Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brokering Babysitters?

I was browsing the internet in the past few days and happened across a website suggesting that child care programs increase their revenue and get more exposure in the community by scheduling their staff members out as babysitters for center clients or for members of the community.  This would be a HUGE liability for a child care program.  (I did send a note to the printing company that made this suggestion and explained why they should remove it from their site, but haven’t heard back from them yet.)

So, why is it such a big deal that my heart skipped a beat when I read that suggestion?  Per our lawyer, if we hire someone to work with children, that implies that we believe that person is safe to be around children.  We have done our due diligence with background checks, reference checks, our interview process, initial staff training, etc.  Fair enough, but here’s where it starts to get sticky.  If our staff member then babysits for one of our clients or anyone else that they met through us, the client can rightly assume that we are implying that our staff member is safe to be around children.  If something were to happen to a child while in the care of our staff member (after hours, not on our site, and even without our knowledge), we could be held liable because the client assumed that our staff member was safe to be around children due to our implied recommendation. The only exception to this is if the staff member and client had an existing relationship before meeting in our program; in that case, we are not liable because we are not the cause of the relationship.

Although I do firmly believe that my staff members are safe to be around children, I can only speak for what they do when they are operating within the parameters of my program with my policies and procedures and the oversight of management team.  I simply cannot be responsible for what they do outside of work hours. 

Because of this liability, this is one of the policies that we enforce most strictly.  Each of our staff members and each of our clients has to sign an agreement that they will not enter into a babysitting relationship.  If a staff member babysits for a client, the staff member is immediately fired and the client loses his child care slot. 

If a program were to implement the suggestion made by the printing company to become the broker of after-hours babysitting services and to generate revenue from that service, the program would be more directly liable for anything that went wrong.  No, this is not our most popular policy, but it protects everyone; the staff member, the family, and the program.  If you don’t already have a Staff After-Hours Babysitting Policy, check ours out here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Provider Appreciation Day 2015

This Friday, May 8th, is Provider Appreciation Day.  Child Care Aware has the following recommendations for celebrating the day and celebrating your staff:
  • Call local restaurants, retail stores, and grocery stores to request gift certificates for your staff
  • Plan a luncheon or dinner honoring your staff
  • Hang banners or posters
  • Ask government officials to sign a proclamation
  • Purchase a new piece of equipment in honor of the day
  • Provide a scholarship for an early care education conference or workshop
  • Pay for a day off so a staff member may attend a conference or workshop
  • Organize a spa day
  • Plan a parent/provider picnic
  • Have a parade or dedicate a park
  • Send a press release to your local newspaper
  • Invite staff and parents to partner with you to plan a program-wide event
  • Invite neighboring early childhood organizations to join you in your celebration

The following recommendations are suggested as ways for parents to say “thank you”, but could be appropriate for an organization as well:
  • Send flowers, cards or a handwritten note of appreciation
  • Give your provider a paid day off, a raise, or a bonus
  • Key in on your provider's hobby and buy an appropriate gift

Regardless of how you celebrate the day, I hope it’s a wonderful day for your staff…and for you!  Thank you for all that you do for children.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Primary Caregiving for Infants

Primary caregiving is the assigning of one caregiver to primarily provide the care for one small group of children.  In this system for operating an infant program, the director, the infant teachers, and the parents all understand which staff member has primary responsibility for each child. 

Of course, primary caregiving in a center-based program cannot be exclusive.  The classroom is staffed by more than one person for a reason and the other staff in that room are responsible for contributing to the care of each child in the room.  Because most programs are open for more than 8 hours per day and your staff can’t work more than 8 hours per day on a regular basis, and because they need lunch breaks, the children will obviously be in the care of someone else at some point during the day.  Or, even if the primary caregiver is in the classroom, but is busy caring for another child, another member of the caregiving team will need to step in to help.  The primary caregiver is just that, primary, but not exclusive.  This individual will provide the majority of the care for the child and, therefore, the majority of the communication with the parent.  This person will also work with other staff members to help them understand the needs of each child in their care when they cannot be with them.

Primary caregiving has a few important benefits; all centered around relationships.  The primary relationship is the relationship between the caregiver and the infant.  The caregiver, while assisting with other children, spends most of their work days focused on just a few children, really getting to know them; feeding them, diapering them, playing with them, consoling them.  The children learn to trust this person to care for them.  This relationship allows the child to be more comfortable in the child care environment and allows the caregiver to better respond to, and even anticipate, the needs of each child.  Better understanding the child helps the caregiver to develop a stronger relationship with the parent.

Parents, especially parents of infants, can have a difficult time entrusting their beloved child to the care of someone else.  If parents know, and have a positive relationship with the individual assigned to be primarily responsible for their children’s care, it is much easier to leave their child with that person.  The parent can learn to trust that the caregiver has their child’s best interest at heart and will keep them apprised of their child’s care and development.

Make sure that the Infant Teachers you hire have the appropriate skills, education and experience that they need to be able to be a member of a primary caregiving team.  If you don’t already have a Job Description for your Infant Teachers (or Infant Teachers’ Aides), check ours out at: http://www.daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Did You Hear Me? (Auditory Memory in Young Children)

Auditory memory, the ability to remember things you hear, is a critical component of learning.  Often, it seems like children aren’t paying attention to what we said, or didn’t hear what we said, but it could also be that they can’t remember what we said.  Auditory memory problems are not uncommon and can be an indicator of future learning challenges.

Auditory memory involves taking in information that is presented orally, processing that information, storing the information in the brain, and recalling the information.   Children who struggle with auditory memory often have difficulties in:
  • Following oral directions
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Copying text
  • Taking notes

One common, and simple, measure of auditory memory is digit span (how many digits a child can remember).  The standard for young children (up to 6 years of age) is one digit per year of age.  A 2-year-old should be able to remember 2 digits, a 3-year-old should be able to remember 3 digits, etc.

Because these difficulties are so easy to assess informally, and because the skill is so important to learning, an early childhood program is a great place to start overcoming any challenges in this area.  Besides that, activities to improve auditory memory can be a lot of fun!  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Beading Partners—two children (or one adult and one child) sit back-to-back.  Each one needs several stringing beads and a string.  One person strings some beads, then tells their partner what they strung.  The partner has to reproduce the string without looking at it.  When they are done, they compare strings to see if the child matched his partner’s string.
  • Great Calculations—prepare some cards printed with the number of digits you want a child to practice remembering.  Prepare a few cards with one more digit than your target and a few cards with one less digit.  Have one child draw a card from a basket and read the digits slowly to his partner.  The partner will input the digits on a calculator.  The children will compare the card to the calculator to see if the answer is correct.  
  • Group Memory Games—Go around a circle with each person adding to “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack…”  Each person recites each item that was already mentioned and adds one more item to the list.  For example, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush.”  The next person might say, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush and my shoes.” 

Enjoy improving a child’s auditory memory…and perhaps your own in the process!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Avoiding Trouble with the Tax Man

The Internal Revenue Service—words that strike fear in many hearts, especially this time of year.  Tax time is when you see if you have kept good enough financial records that your tax form preparation isn’t too challenging.  Fortunately, the IRS provides a “Technique Guide” for their auditors that can help child care providers understand IRS requirements. 

They note that some of the most troublesome tax areas for child care programs include:
  • Understated income
  • Overstated expenses
  • Inadequate record keeping 

The issues that the IRS finds that most often need to be adjusted after an audit are:
  • Gross receipts
  • Food reimbursement
  • Food expense
  • Business use of home (for Family Child Care Providers)
  • Unusually large expenses
  • Supplies and miscellaneous expenses 

In addition to a personal interview, the auditor may request to see your:
  • Income records
  • Parent Contracts
  • Rate Sheet
  • Payment policy (for when child is sick, on vacation, etc.)
  • Late child pickup and late fee payment policies
  • Transportation fee policy
  • Additional fees like a fee for holding a space, diaper charges, registration fee, space rental, etc.
  • Parent Sign-in Sheets
  • Child emergency contact information
  • Permission for emergency medical treatment
  • Field trip permission slips
  • Annual parent tax statements
  • Food service information
  • Information on forgivable loans

As for program expenses, the auditor’s main concerns would be the date incurred, the cost, and the business use for each expense.

April 15th doesn’t have to be a big deal, as long as you are maintaining good records.  If you see any areas in which you need a little help in record keeping, check out our website.  We have a lot of these forms available at a low cost.  If you don't find what you need, let us know!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Supervising Children in Child Care Programs

Most parents quickly realize that some of the most concerning times with your children are when they are quiet.  That often means they are up to something that they don’t want you to know about.  This is part of the reason that proper child supervision must be not just auditory, but visual as well. 

In order to keep children safe, we have to know what they are doing at any given time.  This is simply not possible if you cannot see them.  So, how do we make sure that children are properly supervised in our programs?  The first thing to do is to make sure the program is properly staffed at all times, including at least two people in a classroom at any given time.  We cannot give our staff members a requirement to meet, then not provide enough staff to implement it.  One person cannot be expected to keep 15 toddlers safe.  If you have a classroom of 16 toddlers and one needs a diaper change, and you can’t afford to have an extra staff member available to help out with diaper time, the person changing the diaper must also be tasked with scanning the classroom throughout the change.  This is the time for multi-tasking; speak with and attend to the toddler whose diaper you are changing while assisting in the supervision of the other children.  While that staff member may not be able to physically get to an area of the classroom that needs attention, they can alert the other staff member of any potential problems that they observe. 

The other thing we need to do for our staff members to ensure proper child supervision is to specifically train them on how to provide appropriate supervision.  Again, we are making a commitment to our staff’s ability to be successful.  We have to give them the proper tools.  We can’t put someone in a classroom and tell them we expect them to supervise each child at all times, then not show them how to do that.  Meeting the needs of each individual child while ensuring that the entire group is being properly supervised can be quite tricky.  As much as it seems like second nature to many of us by now, it’s not intuitive to everyone.  Each staff member must be trained on child supervision during their New Employee Orientation, observed periodically to ensure that they are employing the techniques they were taught, and receive regular follow-up training.  If you don’t already have a training for your staff for child supervision, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Handwriting—Right from the Start

Since I work as a Reading Specialist in my other life, I have recently had a couple of friends ask me about handwriting suggestions for their children.  Their questions, and a couple of new students with atrocious handwriting, have reminded me of how critically important it is to teach children proper handwriting skills.  Breaking bad habits in handwriting is EXTREMELY difficult; it’s soooo much easier to teach proper handwriting in the beginning.  So, my appeal to you as early educators is to teach correct handwriting in your programs and teach proper handwriting techniques to parents so that they can reinforce it at home.
Proper handwriting can certainly make a child’s written work more legible, but it does more than that.  It can help keep the child’s hand, wrist and arm from becoming overly fatigued when writing.  It can also help with the problem of letter reversals.

As with most other skills that children acquire, there are foundational skills that need to be in place before the child is ready to write.  These skills are:
  • Small muscle development
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual-perceptual skills—being able to tell what is different and what is the same, recognize forms, and follow the movements to make the forms
  • The ability to hold the crayon, pencil, etc.
  • The ability to form basic strokes
  • The ability to understand the conventions of written language—top to bottom, left to right.

Improving the small muscle development of even the youngest child is a way to start preparing for handwriting.  Something as simple as “tummy-time” for infants can help strengthen the child’s wrist muscles in anticipation of eventual handwriting.  “Crab walking” does the same thing for older children.  Playing with playdough also helps strengthen the muscles in the fingers and wrist.  Other activities for developing these small muscles, while increasing eye-hand coordination include playing with squeeze toys or fidgets (like stress balls), using clothespins or tongs to pick up small items, and stringing beads.  Visual-perceptual skills can be acquired through completing jigsaw puzzles and doing matching activities.

While a very young child starts by holding a crayon in his fist, children who are beginning to write should have developed a more mature grip.  If a child is having difficulty developing a proper grip, there are tools like pencil grips that are commercially available.  If you’re not sure about what constitutes a good grip, there are a lot of online resources or, if you know an Occupational Therapist, I’m sure they would be willing to talk with you about it.  If the child is wrapping his wrist around when he writes rather than extending it, you can do wrist strengthening exercises and have the child write either on a vertical whiteboard (or chalkboard) or on a slanted board on the desk or table. 

There are a lot of free traceable downloads available to help children understand the basic strokes required in handwriting—top to bottom, left to right, diagonals, and circles.  Just make sure that you teach the children the proper strokes; don’t just give them the paper and let them make the strokes however they think they should.  Throughout the child’s time with you, you should be demonstrating the top-to-bottom, left-to-right conventions of our language.  When you read a big-book to children, use your hand to follow along with what you’re reading.  Any time children are writing, they should be writing from left to right. 
If children are taught correct letter formation from the start, letter reversals will be virtually eliminated.  For example, the two most confused letters are “b” and “d”.  A lowercase “b” should be formed with the line first, then the circle.  A lowercase “d”, on the other hand, is formed with the circle first, then the line.  If children learn to form them this way, and are taught a solid left-to-right progression, they will have much less difficulty in discriminating between these two letters.

So, from someone who works extensively with elementary-age children with very bad handwriting habits, please, please, please, teach them proper handwriting from the beginning.  And, don’t forget to teach their parents the same thing.  Many parents weren’t taught proper handwriting, so don’t know how to make sure their children are forming their letters correctly.