many topics of children’s interests, but focused enough to allow children to make connections. When children explore “What’s happening in winter?” focusing on the big ideas of change, cycles, and responsibility; they explore the changing landscape and weather from fall to winter, specifically observing trees, squirrels in their schoolyard, snowflakes, and how they take care of themselves and each other when the weather gets cold.


Anti-bias, equity, and justice form the foundation of our teaching.

Each one of us has a unique and vital role to play in creating the communities we want to be a part of, and the perspectives, experience, and background we bring shed more light together than they do in isolation. Creating classrooms and school communities with respect, justice, and equity at their heart—the kinds of classrooms that will allow each child to reach his or her true potential—require educators to investigate our own power and privilege and often reframe our understanding of identity. Each child and each family who enter our classrooms bring with them tremendous assets, and many of us also carry personal and communal histories of oppression. EFS demands that every single one of us commits to teaching, finding and using materials, and creating a classroom environment that honors the culture, family structure, gender identity, race, and gifts of all our students. We also must commit to identifying, intervening, and exploring oppression with our students.

EXAMPLE: Teaching faculty, administrators, and support staff spend the course of a year reading and discussing the book COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE by Glen Eric Singleton and Curtis Linton. The book explores the role of race in education. They begin to better understand what different racial, cultural, and gender identities mean for themselves and their students and start to change the materials (books, toys, games) in their classroom and some of the language they use (no longer saying “boys and girls,” for example). They develop a greater capacity for identifying and interrupting oppression and a better understanding of systemic forms of oppression.