What to Look for in a Child Care Environment

Quality child care can come in many forms, from large child care centers to small in-home child care programs and everything in between. Finding the right situation for your child can be overwhelming and stressful. It is a personal decision. What is right for your family may not be right for your best friends family. Here are some things to consider as you explore your options:

  • Schedule– if your work schedule is outside of the traditional 9-5 Monday-Friday work schedule it is important that you ask about the hours of operation of any program you are considering. Many programs may be eliminated from your list of options based on schedule.
  • Location– if you are like many people, this is a drive you will have to make on a daily basis. Once enrolled in child care, many people find that the majority of the time they have with their child is just before bed and rushing to get out the door in the morning. If the commute to child care is long, it is using up time you could be spending interacting with your child at home. Also, if your commute takes you through heavy traffic areas or other stressful situations, this will have a negative impact on your entire day (and possibly your child’s day too!).
  • Cleanliness and safety– children are notoriously good at spreading germs and young children are always putting things in their mouths. Avoid child care programs that look unclean, where choking hazards are within easy reach of young children or where you are at all uncomfortable with supervision or safety.
  • Learning environment– Children learn by doing. This means engaging in hands-on play. Look for a program where children are playing with open-ended toys like blocks, housekeeping props and dress up, rubber animals, dolls, balls, cars, etc. Watch the way children interact with each other and how the caregivers interact with the children. They should be attentive, but not controlling. Children should be active, but not wild. Children should have choices of what to play with, when and how. Adults should guide children in their choices when necessary. Avoid programs that rely heavily television, computers and worksheets to keep children busy. The kids may look calm and busy, but they are missing out on important opportunities to explore concepts in meaningful ways that will make a lasting impact on their future growth.
  • Discipline– Just as there is a lot of variety in how families approach discipline, the same is true for child care programs. When it comes to discipline, consistency is important for children so choose a program with a discipline philosophy that is in line with yours.
  • Food– some programs provide food, others expect you to bring it. Be aware of what foods will be served to your child. Excessive amounts of juice and other high-sugar foods should be avoided.
  • Outdoor time– all children, even infants, need time outdoors. Ask how often children are taken outdoors and in what situations (weather, staffing, etc.) children might not be taken outdoors.
  • Teacher training/accreditation– are teachers certified? Is the program accredited by a national or state agency? Do the teachers take part in ongoing training or professional development? A program that has high standards and supports teacher’s professional development is more likely to retain staff and be more aware of current best practice for caring for young children. This is good for kids.
  • Communication– how do teachers let you know what went on during the day? How are problems communicated? How do the teachers communicate with the children?
  • Flexibility– if you are likely to need to change your schedule, add, drop or switch days, ask if this is a possibility. Some programs are very flexible and others are not at all.

Choosing the right child care situation is important for your own peace of mind and for your child’s well-being. Take your time, ask questions and make the choice that is right for you.

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Staff Collaboration: Every School’s Secret Treasure

In schools across the country there are educators full of wisdom, experience, new ideas and unique personal skills. We all have wonderful ideas and information to share. We all love helping and we’re pretty good at being supportive (that’s a big reason why we chose this field). Yet most teachers are very isolated in their classrooms or only have opportunities to communicate with the other teachers or support staff within the same age-level group.

How well is your school using the resources you have in your own teachers? Many schools encourage mentor relationships between new and experienced teachers, but do teachers have an opportunity to come together as a school and share issues and ideas? Do you have a forum for group brainstorming to solve problems? How comfortable does your staff feel when it comes to sharing their ideas or insights?

Today’s schools and child care centers are facing increasingly difficult  issues. Children with complex cognitive, social, developmental or emotional problems. Families under great stress. Programs under financial stress or struggling with the burdens of unfunded mandates. Staff professional development is important, and can be very helpful, but you may be amazed at how much information is locked away in the minds of your teachers.

Complex issues require collaborative problem solving, and when teachers and administrators come together in a collaborative environment, effective solutions can be only a brainstorm away! Think about implementing weekly or monthly staff meetings. If you already do this, make sure you set aside time at the meetings for open discussions and opportunities for collaboration. A team approach to problem solving encourages everyone to become invested in the solution and can raise the quality of teaching across your school.

Tips for Creating a Great Family Child Care Space

Family child care homes can be an amazing place for young children. Many center-based child care programs try and fall short of trying to provide that cozy, home-like feel that helps to put children and families at ease.

For family child care providers, that home-like feel comes with the space. The challenge becomes making your home a space that works for you and your family, as well as for the children in your care.

Here are some tips for making your space the best that it can be.

  • Have clear barriers (doors, child safety gates) that separate your private family space from the areas used by the children in your care.
  • Use low shelves, sofas and other existing furniture to create room dividers, cozy nooks and control the way people move through your space.
  • Have a areas where children can enjoy quiet activities as well as a space where children can explore movement and more active play.
  • Have areas where children can be comfortably alone (but supervised!) and in groups.
  • Get creative with your furniture and storage. Can nap items be stored in a nearby linen closet or under the sofa? Can a craft cart slide under a side table in your dining room or kitchen when not in use? Can a crib mattress that you are not using help to create a cozy reading corner or tumbling area?
  • Use your entrance to promote parent communication. Post a bulletin board with your daily schedule, yearly calendar or other current notices for parents.
  • Make a payment drop box from an old tissue box or other container and place it near the entrance to encourage prompt payments.

For even more information on setting up your home environment as well as how to plan a routine and all kinds of activity ideas, take a look at our Family Child Care Smart Start Kit or Activity Binder. If you work with mostly infants and toddlers, try our Family Child Care Infant/Toddler materials.

For a great article on how to plan your family child care space, check out Designing a Family Child Care Environment in  Child Care Information Exchange.

Onsite Child Care Boosts Worker Productivity

As a parent of young children, more often than not my schedule is dictated by my children’s schedules. I miss work when they have doctors appointments, when their school is closed, when they get sick. And I count myself lucky because both the school and child care provider are close by. Imagine all the time I’d loose if the work/school/childcare commute were longer!

Over the past 20 years a variety of research studies have shown a strong link between an employee’s productivity and their ability to meet the childcare needs of their family. A recent article in the Tallahassee Democrat highlights some interesting efforts that Florida is making to encourage childcare-business partnerships aiming to make on-site childcare more available.

According to the article, in 1996 the Florida Legislature enacted the Child Care Executive Partnership Program which provides funds to match employer contributions to their employees’ childcare expenses.

The Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region administers the program locally. Chris Duggan, the coalition’s CEO, explained that federal and state funding is matched with contributions from local governments, charitable foundations and participating businesses on a dollar-for-dollar basis to provide child-care services to participating families.

Affordability of quality child care is a big issue for working families and worker productivity is a big issue for employers. With this dollar-matching incentive program, Florida his helping to create a win-win situation for everyone. This program has enabled larger employers, as well as smaller employers clustered together in office parks, to partner with child care owners. The result is on-site child care programs that are very affordable and allow working parents to be close to their young children, alleviating stress, reducing absent time and increasing productivity. I think it’s a model worth exploring.

Find the Money: Tips for Getting School Grants

It’s no secret that many early learning programs are barely getting by in this tough economy. Enrollment is down and it’s a struggle to pay the bills and keep staff. Updating your indoor  or outdoor space, purchasing new curriculum and even restocking the supply closet seem like impossible dreams. But those dreams can come true! It’s just a matter of finding the right funding source and putting together a compelling proposal that will bring those funds to your door.

The School Funding Center has a great blog that is full of grant writing tips and a link to an early childhood grant source database.

Some tips include:

  • Find grant sources whose giving purpose closely match your funding needs. Most foundations have a stated goal or reason for being. In addition, many list the types of projects they like to fund. Do your homework and be sure that you are applying to a source who is interested in funding a project like yours.
  • Apply to as many of those matching grant sources as possible. The more you apply to, the more likely you are to receive a positive response.
  • Whenever possible find facts and figures to backing up the importance of your need. Funding sources like statistics. It gives the impression that you know your stuff.
  • Include a detailed budget in your grant application to show grantors that you know the problem you are facing and what it will cost to fix it. Include information about cost of materials and personnel.

In my experience, including a compelling story is also helpful to capture the heartstrings of the people reading your application. So give grant writing a try. A little effort can bring in the dollars you need to help your program thrive.