Childcare worker rubbishes expert's claim kids should stay at home for first three years

An early childcare worker has disputed a neuroscience educator's claim children should remain at home for their first three years of their life.

As of Thursday, a working parent in New Zealand will be able to get 26 weeks of paid leave, up from 22. The maximum payment has also increased by $20 per week.

Speaking to Magic Talk on Wednesday, former Canterbury University human development lecturer Nathan Wallis said babies should instead be spending their first three years at home for optimum brain development.

He says a parent should not be returning to work until after those crucial first 1000 days of their child's life.

"There's no benefits at all from the research for a child being in a childcare centre under the age of three," he told host Ryan Bridge. 

"It doesn't make them more intelligent, it doesn't improve their social skills... benefits don't start accruing until they're three. Being at home for the first three years is what literature tells us is the best outcome."

But his advice was ill-received by early childhood teacher and mother-of-six Jo, who called in to fire back at Wallis' claims.

"I totally dispute almost 80 percent of what [Wallis] said... I've had all of my children in early childhood, the latest I've had them in care is six months old... I have an amazing connection with my children," she argued to Bridge.

"You can find literature for anything you want... that's very simplistic."

Jo says she's had "no issues" with any of her children and as an early childcare worker, she's seen "hundreds" of examples of children who are better off being cared for at a centre.

"There are so many other factors that are much more important - stability within the home... a family raising a child rather than one parent."

She also argued early childhood workers do love the children they look after, following Wallis' claim that at home, children have "someone that loves them unconditionally", "understands them better than anyone else" and "would die for them" - a bond that can't be achieved at childcare centres. 

"A sense of connection that you don't get when a teacher has good relationships with [the number of] kids they're looking after. What really matters is the sense of connection, not education. No one's going to connect to you usually as well as your mother or father will," Wallis said.

Infants thrive when a strong relationship is built with a "special person", whether it be mum, dad, a guardian or primary caregiver, and according to literature, fostering that "sense of connection" will have the most significant impacts on a child's development.

If a parent can't afford to stay at home for three years, Wallis recommends "the next best thing" - whether it be grandparents, home-based care with one caregiver rather than rostered staff, or a primary care centre to ensure the child will be looked after mainly by one person.

He argues that parents should be investing their money into sustaining a stay-at-home role for those first three years, rather than splashing cash on a private school later in life. 

"If you've got $50,000 and you want your kid earning as much money and as highly-qualified as possible when they're 32... spend it in the first 1000 days, spend it with having a parent staying at home with the child - that's going to do more to lift qualifications and income at 32 than going to the flashest, private secondary school."

However, he acknowledged that children's outcomes are determined by multiple factors, adding he doesn't want "parents to freak out". He also noted that not all of his children were at home until the age of three.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern celebrated the paid parental leave extension in Parliament, joking about influencing the women in her office to have babies. 

"Every time I look at all of the pregnant women in my office... I don't know what I've started, but it's just rife."