Hooked on Child Care

(Also see “The Business of Caring”; our challenges in owning a child care center.)IMG_3496

Between the sad little girl looking out the window and the little boy sitting on a time-out chair (who’s name I would learn very quickly that day!) I was hooked. 

It was my first day as a preschool teacher at a day care center.  I had been privileged to stay home with my own children during their preschool years, then taught at a preschool-only facility for a few years before coming to interview at a day care center.  I didn’t know what to expect, but my education about caring for other people’s children in a child care facility began as I interacted with those two children my first day.  More than twenty years later, as an administrator, I’m still learning.

In a few weeks time, a “goodby routine” helped Rainie and her mother get the day off to a more pleasant start.  Austin was the first of several who could have had their names engraved on a plaque above the time-out chair commemorating their frequent visits.  Slowly we encouraged Austin and his cohorts to redirect their energies to avoid “the chair”, while at the same time training staff to stop overusing time-outs. (With better behavior management techniques, the chair sat empty and could finally be re-purposed into more productive space.)  Since some of the children spent more hours at the center daily than I did, this job provided new challenges as a preschool teacher, but also more time to spend with the children.

Preschool aged children learn and change so quickly from age three to five, and show great joy in learning – almost as much joy as I had teaching them. Unlike older kids, they are easily impressed. They often told me I was a good singer/dancer/painter/juggler or whatever we were doing at the time. Alas, I barely do these things at a preschool level. I assured them they were also wonderful. When we exercised and stretched our arms “up to the ceiling”, they would tell me I was so tall. “Yes, yes I am,” I would agree, “but you will probably be taller than me some day.” (A safe bet if there ever was one.)

It is hard to narrow down favorite moments from my memories of teaching preschool. A top one would have to be three year old Ben, who paid unusually close attention while I demonstrated the properties of magnets. Before setting the kids loose to explore with them, I ended my demonstration by lifting up a plastic ball magnet with a string of ten other plastic balls suspended in air below it. “So,what do you think is making these plastic balls stick together?”, I asked. Wide-eyed, Ben solemnly replied, “Magic!”. Yes, I had failed to get my lesson on magnets through to him, but at least I got to add magician to my list of talents.

Preschool children exploring as we add tree stumps to our outdoor classroom

Preschool children exploring as we add tree stumps to our outdoor classroom


Working in a child care center gives me the opportunity to stay connected with children and their families for many years beyond preschool. Some enter the center as infants or toddlers. Others stay up to age twelve in our after-school or summer programs. Families with more than one child have been a part of our center for over a dozen years before the youngest outgrows us. Some families keep in touch years after leaving, and a few former students have come to work for me in the years I’ve been an administrator. We take great pride in our former students during their successes at local high schools, and beyond, whether they were with us just a few years or most of their childhood.

Handprint and footprint art is a favorite with our quickly growing Infants and Toddlers.

Handprint and footprint art is a favorite with our quickly growing Infants and Toddlers.


Shifting to the administrator’s job thirteen years ago was an adjustment for me. Now instead of knowing my classroom full of children well, I get to know over a hundred children, from babies to preteen, a little bit. I still miss the classroom connection at times, but this role allows for more interaction with the parents and staff and that has been rewarding to me in surprising ways. As Administrator, I’m still hooked on child care, and love being able to influence the kind of care our children receive.
A great staff of loving care-teachers makes my job so much easier! (If anyone is shorter than me in this picture, I must have worn heels that day!)

A great staff of loving care-teachers makes my job so much easier! (If anyone is shorter than me in this picture, I must have worn heels that day!)

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The Business of Caring

We bought a zoo daycare in 2004.
We are currently licensed to serve 96 children, with more than that enrolled due to part-time preschool classes and before/after school programs. We employ between fifteen and twenty-five people, depending how many are full or part-time.

With all those people, nine classrooms, five bathrooms, two workrooms, two playgrounds, two entryways, an office, and a kitchen, little things go wrong all the time. A very partial listing from over the years includes: 3 broken aquariums(the fish were all saved!), a half dozen broken windowpanes, 3 employees’ keys broken off in the door locks, and numerous plumber visits to retrieve UFO’s (Unidentified Flush-able Objects)from our pipes.(The latest was a yellow marker. $200.) We have worn out more vacuums and toasters in ten years than I will have owned in a lifetime, if I life to 100.

At home we occasionally need to repair or replace larger appliances and fixtures. At our center, fifteen sinks, nine toilets, four furnaces, four air conditioners, three full-sized refrigerators, two freezers, two hot-water heaters, along with office and playground equipment, greatly increase our odds that something needs work. Monthly, if not weekly. Though not a handy-man to tackle the big repairs, much of my husband’s “free time” goes to the many smaller repairs, painting, snow removal, etc.

I had worked many years for this business as a preschool teacher, then as administrator. We knew some of what we were getting into. In 2004, we were sure we had weighed all the possible scenarios that would complicate the venture.

Oops.

Two of the biggest unexpected challenges we have faced:
1)Several years ago,our state suddenly increased minimum wage well ahead of the federal rate, with a built in annual increase. (This thwarted our desire to see most of our employees working well above minimum wage.) We are in a small town market that will not support what businesses in Ohio’s larger cities are charging to cover this increased expense.
2)The “Great Recession” hit some of our neediest families the hardest, as temp workers and new hires were often the first let go by their companies. Almost every family felt the crunch, with fewer work hours and lowered salaries if not with lay-offs. There was less need for childcare and preschool during 2009, and slow growth as jobs returned to our area in 2010. An unusual result of this recession was an increase in the number of people offering childcare in our state, our area included. Though we are back towards “normal” we have never returned fully to our numbers prior to 2009.

Surprise expenses have come in many forms, such as the city breaking a gas line when working on our road ($3,000 to redo our gas line to meet new regulations after the break) and the Federal government requiring all new cribs in 2013 to meet new safety standards ($2500).

Less surprising are the increases in food costs, shipping costs, energy costs, all those things that keep the cost of living going up for everyone. Educating staff, paying for more highly educated staff, providing educational materials and toys, all add to the expense of providing quality care for the children.

We are a business that provides care. Our challenge is to provide quality care at a fair price for our families, while making a fair income to cover our costs and pay our staff.

These are the nitty-gritty (boring!) details of our life as child care business owners. They tell such a small part of our story. Motives, plot-twists, and seeing God at work – that’s what I like in a good story. I’ll share some of that next time.

Gene Shopping

I left home in a downpour this morning after looking in vain for my umbrella. I thought, “I probably left it at work – I hope my sister didn’t take it by mistake.” And I smiled at the thought of our nearly matching duck head umbrellas. Mine’s navy. Hers is forest green.

We bought them separately and it was some time before we discovered our similar tastes were showing again. I don’t know another soul who owns a duck head umbrella.

Sis and I have ended up with other similar items over the years, never our intention. We had enough matching outfits forced on us in our growing up years. It is not too unusual that we each purchased the same style winter hat (mine black, hers red) but the identical art deco turtle lamps are harder to explain away.

Are there shopping genes? Is it nurture or nature that draws us both to a love of baskets and candles? But it gets stranger than that.

Five years ago my sister and I were preparing to fly to Kansas to visit our dad. Her almost two year old daughter would be flying with us, for what we all knew might be a last visit. Dad had been fighting pancreatic cancer for over three years and was running out of ammunition.

I knew a long flight and layover would not be easy for a two year old. I went shopping for ways to help entertain her.

As we boarded the plane, I told my sis “I brought a new picture book so she has something new to look at, a My Little Pony with a comb so she can keep busy combing its hair, and a little stuffed puppy that fits in a little doghouse-shaped purse. I thought she’d have fun putting it in and out…” And my sister started to laugh.

Our books were different, but she had also purchased a My Little Pony and a dog/doghouse combo. We had purchased the same three items, using the same reasoning as to how they would entertain her on the plane. (In the long run the snack food we each brought may have been the best entertainment…)

I think it’s in our genes.

My Mother’s Hands

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My daughter’s hands are slim and smooth. They move with confidence as she quickly finds a recipe online and begins prepping the food. Twice lately they have reminded me so much of my own hands, moving in familiar gestures.

First, while chatting, she reached over to adjust my sink faucet to its “sweet spot” to stop the drip. She did this deftly and automatically, as I do several times a day, though she has not lived in this home for over ten years. A bit later I saw her gently touch the back of a friend’s shoulder with the little waving motion I also use to say a silent hello. Her hands, so like mine looked twenty years ago, moving like mine. But there are differences in our hands beyond those of age. Hers have talents mine have never possessed. Beautiful handwriting, a gift for calligraphy, speed in typing: in these ways her hands are more like my mother’s talented hands.

I tell them both this talent must skip a generation, offering my cramped handwriting and more hesitant typing skills as evidence. No one argues the point.

Mom used to try to teach me the push/pulls and ovals that she had loved to do in learning penmanship as a child. Mine never matched her samples. Writing by hand gave her joy, and giving others beautifully written notes was one of her few areas of pride. She still received compliments on her beautiful handwriting as she entered her eighties. Now she tells me “It won’t matter, you sign it for me” as we prepare cards for her to send friends or family. Another little pleasure diminished by Alzheimer’s.

Mom was an extraordinary caregiver when we were children, and as she cared for my step-dad through his fifteen years as a quadriplegic. Her hands were strong and confident, gentle and comforting, capable of any task. Her hands are hesitant now, fumbling as she buttons her shirt, brushes her hair, places flowers in a vase.

A secretary much of her adult life, mom typed with a speed and accuracy that I never mastered. In her day, mistakes on a typewriter were not easily corrected. Her skill was valued. We type so easily now,  deleting with a simple stroke of a key, the aid of spell check catching typos for us.

For Christmas, I found a typewriter picture frame, the picture appearing as paper coming out the top of the typewriter. I filled it with a black & white photo of mom at her desk on her first secretarial job after college. She is younger in that picture than my children are now. She keeps it facing her beside her bed. Good memories make the best gifts.