Can I just be real here for a moment? Can I just be brutally honest, and lay it all on the table? I’m kind of fired up, and ready to fight.
Back in December I received an email from the Colorado Office of Early Childhood (COEC) stating that the updated child care center rules had been reviewed and were passed and would go into effect Feb 1. The message from the Director of the OEC goes on to say,
“I am thankful for everyone who took time to participate in this process: the Child Care Rules Re-write Committee for providing leadership and guidance; early childhood professionals for submitting recommendations; parents and stakeholders for pushing for higher standards and quality care; and Division of Early Care and Learning staff for their commitment to making sure child care providers are supported during the implementation period.”
My heart sank, I felt a little noxious, and I quickly “starred” my email to be read at a later date. I just couldn’t bear the thought of reading about all the things we were going to have to change in order to keep doing what we are doing.
Let me go back a bit. Every year we are inspected by the COEC. Every year we are written up for some rule violation – usually something small like leaving the hammer out (from the pumpkin hammering work that the children most definitely do NOT do because it is waaaaaay to dangerous for them), missing some paperwork in a child’s file – small infractions. Back in 2012 we were cited for the use of “chokeables” in our classroom, and were told that we needed to remove all objects small enough to be swallowed from the classroom. What this entailed was about 60 % of our classroom – not an option. So we prepared for battle; it was a long and costly battle that included lawyers, negotiations, tears, money, time and stress. I’m happy to say we won that battle and were granted a waiver that allowed us to move forward with what we do, chokeables included.
Let’s move forward to last September. We were inspected as expected, and cited for exceeding maximum group size (20) during line time. We’ve been exceeding group size for almost 10 years and were just this year cited? The consistency in regulation is amazing let me tell you. Anyway, long story short – we appealed, our appeal was denied, we hired a lawyer and were headed down the path to once again battle it out in court with the OEC about this rule being applied to stringently. We were going to look awesome in our pant suits! As luck would have it the new Rules and Regs came out just in time and the very rule we were cited for violating had been amended and no longer posed an problem for us. Yay!
So where does this leave us? Well, we can still have line time, and give group lessons, practice grace and courtesy, and celebrate birthdays has an entire class, however; there are mountains of other rules that we need to find our way through. Some of those rules, depending on how they are interpreted, could pose a real threat to the authentic Montessori Classroom. This is the part that infuriates me. There are people making sweeping decisions (supposedly with public input) about what is safest, what is too dangerous, what is risky, what is quality. There are people (who may or may not have ever been in the classroom with children) making rules about how many paint brushes need to be available to children, and how many photographs representing nature, and how many dolls representing different ethnicities need to be present in the classroom. There are rules about annual training requirements for teachers (cpr, first aide, universal precautions, child abuse, immunization records, etc) and countless areas of overlap within these trainings. Despite having all these trainings about how to safely care for children, in the eyes of the State we are too incompetent to teach children to safely work with small materials like the Golden Beads so that they can tangibly learn about the difference between 1 and 1000? And given all the research on cancer causing chemicals in plastic we are not allowed to drink from glass cups? How is it that a 15-year-old life guard with far less annual training can safely watch your young children in the swimming pool yet early childhood teachers with 10, 20, 30 + years of experience in the trenches cannot safely teach a child how to handle a chicken or cut a carrot?
Regulation is getting tighter, and that which is acceptable is getting narrower. Schools are closing, teachers are becoming deflated, uninspired, and tired of fighting the fight. In an industry where the financial reward for the work that is done is minimal, this type of regulation poses a huge risk the quality of care and environments that will be available in the future. Parents will no longer have choices in their child’s early childhood learning experience – it will all be same. They may have a say in how far they want to drive their child, and to what building, but it will all be the same. I fear that if things keep going the way they are going – preschool will end up being an opportunity to play with plastic toys, in a bubble wrapped room.
The good news? I’m fired up! We are going to fight the good fight. We passionately believe that we’ve got a good thing going on at Blue Mountain. We are going to find our way through all these rules, challenge them when necessary (we may call on you for support), and still do what we do best – offering young children an opportunity to experience a rich hands-on environment to learn about their world in which they live, and discover their potentials.