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"[I] play a lot": children's perceptions of child care.

Abstract. This two-year descriptive study of purposefully selected Minnesota families included interviews with 94 children who either were currently enrolled in or had attended child care programs. Children from 1 to 18 years old recalled playmates, daily activities, schedules, discipline methods, special events, bullies, and characteristics of well-liked and unpopular staff members. Children drew pictures and wrote about activities, child care friends, and child care staff. Children enjoyed playing with friends, responsive and involved staff, and a range of indoor and outdoor activities. Children in all forms of care described widespread viewing of videos and use of video games. Younger children described storytelling, and some, but not all, school-age children had access to literacy activities and materials. This study contributes additional insights to the limited literature on children's perceptions of child care.

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Of the 18.5 million children under age 5 living in the United States, 11.6 million (63 percent) experience some type of regular child care arrangement, spending an average of 32 hours per week in child care (Overturf Johnson, 2005). In addition, a little over half (53 percent) of the 40.6 million school-age children between the ages of 5 and 14 also spend time in a child care arrangement on a regular basis (Overturf Johnson, 2005). The quality of child care that these children experience is an important issue for parents, relatives, child care providers, the community, and perhaps most importantly, the children themselves.

To date, most of the research on children in child care has focused on the relationship between child care quality and child outcomes. This research has focused on program attributes that have been characterized as structural, global, or process components. Structural components include group size, staff qualifications and levels of experience, and child/teacher ratios. Global components include classroom practices and environments that promote children's growth and learning. Process components consist of adult responsiveness to and behavior with children. Katz (1993) describes such research as coming from a "top-down" perspective, and suggests that other perspectives need to be included in a comprehensive study of child care quality--those of staff, parents, and children.

According to Katz (1993), a "bottom-up" perspective would investigate child care quality from the child's vantage point, and would include information about children's comfort, perceived sense of belonging, and engagement in activities. The "outside-in" perspective focuses on parents' views, including program flexibility and responsiveness to family needs. The "inside-out" perspective focuses on staff perceptions, including relationships between and among administrators, colleagues, families, and sponsors.

Katz's view is consistent with the idea that "quality" in early childhood services is a "relative concept ... subjective in nature and based on values, beliefs, and interest, rather than an objective and universal reality" (Moss & Pence, 1994, p. 172). According to this view, definitions of quality will vary, depending upon the groups consulted. Children, parents, families, employers, providers, and society all have different needs and values, and will define the characteristics of good care differently. To ignore the perspective of one of these stakeholder groups would result in an incomplete picture of what constitutes quality child care and the degree to which existing child care arrangements meet those standards.

The top-down perspective has been the most widely utilized perspective in studies of child care. The goals of such studies are to identify--from an academic or administrative perspective--key variables associated with child outcomes and then to measure the effects of those variables on children's development. This research has not included children's perspectives of child care, even though their experiences are at the heart of what constitutes quality.

The Minnesota Child Care Study was a two-year, comprehensive study of the quality of child care in Minnesota communities that did include the perspectives of children and their families. This article presents children's views of child care as expressed through interview responses and drawings. The article begins with a review of the existing research on children's perceptions of child care, followed by descriptions of the study participants and methods. In the findings section, we present children's drawings and interview responses. The discussion section examines the findings within the context of the current research literature and suggests implications for practice and further research.

Research on Children's Perceptions of Child Care

Studies investigating children's perceptions of child care have been conducted by researchers in Nordic countries (Einarsdotter, 2005; Langsted, 1994), the United Kingdom (Evans & Fuller, 1998), and the United States (Armstrong & Sugawara, 1989; Rosenthal & Vandell, 1996; Wiltz & Klein, 2001). These studies have included children in a variety of preschool (Armstrong & Sugawara, 1989; Einarsdottir, 2005; Evans & Fuller, 1998; Langsted, 1994) and school-age (Rosenthal & Vandell, 1996) child care settings. In most of these studies, children's views have been directly elicited through interviews, role-playing, storytelling, writing, and drawings. A notable exception is a study by Barclay and Benelli (1995), in which children's perceptions of child care were inferred through videotaped and direct observations.

Wiltz and Klein (2001) investigated 4-year-olds' perceptions of their experiences in low- and high-quality child care centers in the United States. Using the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (Harms & Clifford, 1980) and the Classroom Practices Inventory Scale (Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Rescorla, 1990), members of the research team (all of whom had obtained reliability on the instruments) rated the quality of child care classrooms, and then studied children's responses in the two types of settings. Children in low-quality settings described their day as rigid, sequential, time-driven, and structured for the convenience of staff, not children. Children in high-quality settings gave detailed descriptions of exciting highlights, notable events, and varied choices of activities. Rosenthal and Vandell (1996), using observations and director reports, found that children reported poorer overall program climate when programs had larger enrollments and more frequent negative staff-child interactions. Children's views of the programs were more positive when programs offered a greater variety of activities.

In both low- and high-quality settings in the Wiltz and Klein (2001) study, children's dislikes (which were reported far less frequently than their likes) primarily involved activities that interrupted play. In addition, children in both settings reported disliking peers and/or teachers who treated them unfairly. Studies by Armstrong and Sugawara (1989), Einarsdottir (2005), Evans and Fuller (1998), and Langsted (1994) also found that children disliked children and adults who treated them unfairly and/or were aggressive. Children in the study by Einarsdottir (2005) expressed their dislike of activities that required them to sit still and be quiet, such as circle time, while children in the study by Evans and Fuller (1998) said they disliked being disciplined and situations in which they experienced discomfort.

Children in the studies by Armstrong and Sugawara (1989), Evans and Fuller (1998), and Wiltz and Klein (2001) overwhelmingly reported play as their favorite activity at child care. Children in studies by Einarsdottir (2005) and Langsted (1994) also reported play as a favorite activity. However, in these last two studies, the presence of friends was a key factor in rendering play attractive. Other elements that children list among their likes are specific favorite activities, such as dramatic play (Einarsdottir, 2005; Evans & Fuller, 1998) and literacy and numeracy activities (Evans & Fuller, 1998).

Hoskins, Pence, and Chambers (1999) re-analyzed data from a 1984 interview study by Pence and Goelman in order to investigate children's memories of child care. They found that child care "graduates" at 11 and 12 years old were able to recall specific aspects of their child care experiences. Relationships (84 percent) and the environment (84 percent) were the most frequently recalled memories. Emotions were recalled considerably less frequently (24 percent). At 17 and 18 years old, child care memories had faded significantly, with new experiences taking precedence in their thoughts.

Finally, Galanpoulos (1995) asked 22 four-and-a-half- to six-year-old preschoolers, enrolled in two comparable programs, what skills they learned at home and in their child care programs. Ninety-five percent of the children reported that home and child care were different from each other. They identified structural differences, and 54 percent also talked about differences between the two settings relating to child care constraints and rules. When asked whether the things they learned at home and in child care were more different or more alike in the two settings, 68 percent replied that the two settings were more different. In justifying their responses, 39 percent of these preschoolers described differences in rules and 33 percent described differences in activities. There were almost twice as many events considered "special" by children in their narratives about fun at home than in their narratives about child care. In addition, there were four times as many "routine" events described as fun at child care as compared to home. Children stated that, at home, they felt special, had opportunities to make choices, and were subject to individual--but not group--rules. At child care, the children felt more restricted, with few choices and more rules intended to govern group behavior.

These studies show preschool and young school-age children as capable of clearly describing and appropriately categorizing their child care experiences. They are cognizant of the differences between home and child care, and they can describe the differences in rules, routines, and restrictions. Furthermore, children's memories of child care seem to fade over time, with children being more likely to recall specific caregivers instead of activities and routines.

Participants

Study Overview

This study of children's perceptions of child care is one of several foci in the Quality of Child Care Study, a product of the Minnesota Child Care Policy Research Partnership (MCCPRP). The Quality of Child Care Study is a two-year project with the goal of understanding child care from the perspective of parents and children. The research team--the principal investigator and three graduate students--used eight interview protocols to gather information from 110 families. The focus of this article is how children in this study described and represented (through drawings and writing) their child care experiences.

Home Language

Thirteen percent of the families in the study spoke a language other than English in the home. For these families, interviews were conducted in the families' home languages. In rural counties, all families who spoke a language other than English spoke Spanish. Among families in the metropolitan area whose home language was not English, the most common languages spoken were Oromo, Igbo, and French.

Types of Child Care

For the purpose of this study, four types of child care were identified. In Minnesota, family, friends, and neighbor (FFN) child care includes informal care and legally unlicensed child care providers who are typically known by the family and are eligible to receive child care assistance funds, even though the providers' homes are not inspected. The second type of child care included in this study is licensed family child care (FCC) homes. These homes are inspected by the county and are eligible to participate in several child care assistance programs, including the United States Department of Agriculture food program. Providers must participate in a specified number of hours of training every year, and they are licensed by the county. The third type of care is child care centers. Child care centers are licensed by the state. Centers are inspected on a regular basis, and all teachers must meet certain licensing standards and annual training requirements. The fourth type of care included in this study is school-age child care (SACC) programs. These programs are run in schools before and after the regular school day, and they may include children in half-day kindergarten. SACC programs are also licensed by the state, and they must meet state staffing and training requirements.

Children

One hundred four different children participated in the interviews and/or drew pictures about their child care experiences. The children ranged in age from 1 to 18 years old. The study included 10 children under 2 1/2 years old, 19 children between 2 1/2 and 4 years old, 59 children from 5 to 11 years old, and 15 children from 12 to 18 years old.

Methods

Qualitative Research

This is a qualitative research study designed to provide in-depth information about purposefully selected families. Qualitative research encompasses a wide range of methods, beliefs, and disciplines (for more information, see Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Qualitative research, like other research, is rigorous, systematic, and generates information about a particular topic. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative studies do not test a hypothesis or produce results that can be generalized. Instead, qualitative researchers provide in-depth descriptions and analyses of the people and phenomena they study in order to understand particular factors and relationships that influence people's understandings and behaviors.

Selecting Families

Families who participated in the Quality of Child Care Study were purposefully selected according to the following criteria: the degree to which they were representative of the populations residing in the four Minnesota counties included in the study, range of ages and number of children in the family, type of child care used, and eligibility for either Transitional Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Basic Sliding Fee (BSF) child care assistance. (Families earning less than 75% of the state median income are eligible for BSF; the lower a family's income, the more assistance the family receives.)

Staff in each county's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) sent a letter translated into six languages to all families receiving Child Care Assistance, inviting them to participate in the study. Interested families completed a card and mailed it back to the researchers. A researcher contacted the family and asked them how many children they had, what types of child care they used, the numbers and ages of children, presence of children with disabilities, type of child care used, and ethnic and linguistic background. Researchers screened families to ensure a diverse selection for the study. County staff members assisted the researchers in developing a job announcement to recruit community researchers to conduct family interviews. Job announcements were distributed to county workers and Head Start staff and through job service offices. The research team, in collaboration with county CCAP staff, developed interview questions and research scripts for the eight family interview protocols. These were distributed to the community researchers, who then contacted parents and made arrangements for interviews.

Families who participated in the study received a $25 gift certificate to either a department or grocery story for each interview in which they participated, and each child chose a toy or a gift certificate to a restaurant. Of the 110 families that completed interviews one through five, 88 percent were eligible for child care assistance during all or some portion of the two-year interview period. Forty-four families completed all eight interviews; the rest of the families either moved from the study area or withdrew from the study before its completion.

Interviewers and Interview Questions

Community researchers representative of the diversity of the families enrolled in the study conducted the interviews in the families' home languages. Fifteen community researchers, who spoke five different languages, conducted the interviews in the four counties. The community researchers received extensive, two-day initial interview training, followed by quarterly training sessions throughout the two years of the interviews.

A child interview protocol was developed for each of the eight family interviews. The interviewers asked questions such as: What do you like to do in child care? What don't you like to do? Tell me about what you did in child care today? During one interview, each community researcher read a short story about a child talking about the best things that happen during child care, including a party to celebrate her birthday and painting at the easel. The community researcher then asked children to tell a similar story about some things that they liked about their child care situation. In another interview, each community researcher asked children to imagine that the interviewer had a child of the same age who was going to attend the same child care setting. The community researcher then asked the children to describe the setting. Children described the types of food they typically ate, the daily schedule, and how providers handled children who misbehaved.

During each child interview, the community researcher also asked children to draw pictures of their child care arrangements. Children's drawings were included in recognition that children sometimes lack the verbal skills to adequately capture their thoughts and ideas. Thus, drawings provided an additional medium for children to describe and express their experiences (Anning & Ring, 2004; Coates & Coates, 2006). The community researchers sent the pictures to the research team, along with the interview audiotapes and notes.

Analysis

A member of the research team trained three individuals to transcribe the audiotaped interviews. These training sessions typically lasted one hour and included directions for operating the transcriber as well as a review of the appropriate transcript interview template. Community researchers transcribed interviews in languages other than English. The community researchers who interpreted and word-processed the interviews conducted in non-English languages attended a two-hour training session describing the transcription process and protocol.

The research team sent the transcriptions to one research team member (who had attended a five-hour training and practice session), who checked to make sure the transcripts followed the transcript protocol. He also reformatted the transcripts to include color codes for the interviewers' questions and parents' and children's responses, and he numbered all the interview questions. Finally, he read through each transcript carefully and removed any extraneous conversation. Examples of extraneous conversation included discussing the weather, pets, and local events unrelated to the study and study focus. Once he completed the process, the coders loaded the transcripts into NUDIST*NVivo[TM] software.

The principal investigator worked with four doctoral graduate students with experience in interpretive research to code the transcripts. The team developed a coding chart after reading through and independently coding three transcripts. Once the team developed the codes, team members coded several transcripts independently to ascertain if the coding schemes were similar. Following this process, the coders began coding the documents related to the project. Each of the eight interviews required that the team develop additional codes; the teams determined these by the process described above.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Once the team coded the documents, members grouped similar codes together into major themes. For the interviews with children, the teams decided what the major themes were, based upon children's descriptions of typical and atypical experiences in child care. The team also examined the pictures that children drew about their child care experiences, and grouped them according to the themes each picture seemed to represent. Children drew pictures on a wide range of subjects, including playing with friends, outdoor activities, and favorite child care providers. The drawings included both pictures and written descriptions of their favorite child care experiences.

In our analysis, we assumed that children are "competent, capable, and effective reporters of their own experiences" (Dockett & Perry, 2007, p. 60). Our goal was to make sense of what children told us about their child care experiences--to present their views as clearly and as authentically as possible and to explain how those views contribute to our knowledge of what is good and bad about the child care children experience in the United States. In the next section, we present the major themes that children discussed, including their attitudes toward peers and caregivers, the activities they enjoyed in child care, and their perceptions of the discipline techniques used in their child care settings.

Findings

Children said that one of the best aspects of child care was playing with the other children (see Figures 1 and 2). Children named their friends and the activities they did with their friends. When they drew pictures, they often drew pictures of themselves doing a favorite activity with that friend. This was, by far, the most frequent response from children of all ages. For instance, a 10-year-old boy attending a rural FCC stated that "playing outside with friends" was his favorite activity. A 2-year-old named her friends as "Mary and Ta."

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Sometimes, children mentioned other children who were mean to them. For instance, two brothers said that the 13-year-old son of their FCC provider "would hurt us; he would be like, 'Be quiet, be quiet!' because we were crying and stuff." A 5-year-old enrolled in a SACC program explained that "Joe is mean, and all the big kids are mean, but some kids are nice. I can't remember some of their names. And the little kids are nice." Preschoolers also identified children who were mean or hurtful. A 4-year-old said, "Some friends are mean to me." Another 4-year-old said that "other boys bite me, and I bite."

These findings echo those of Einarsdottir (2005) and Langsted (1994), who reported that playing with others was children's favorite activity, regardless of age or type of care. Children in Langsted's study were also concerned about children who were mean. These studies, then, offer evidence that social relationships are an important factor in children's thinking about child care.

School-Age Children's Activities

School-age children described both inside and outside activities. Outside activities were the most frequently described activities by both boys and girls, although boys were more likely to describe outside activities than were girls. Outside activities included basketball, football, slides, swings, riding bikes, tennis, playing in forts, swimming, and walking to parks (see Figure 3). One girl said, "I love it!" about learning to play tennis and she said she wanted to do it "all the time." Several children mentioned that they did not go to the park even though one was located right across from their child care center or SACC. Others enrolled in SACC said that they were restricted to the gym during the winter months, with no access to outdoor space. Indoor activities frequently mentioned by the children included drawing, painting, watching television, playing video games, watching videos, playing with Lego toys, playing Bingo and other board games, playing foosball, playing with Barbie dolls, singing, and dancing. School-age girls mentioned some types of indoor activities, such as arts and crafts, more frequently than did boys, while boys were more likely to mention manipulative toys, such as Lego.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

Preschool Children's Activities

When preschool children were asked to describe their activities, they often responded "Play a lot." They mentioned such activities as housekeeping, science, math, water and sand table play, Lego blocks, coloring, reading stories, watching the fish in the tanks, playing marble games, computer, riding bikes, blocks, running outside, and videos. Napping often seemed to be a significant event for younger children. For example, one 2-year-old told the community researcher, "[I] sleep downstairs in a bed." Two-year-old children included descriptions of going home, such as "Mom comes and picks me up," and "I go home. After I go to school, I go home."

Disliked Activities

Despite the range of activities provided, some children did not enjoy their child care experiences. For instance, one boy whose family had recently emigrated from Ethiopia stated that he "didn't like it there" and he "liked being at home better."

School-age children, particularly those in FFN or FCC child care arrangements, mentioned they were bored. Two brothers, ages 7 and 8, who attended an FCC home, said that the caregiver "mostly has baby toys," and that there was little for them to do. When an 8-year-old boy was asked to explain what he did inside, he said, "nothing really, just sit around." Three girls--ages 8, 10, and 10--in different FCC programs said they helped out with babies and younger children. The 8-year-old explained that helping was the way to "get attention from Grandma when holding baby." The child care experiences of these children are not always positive.

Television, Videos, and Video Games

Regardless of the child's age or child care setting, children talked about watching television and videos, playing video games, and, to a far lesser extent, using computers (see Figure 4). Television viewing was most common in FFN and FCC homes. For example, a school-age boy in an FFN arrangement said he didn't like to watch cartoons, and his sister added, "I don't like to watch TV. I don't like watching the news." David, a 10-year-old who attended a SACC program, explained that his least favorite activity was watching television, "'cause you can't watch MTV or anything."

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Children in all types of child care arrangements reported viewing video movies. An 8-year-old girl in FCC said that the children "watch sometimes two hours per day." Recalling his experience that day in a SACC program, a 5-year-old said he watched a Scooby Doo video that afternoon. Children often reported that they could bring PG-rated videos from home. Only one child stated that the SACC staff, not the children, selected the videos and that they consisted of episodes from the PBS series "Reading Rainbow."

Video games were a popular pastime, especially among school-age boys. Boys reported playing Gameboy[TM] and Sega[TM] in all forms of child care. In an FCC home, a boy explained that the provider's son used his Nintendo[TM], "but [you] can bring own from home." One boy enrolled in an SACC reported being "bored [because there's] not enough arcade game time." In the interviews conducted by the researchers, there was an obsessive quality to the way that many boys talked about video games. They "watched" other children play, and "waited" for their turns. Many reported that they brought their own hand-held games from home. Although there probably were girls who engaged in this activity, it was the boys who brought up the topic again and again.

Reading and Storytelling

Preschool children in FCC, child care centers, and most FFN arrangements reported that someone read to them daily. They enjoyed this experience and had no difficulty recalling it as a part of their daily schedule (see Figure 5). They could often recall the book that was read that day and a favorite book in the child care collection. The reading experience for older children, however, was more varied. Some children did have the opportunity to listen to stories or read books every day, as was the case with a 6-year-old who reported that "Grandpa reads to us" every day. However, a 10-year-old who attended an FCC program during the summer reported "no book, no reading," and two brothers ages 7 and 10 years old reported that at their FCC, a child "would not be read to--barely any books there." Some children who attended SACC programs reported story time opportunities, and other children said that "older children read chapter books." What emerged from the interviews was an uneven pattern of reading and literacy activities for the school-age children in this study.

[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]

Staff and Discipline

The children liked adults who did things with them. Two siblings, ages 6 and 9, said they "liked [a SACC staff member] because he played with us." A 7-year-old explained why she liked a particular provider by saying, "Because she's usually all of our teacher and she's very nice." An 8-year-old girl thought providing a fun activity made a staff member particularly memorable: "Because she let us make a collage box and we got to make snowmen out of paper cups."

Children also described providers whom they disliked. For instance, a 9-year-old boy said he didn't like a provider because she "bossed us around." An 8-year-old child complained that "Grandma send[s] us back out when it is hot." A 9-year-old boy attending a SACC program said that the staff there "never help us solve our problems."

[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]

Time-out was overwhelmingly the most described method of discipline. Two siblings, ages 7 and 9, stated the penalty for bad behavior was to "sit on [the] couch as long as Dot [the child care provider] wants." Another sibling pair, ages 7 and 10, said that at their FCC program, "time-out and strong talk with Martha [child care provider]" were the discipline measures used. One child explained that even though time out was used, there was still "lots of fighting--time out didn't work."

Preschool children were also very clear about what happens when, in the words of this 2-year-old, "I be naughty." One 4-year-old stated that you "get dead, time out." A 3-year-old explained that another child "pushed me down. I cried. They got time out." A 4-year-old described a different approach, "Go to office. A lot of guys bite and go talk to Lois [the center director]."

Several children described other discipline methods that entailed contacting parents. A 6-year-old explained, "First, they give them a warning. Then if they tell you a second time, they get a time out. If it's a third time, they get a FYI [note to parents]." A 9-year-old told the community researcher that parents "got a behavioral report; that's the worse thing ever."

One 9-year-old explained that when children reported the misbehavior of another child, they were "told to solve your own problems. You have to solve it on your own." A 6-year-old in a relative's home said that "when [you] get scratched, [she] says, 'You'll live.'" An 8-year-old in her grandmother's care stated, "[I] can't tell what happens when children are bad." Later she told the community researcher that her grandmother used the flyswatter to hit children when they did not behave. Two other children in FNN care reported that the provider spanked the children when they were "naughty."

Older Children's Memories of Past Care Experiences

Older children recalled positive and negative memories of past child care experiences. One 13-year-old had very positive memories of her child care experiences, including descriptions of a provider who was warm and nurturing towards her. Likewise, a 9-year-old boy drew and wrote about his positive experiences with a neighbor who provided child care (see Figure 6). Negative memories included an 8-year-old whose memories of attending a for-profit child care center as a preschooler included, "I cried there. I really didn't like it. I was little." Another school-age child recalled negative experiences as a preschooler because staff members were "mean" to her.

Discussion

Child Care Activities

The findings presented here indicate that children do have viewpoints about child care that differ from those of parents, researchers, and child care providers. Corsaro (1985), Dahlber, Moss, and Pence (1999), and Katz (1993) have all argued that children's perceptions are an important addition to our understanding of child care. The perceptions portrayed here support this view and suggest important implications for quality and policy decisions in child care.

Children in this study, as well as children in other studies (Einarsdottir, 2005; Langsted, 1994), view their interactions with peers as one of the most important aspects of their child care experience. Children vividly portray positive interactions as engaging and pleasant, while negative interactions are unpleasant and a source of concern. Recall that children shared their fears about other children in their programs, and told stories about being mistreated by older children. Such stories did not include descriptions of regular adult intervention to rectify the problems, and several children described providers who told them to work out problems on their own. These findings suggest that investigations into the quality of a program should include more attention to how child care providers help children negotiate their relationships with peers and the degree to which social skills are emphasized. Children should not have to endure situations that cause them physical or emotional harm, yet a few children in this study made statements expressing concern that they were not being adequately protected from other children in the program. Adults must respond to the needs of these children. In addition, the high degree of concern that children expressed indicates a strong interest in learning how to handle interpersonal problems. Adults can use that interest as a basis for a curriculum that emphasizes the development of sophisticated social skills.

Children--even those who were younger--were able to recall a variety of activities from their child care arrangements. They showed enthusiasm and interest in a broad range of activities, as have children in other studies (Einarsdottir, 2005; Evans & Fuller, 1998; Langsted, 1994). School-age children in this study were particularly enthusiastic about outdoor activities. When children in the present study expressed dissatisfaction with activities, they cited a lack of stimulating or appropriate materials for their age. These concerns are consistent with the concerns of many adults who work in, and monitor, child care programs.

One potentially worrisome aspect of children's reports on the activities available to them is the frequency with which children listed watching television and video movies or playing video games as common occurrences in their child care arrangements. FCC and FFN providers allowed children to watch television frequently, even though some children apparently were not interested in the shows they were watching. Posner and Vandell (1994) found that children who attend SACC programs have more opportunities for academic activities and reading, and less time for television viewing. The findings in this study may be different because all forms of child care are included, not just SACC programs.

Children reported less television-watching in child care centers and SACC programs, but they did have opportunities to watch video movies or play video games. Of those children who discussed watching videos, only one indicated that the video movies were selected exclusively by the SACC staff and were limited to educational shows. Allowing children to watch PG-rated movies and/or child-selected movies may be of concern to parents who want to monitor and limit the kinds of media content to which their children are exposed. In addition, the frequency with which television- and video-watching was reported by children may warrant a closer look. Important questions have been raised about the nature of these activities, including concerns about content, the passive nature of the activity, and the time taken from more appropriate activities (Mander, 1978; Winn, 1977/2002).

In addition to television- and video-watching, children reported widespread access to video games, especially among school-age boys. It was not clear from the children's descriptions about what limits child care providers placed on video game use or what rules governed the games played. As with television- and video-watching, a closer look at the use of video games in child care centers may be warranted. For example, Bacigalupa (2005) reported that kindergarten children in an FCC home engaged in long periods of video game playing, even though the provider limited their use to 20 minutes per child daily. Because children eagerly watched their friends play, they were actually playing and watching video games for two hours daily. This extended preoccupation with the games negatively influenced the quality and duration of the children's social interactions with their peers.

Coupled with fairly regular use of television and videos is a mixed picture about literacy activities for school-age children. Younger children are more likely to be read to, and they have books available to them in all forms of child care. School-age children, including kindergartners, were less likely to report being read to or having books available. Coleman, Wallinga, and Toledo (1999) found that 60 percent of SACC administrators reported daily reading time in their programs. In this study, however, children reported a lower level of reading activity in SACC and other forms of school-age care.

The reports described here indicate that children do have strong opinions about how they spend their time. As in other studies (Evans & Fuller, 1998; Wiltz & Klein, 2001), children seem to be generally satisfied with the range and types of activities provided for them. However, some children have specific concerns that should be addressed, such as a lack of appropriate materials for their age. Since children cannot address such deficiencies on their own, it is imperative that adults listen to the concerns of the children they serve, so that children's needs and wants can be considered and addressed. In addition, children's reports on their daily activities indicate widespread access to non-educational electronic media, a situation that may warrant further research.

Child Care Provider

Children clearly described what they found appealing about their preferred child care providers--they were friendly and enjoyed doing activities with them. Providers who yelled, were grumpy, or didn't help children solve their problems were liked least. Children encountered both pleasant and unpleasant providers in all forms of child care. Hoskins, Pence, and Chambers (1999) found that children are most apt to remember relationships with child care providers when describing their child care experiences. This finding suggests that relationships with their providers are an especially important aspect of child care. Since children seem to form and remember strong opinions about the behaviors of their providers, discussions of child care quality need to place a high emphasis on provider relationships with children.

Closely aligned with children's views on their providers were their descriptions of discipline methods. Although Wiltz and Klein (2001) found that children did not often include time out in their descriptions of what they disliked about child care, children in the study by Armstrong and Sugawara (1989) and children in our study who were asked to describe discipline techniques were most likely to identify time out. Children also identified other discipline techniques, such as contacting parents. One child was even aware of the efficacy of the discipline methods used, commenting that time outs did not decrease fighting behaviors among the children.

Children's reports that time out is widely used are especially interesting in the context of Minnesota licensing requirements. In both center and family child care regulations, the regular use of time out is prohibited. Providers must show that they have employed alternate discipline techniques before resorting to a time out. Yet, children's reports overwhelmingly cite time out as the consequence of bad behavior, with relatively little mention of the alternate consequences that these children should, theoretically, be experiencing or witnessing. It is possible that time out is being used to a much greater degree than would be expected if providers were following current regulations.

In two instances, children in FCC and FFN said their provider spanked or hit them with a flyswatter. Children clearly expressed their belief that this information was not something they should be sharing. One child who described this form of punishment refused to discuss it further. Like frequent use of time out, these techniques are not permitted in FCC programs. However, FFN is unregulated by the state, so spanking and hitting would not necessarily be monitored in these settings. As discussed previously, children must be protected from situations where they might experience physical or emotional harm. When children's views are solicited, important information that might otherwise have remained hidden can be uncovered.

Over half of the comments that children in this study made about child care focused on discipline, time out, or interpersonal problems with staff and children. Galanopoulos (1995) found that over half of the children in his study discussed discipline as a key difference between home and child care. These findings suggest that children see discipline (even when it is not overtly cruel or harmful) as an important aspect of child care. How children experience discipline in their child care settings may have lasting effects on their understandings of why discipline is important and how it should be used.

Children's early experiences of discipline are also important because discipline is closely related to the ways in which children experience relationships with their providers. Hoskins, Pence, and Chambers (1999) found that children are most apt to remember their relationships with others when describing their child care experiences. Whether those relationships are remembered as positive and enjoyable or marked by strife, children are keenly aware of the providers' attitudes towards them. In the end, these attitudes create a climate that significantly impacts children's experiences on a daily basis. Our definitions and measures of quality must reflect the importance that children place on their relationships in child care.

Conclusion

Children's perceptions of their child care experiences help us to understand what is salient to them and how to enrich their development while in child care (Galanopoulos, 1995). The research presented here corroborates past findings that children are aware of and recall their child care experiences, that their relationships with both peers and providers are very important to them, that discipline occupies their attention to a great degree, and that the kinds of activities they experience matter to them. The research presented in this article further suggests that children's observations can help us to identify potential areas of concern in their child care arrangements, such as inadequate or inappropriate activities, lack of attention to children's concerns, and the use of inappropriate discipline techniques. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) asserts the right of children to express their view on matters that impact them. We would argue that not only do children have the right to express their views, but also that adults have the responsibility to use children's views to improve the situations in which we place them. This research provides some insights into the areas where children might most like us to focus our efforts.

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Deborah Ann Ceglowski

University of North Carolina

Chiara Bacigalupa

Sonoma State University
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Author:Ceglowski, Deborah Ann; Bacigalupa, Chiara
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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