Dr. Matsumoto said that mothers should take child care leave as long as possible so that there would be plenty of room to enhance mother-child relationship. I have been involved in 0-year-old child care a lot and I really think that quality of care is very important. I am here today to share my experience with you, showing that by trying to have a better quality of care, we can bring up 0-year-old children very well.
Twenty years ago, I was working as a staff of a child care center. My second son was in another center since he had been zero year old. My neighbors often used to say, "You are putting your small baby in a child care center while you're working at your center, taking care of other children. Is it really the right thing to do?" Although I did not necessarily agree with them, I did have a bit of concern, asking myself repeatedly whether it was really all right. I became stressful and started to think about when to quit my job, when to submit my letter of resignation. Still, I have continued to work somewhat for the past twenty-three years. During my 23-year-long experience at those child care centers, I was in charge of early child care several times. Strange to say, I have a lasting and very close relationship with those children I was taking care of when they were zero year old. Some of them even invited me to their alumni meetings or weddings. Their mothers are also very strongly united, although I don't have any specific data to prove this; this is just my feeling. They must have lots of concerns, leaving their children in a child care center for the first time. They make friends each other and find out that they share similar problems. So they must feel very powerful.
I had chances to go to many child care centers in my training programs. One of the directors at those centers often used to say like this: "If mothers meet a good child care provider when their children are zero year old, someone who accepts children's mothers and everything, they tend to think that they want to give birth to another one or two babies, even though they were thinking that one child would be enough at the beginning. Some mothers say that they have given birth to two babies in six years of nursery school life." That is why, the director said, that they assign a care provider in charge of 0-year-olds who can take care of children's parents and everything. I felt very powerful to hear her comments.
The question is, then, "Can any child care center take care of 0-year-olds?" It is hard to say so, I'm afraid, as you may recall the case of the day nursery of Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture, which was such a shocking incident. As Dr. Friedman mentioned earlier, parents need to be very careful in selecting child care centers with high quality of care. I hope that mothers who likes to continue their work have a real feel that their 0-year-old children can grow up this way, bringing them up in such a high-quality child care center.
First of all, I would like to talk about high-quality child care. While referring to Dr. Friedman's presentation, I like to think about my idea on quality of care.
Firstly let me look at the child care environment. I don't know if you have ever had a chance to see the "Guideline on Child Care at Nursery Schools," which was recently revised? There are more specific and detail descriptions on child care of infants or 6-month-olds. The guideline, in particular, refers to the importance of interaction for children's development. Children grow up differently depending upon how adults look at them and interact with them. Therefore we should look at our children this way, when thinking about how child care providers behave and how they interact. This is very important and this must be the message in the new guideline, as I read it. In the descriptions on children of six month old or younger in the guideline (child care providers' attitudes and involvement in the development process category for children of six months old or younger), there is a description as follows: "When caring for children of six months old or younger, it is desirable to have assignment system and close cooperation among working staff members." This is the first place that the word of "assignment" is mentioned in view of infants care.
I was very happy to see that. I have brought up my two children. When I gave birth to the first child, there was no place to take care of 0-year-olds in my neighborhood. So I was thinking that I would stay home for about two years (hopefully three years). After all, since I was so much eager to work that I was re-employed by a child care center in the second year. But I had been rearing my child before that. After I was re-employed, I realized that I can see my child better compared with the time when I was in charge of 0-year-olds at the public child care center in Setagaya Ward. It is natural because I was looking at my own child one-to-one, but I was wondering why I can see my child better by having child care experience on my own.
Bringing up my own child myself for two years, it was very good for me to be able to make a comparison between child care at nurseries and my own parenting. For example, when my son was eleven months old, as I was doing dishes at the sink, he used to crawl toward me trying to do the same. He took out cooking pans from the cabinet under the sink, rattling them. Until the previous day he was merely playing with those pans, clanking them with their lids. On the next day he was trying to match each pan with the lid, looking for the right size. I had a real feel that children's play changes in only a day or two, and that it is just marvelous to look at children continuously.
I started to think of making a system to observe children continuously at child care centers. Since I was re-employed by the public child care center in Kawasaki twenty years or so, I have been working under the child care assignment system. Why assignment? First of all, by having deeper interrelationship between children and child care providers, one can better understand children's needs more appropriately. Children are more secured and it becomes easy to build up trust with their care providers. Next, by getting in touch with children on a continuous basis, one can discover and perceive a small change of children, understand their internal movements. Therefore care providers are better prepared when interacting with children. This contributes quite a lot to care for children with "composure." I have many chances to talk to mothers at child care support centers and other related facilities. When one can understand and read her children's feelings, parenting becomes very enjoyable. Enjoyment leads to more exchange of feelings and smiles. With that "composure," one can better understand her children's health status or habits, which are particularly important for infants care, and can make more appropriate response. For instance, a child may throw up his/her first tomato baby food right away. On the next day, he/she may mumble for a while before throwing it up. Such a small change must be recognized.
Child care from now on is not to compare a child with others, saying this child can now crawl or say something, but to observe how a child is growing up and to communicate what we learned to the parents. This will be all the more important. In this respect continuous contact is a crucial viewpoint. Child care centers have to take care of many children. There are even some centers where five or six care providers are responsible for 18 children. In such a situation, care providers tend to pay more attention to the children who are crying or very demanding while quiet children tend to be overlooked. It happens sometimes that none of those care providers was looking at such quiet children. That is realized only when the care providers try to write down some messages on the notebooks to their parents. Everyone wants to write down her comments on some children and those children who are left behind do not express themselves very strongly. Therefore, as Dr. Friedman pointed out, it is very important to have an assignment so that a small number of people can get involved sufficiently. For example, one care provider can take care of about three children. There is a disadvantage as well. When a care provider is assigned to take care of a certain number of children, he or she may sometimes have a fixed idea and look at the children only in their ways. I feel sorry for such children, thinking of another way of looking at them. There tends to be a sectionalism in which they look at only the children whom they are assigned to.
So while the care providers in a 0-year-old class are responsible for all the children in the class, each one of them should be cared for by the same person as much as possible in nursing like changing diapers and helping them to get to sleep. I think this form of assignment is good and have put this into practice so far. There are various forms of assignment. In my experience it seems that a "loose group assignment" has worked effectively. The idea is to assign two care providers to a small group of five or six children, instead of having one care provider to take care of several children, for instance, three. This system has a merit like the following: care providers are sometimes absent for several reasons; she may work overtime, take a leave, or attend a training course. In such a case, a freelance teacher or a part-time worker may be there on her behalf. In the "one teacher-three children" system, children get very unsettled. They feel much concern. However, if they have one more teacher whom they are accustomed to, they are not so upset even though they have somebody else as a helper.
Professor Uchida talked about attachment. One of the children in my class did not have attachment because his mother would not look at him, saying that her life was completely destroyed after giving birth to him. He was enrolled in my class because he often used to run out, which was so dangerous. There was no attachment at all; he just ran away when the class went out for a walk. I do not know how many times I looked about for him in uproar. As I was in charge of him for one, two or three years continuously, however, he came to take to his care provider in three years at last. He took to his care provider first, then to other care providers as well. He was two years old when he was enrolled. When he was four, he came to take to his mother, too. The mother did not at all take care of her child. However, when the child sat next to his mother, smiling and saying that he might want to have meals next to his mom, she burst out crying. She said that her son had come near to her despite that she had not been loving him so much. The mother has changed as well. Having seen such a case several times, I came to think that attachment does not necessary have to be given to a single person. In my opinion the small-group child care was very good, with two teachers taking care of six children.
Infants' developmental stages differ from one to another, according to their age of months. Some start to walk around while others are still in bed. So there are various needs for the children in the same class. Under such circumstances this kind of group child care is very good because we could promote appropriate activities according to their age. Since I specialize in linguistics, I would very much like to share with you what Dr. Natsuki Okamoto said: "In a process to acquire language ability, a child builds up his or her language by learning from what someone says who loves him or her and whom he or she loves very much. The fact can never be repeated too much. It is not correct to say that children do not care who they are listening to. When they hear the voice of people they love so much, they are filled with joy, flapping their limb. In particular, when they hear their nurse, they are so happy to prick up their ears. Children in this way learn human relationship and get language skills by interacting with someone who can share the same world with them."
Some mothers just turn on television and leave it so that their children can learn a lot of words. But memory is not everything. Are they happy if their children learn TV commercials by heart? Languages are born from the feeling of one's heart, to interact with someone, share the world with someone today. I think that such child care to establish an intimate relationship with certain people is important more than anything.
Now let me talk about child care environment.
I have much doubts on the quantity of child care. According to Dr. Friedman, 33 hours of care per weak is extensive child care. However, children spend eight to ten hours a day in nurseries. The difference is extraordinary. As Dr. Matsumoto was saying, my big concern is that child care in Japan now forces children to adapt themselves to the lifestyle of adults, instead of adults adapting themselves to the children's lifestyle. Working mothers in Japan feel so small in their workplace. How much time they can spend for their child care is still a very big problem in Japan. So if child care centers are more open, mothers may want to leave their children in extensive child care of longer hours. But I am worried about this. It may be better to try to reduce the quantity of child care, instead of increasing it. Care providers are working overtime very hard in the same room, trying to offer extensive care of high quality. There seems to be limitations, however. We should think more about such an environment.
Lastly, I will talk about the quality of a child care provider.
A good caregiver must be good at soothing a child when he or she is grumbling or crying by carrying him or her in her arms. Holding gently is very necessary. These days people are not good at carrying their children in their arms. That is why, I presume, more and more children bend their bodies backward when they are held in the arms. Holding a child in one's arms is exactly a one-to-one relationship, one important way of communication showing that interacting with others is really enjoyable. So I am concerned that people are not good at holding their children in their arms. Carrying a child on one's back is important as well, but a good care provider must be good at soothing a child, holding him or her gently in her arms.
I think that nursing is very important. Nursing is to keep life and stabilize emotions. Child care is nothing but an important, face-to-face communication. Nursing children like changing diapers and suckling in an important moment of one-to-one engagement. The point is to what extent one is committed in interacting with children, caring for their life. If you carry a child as if he or she were luggage, he or she is so sensitive that he or she will know instantly that he or she is being treated like luggage. I think that child care at nursery is that very nursing activity. Taking care of children is an important, one-to-one communication. I do want to recommend that mothers who like to continue to work should do so, by selecting such child care providers and child care centers to cherish this point.