“No one’s going to love your child the way you do,” Wahnika Johnson says. “No one’s going to care for your child the way you do. But I’m looking for the closest thing to it.”
Johnson’s daughter pouts in the backseat of her car as she drives her to her first day of preschool.
Like thousands of parents do each day, Johnson must place her child in the care of another so she can work.
“If I could stay at home,” Johnson says, “I’d stay at home in a heartbeat.”
Eleven million children under the age of 5 find themselves in the care of a person besides their parents for half of their waking hours, according to No Small Matter, a film that chronicles the hurdles that Johnson and other parents face to balance life with raising children. The documentary hosted by Kaplan Early Learning Company screened at a/perture cinema on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The film itself, made by Kindling Group and Siskel Jacobs Productions, was created to organize information about the need for something called “the early childhood movement.” The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of a child’s pre-kindergarten years, and to advocate for a society that allows children and families to thrive. Matthew Marceron, president and CEO of Kaplan, says the screening functions as a tool to build awareness for the issue and to market for Kaplan’s business.
“There is a common misconception that school begins at kindergarten or first grade,” he says after the film. “The early years are of paramount importance to ensuring the success of children as they enter traditional school and embark on their education journey.”
Rachel Giannini, a preschool teacher, gathers a group of more than a dozen children onto the large mat in her classroom. She asks for a problem that the group can solve. One child, hand held high, mentions a fight. Giannini mimes getting into a preschool-level argument with another teacher, the two bantering back and forth, while the children brainstorm how to handle conflict resolution.
Unlike Giannini’s aptly named Yellow Room, the vast majority of childcare fails to provide quality curriculum according to the film. No Small Matter places the share of high-quality childcare facilities in the country at 10 percent.
“Of course, our economy and society have changed,” Marceron explains, “so more women are in the workforce, more families have two working parents, and the blessing of child-rearing is shared with childcare providers.”
The film lays out a wide array of issues that contribute to the larger gap in both at-home and professional education for children under six. Low pay for childcare professionals often leads hard-working educators to leave the field. Parents may work a job or two each to fund both housing and childcare. Poverty leaves families at a harsh disadvantage.
Aside from the personal anecdotes and peeks into the personal struggles of everyday parents, the film consults a great deal of experts, balancing emotional stories with expert opinion. Deborah Phillips, a professor at Georgetown University, lays out an idea of what the ideal learning environment for a child under 6 would look like.
“You don’t see a bunch of kids sitting in desks,” Phillips says.
Giannini leads a group of children outside and kneels down beside a gardening box. Armed with some nonfiction picture books and dirt-covered hands, the children dig for bugs to learn about. A child yells that they found a rock-looking object. They guess it might be an egg sac. Giannini perches a picture book on the wooden planter and opens it up, displaying the pages to the group to see if they can match up what it is. Later, she asks the small group to share what type of egg they found with the class.
“A praying mantis!” a child shouts out.