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Some countries have free nursery/pre-school from a very young age - it's compulsory in France from age three, for example. I'm interested in what kind of effect this has on children's development. By childcare I mean nursery, pre-school and babysitting, not government benefits that go directly to parents. Specifically:

  1. Does free/subsidised childcare reduce time children spend with their parents? What kind of impact does reduced contact with parents/family have on children's development?

  2. Does free/subsidised childcare increase the size of the workforce, in particular does it increase the number of women in the workforce? Could it be that people who push for free childcare are doing so for economic reasons rather than for the welfare of the child?

  3. Is there a significant benefit for a toddler with attentive, caring parents to go to nursery/pre-school, or would it be better to stay with the parents?

My instinct is that free childcare will adversely effect children's development as it incentivises good parents to stick their kids with a babysitter/nursery and go off to work, which makes me think this is more of an economic push than one that actually benefits children and parents in the long run. However, I would like more data before I jump to conclusions.

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We had our son in childcare from a very early age, and I would say the effects were entirely positive. He learned to socialise with other children, to play cooperatively, and how to handle not being the most important person in the room.

I remember that I did not go to "nursery school" as pre-school child care is known here, but my sister did. When I did finally encounter a class-room full of other children it was a very difficult day. I could not understand what was expected of me, why these other children were behaving the way they were (including bullying), or anything. It set me up for a difficult time right the way through school because socially I was always trying to catch up. My sister had a much easier time of it, and I suspect this was because she was already used to dealing with other children.

On the economic side, well of course there are economic impacts from having women (lets be honest, when you say "parents" you mean "mothers") tied to the house for a decade or more. But I don't think these things are in opposition. We always found plenty of time to be with our son outside of nursery, and later outside of school. If you are interested in the economic forces damaging parenting then you might investigate the way in which poor parents have to work ridiculously long hours merely to pay for basic food and shelter. Hence they don't have time or energy to be with their children regardless of childcare arrangements. However that question would be better addressed on SE.Politics or SE.Economics.

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We placed all 3 of our kids at nursery and pre-school. I'd agree with Paul that the effects are positive both for the children and for us as parents. While we obviously wanted to spend as much time as possible with our babies, and I managed to work from home a bit to help give my wife some essential time away from them, having them in nursery was the first opportunity to begin to rebuild normal life. It was an opportunity to be able to relax.

For the kids, they had professionals experienced in development at that age, unlike us parents being enthusiastic amateurs; they got to mix with other children and learn social skills; and they also developed immunities through contact with friends.

All of these are high value experiences.

To address your 3 points specifically:

  1. Yes, there is some time reduction. As I said this helps both parents and children
  2. Yes, it helps get both parents back to work faster, helping them and the economy
  3. Yes, they develop social skills faster and many developmental processes are aided by professional interaction
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Two points that seem to missing in your question. First, countries like France that have a lot of small children in kindergarten also have various educational requirements for the staff at kindergarten (for example in the Netherlands working in a kindergarten requires a university degree). So you are comparing a random grown up with a professional child carer. Professionals usually are better at what they do than amateurs.

Second, a kindergarten provides tons of interaction with other kids of a similar age. Of course you can supply that as parents as well, but that is something no kid can have too much of and if parents are providing as much time with other same age kids as a kindergarten does they are a kindergarten.

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