Working with children for the last 15 years is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. Young children can teach us so much, and in return, there’s nothing that feels quite as meaningful as being someone who guides, shapes, nurtures, and teaches them to be their best, happiest, kindest, smartest, brightest selves. I have my degree with an emphasis on child development and teaching, have been a preschool teacher out in my community, and have run my full-time early learning child care business from home for over a decade. I’ve also raised two amazing people of my own.
Interestingly, as a preschool teacher, working in someone else’s business or school, strangers have shown me great respect for my work with young children. They seem to understand the patience and kindness it requires. As a child care provider, however, doing similar (or harder) work over longer days in my own business, I’ve encountered too many people who actually seem to think my work is the same thing as babysitting. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Let’s dissolve that ignorance right here and now by taking a good, long look at all of the WORK that goes into this very important, very valuable profession.
1. I started my business all on my own! I built this business from the ground up, via hard work and word of mouth. In the beginning, I worked every minute that I wasn’t sleeping or taking a shower: 15 hours a day, 5 days a week. For years, I cared for a group of six children, ages two months to five years old, all day, all on my own. That’s especially exciting when three of them have pooped at the same time, two are sitting and sobbing over a toy they don’t want to share, and one is trying to get out the front door. (Fortunately, now, for the first time in 15 years,I have an assistant teacher for the evening who takes over so that my work day is 8 hours long instead of 11, but that also means paying this person well, hiring an accountant to cover payroll and my new payroll taxes, paying for workman's compensation insurance, providing paid holidays and vacation days, offering other benefits, and making sure they follow both the state’s rules and requirements, and my business’ standards of teaching and caregiving). And that's in addition to raising my own family.
Starting my own business has also meant developing and maintaining contracts with the families I work with, recording income via receipts from them, creating and providing them with annual tax statements, preparing and recording our meals for the USDA Food Program, following the state’s extensive laws and regulations, including time-consuming, expensive trainings every year, an annual inspection from the Environmental Health Agency, paying monthly for business insurance, regularly purchasing our art and educational supplies, developing an age-appropriate and engaging curriculum, maintaining a daily schedule of active and quiet play and learning activities and opportunities, both indoor and outdoor, and creating an organized and structured early learning center for the children.
2. Child Care Providers put everything into our businesses! My time is devoted to my work, my heart is devoted to giving these kids the best possible, and my home is completely taken over by this program I run! This work isn’t a job you leave on the other side of town when your shift ends. In my home, the whole house is set up for the children I work with, aside from our bedrooms. My living room and dining room consist of high chairs, booster seats at our table, educational posters for circle time, wall to wall toys and books, the children’s cubbies, jacket hooks, and their shoe area, our Parent Wall area (for the monthly calendar, daily updates on their child’s day, our policies, our certifications, etc.), the children’s Art Wall, and more. Our backyard is set up for them in this way, too. My family lives, wakes, and sleeps in an in-home preschool: an in-home preschool in which the parents may knock and enter at any time, during our open hours. And in which the state Division of Child Care will come do surprise checks to make sure we’re following their rules. Same with the USDA Food Program.
This career requires a lot of devotion to it! Let me give you another example of how…
3. This work day is a LOT of work! Following waking up at 5:00am for my coffee, exercise, and pre-workday shower, my schedule is non-stop GO, GIVE, DO, WORK from about 5am until 7pm.
A typical day looks like this:
At 7:30am, my business opens. It doesn’t close again until 6pm. We clean until 6:30pm.
I change diapers and help with potty-training -and then sanitize the area and wash my hands- about 20 times a day. More when my group of younger kids is bigger.
I prepare all the meals, and then supervise and clean up the messes of breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack. All of these following the rules of the USDA Food Program. I then record all the details of how much of each food was served, as is required by the USDA, and turn this paperwork in every month.
We do a lot of art and sensory play projects. Followed by art time and play time clean up.
I constantly observe the children, individually and in their group, to create a developmentally appropriate curriculum based on their ages, skills, and interests.
I make time every day to facilitate our curriculum via circle time, story time, singing and dancing, educational lessons, teacher-guided play, child-centered “free play,” and fun activities to promote a love of learning, exploring, and imagining.
We have outside play time twice per day, rain or shine. Sometimes that means spending an extra 20 minutes getting everyone's rain suits and rain boots on (that I paid for).
I create a soothing and calm atmosphere to help the children rest at nap time, and often have to work with awake children while the rest sleep. Otherwise, that time is often used to label and hang art, read child development books, work on our ever-adapting curriculum, etc.
I offer a variety of fun, stimulating, enriching afternoon activities.
QUITE IMPORTANTLY: All day long, and in almost every moment, I help these young children navigate their feelings, their social interactions with each other, their urges to grab or hit or scream; I actively help them to build positive views of themselves and of their world; I help them build their self-esteem, their sense of empathy, their honesty and integrity, their kindness and patience; all the while doing my best to support their personal temperaments and attachment styles.
I write a monthly newsletter for all the parents.
I follow a 5 week menu plan I created for the kids.
I buy a LOT of groceries every Sunday, and again on a weekday evening if I forgot something or ran out of something.
I end my day by either paying someone to clean, or doing the following clean up every day: sanitizing all the chairs and table and toys, vacuuming, sweeping and mopping, taking out the trash (and all those diapers!), sanitizing the toilet, cleaning the kitchen, and washing all of the dishes we made.
And then I get to make dinner for my own family, walk my dog, and attend to whatever other life obligations present themselves, before finally getting to rest. As you can see, this isn’t babysitting. This isn’t sitting on the couch, watching TV, while the kids sleep, and you raid their fridge and gossip on the phone, because their parents went out on date night. FAR from it! This is early childhood teaching and guiding. And it deserves the utmost respect.
4. The importance of both preschool and quality child care has been researched and proven for decades! The crucial necessity of young ones having daily quality experiences in their first four years of life, has such a profound impact on the development of our brains (or lack of development), that I wrote about it here.Research has proven that the addition of preschool, alone, into a child’s life, helps prevent or decrease the typical side effects of poverty, like becoming incarcerated later in life, dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and addiction, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Preschool and quality child care support healthy social development, offer physical activities that encourage the development of motor skills and hand-eye coordination (in addition to team work), encourage healthy cognitive development, and exploration of imagination ---which leads to children discovering their own innate talents, skills, and interests--- and support and nurture the child’s emotional well-being and self-esteem in multiple ways. It’s typically best for children to learn in these areas from someone trained in how to support them best, in a group of other children around their age. In other words, a quality early learning program.
5. This is the affect our work has on so many lives! I generally work with a small group of eight to 10 children for a few years before they move onto kindergarten. They start with me at as young as age two (I used to take infants, but they require a different level of care that takes away from the rest of the group). At that age, we spend a lot of their day working on sharing and taking turns, developing language, learning table manners, thriving on a consistent daily routine, exploring play in a safe environment, and laughing and enjoying the moment as often as possible. As they get older, they learn from our lessons on ABCs, phonetics, counting, Spanish; they learn songs, about animals, about weather and seasons, about healthy foods, about animals, calendars, about gardening, monthly themes, and so much more. As time goes by, our art projects and sensory play become more elaborate, and we begin utilizing simple science experiments, and understanding math, puzzles, and patterns, etc. I support, and encourage -within their proximal zone of development- the child’s healthy growth in every way, and in every area of development: physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and language.
And most importantly, like I’ve mentioned above, I give these children love, attention, respect, listening, understanding, kindness, patience, and support in almost every moment they are with me.
Being successful with children, then, means helping them to understand their capabilities, to help them build confidence, to foster a strong sense of self, and a strong empathy for others, to develop integrity and kindness, balanced with respecting boundaries -personal, and those of others- and knowing how to care for themselves; it’s showing children they are (and how to be) worthy of trust, that they are loved unconditionally for who they are and not how they act, that they are safe and they can depend on us, every time. This work impacts child after child, and they go on to impact their peers. This work provides a positive, safe experience for the families of those children. This work benefits my entire community. This work changes humanity, and changes our future, starting with just a handful of children.
Please. Go hug a teacher.
Thanks so much for caring!
I wrote a blog piece on the vast difference between daycare centers and quality in-home, early learning child care. If you’re interested, please check it out here.