Sunday, December 25, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for Child Care Providers

New Year's Resolutions; to do it or not??  That is the question that many of us ask ourselves each year.  In my humble opinion, they are long as we don't set ourselves up to fail and don't get too legalistic over them.

I like to look at resolutions as kind of like a visit from the licensing agency or the process of an accreditation self-study.  It's an opportunity to try to step outside of yourself and look at your program (and yourself) with an objective set of eyes.

If you choose to set some resolutions, I do have a few suggestions to consider:

Your Environment--is everything clean and organized?  Do you have daily and weekly cleaning and sanitizing schedules?  Check your toys and materials and see if any of them need to be repaired or replaced.

Your Paperwork--are your tax files complete (and have you claimed all possible expenses!)?  Are your child and staff files complete and well-organized?  Review your contract, policies, forms, etc.  Pay particular attention to any areas that were problems during the previous year and tighten it up for the future.

Your Program--is your program meeting the needs of the children?  Pull a few random developmental checklists, or whatever you use to track children's progress, and make sure you are seeing appropriate growth.  Review some lesson plans from each program to ensure that they are complete, well-thought-out, and developmentally appropriate.

Your Finances--how is your program's financial health?  Is your budget balanced and are you financially prepared for changes in the market, unexpected events, or anticipated changes?  Is it time to increase your fees?  Is your staff paid in such a manner to allow you to maintain high-quality employees?

Your Marketing Program--are you regularly attracting new clients?  Do you have a plan in place to market your program and, if so, how well is it working?  If it is costing you money, are you getting a fair return on your investment?

Your Health and Safety Basics--take time to check your fire extinguishers, replenish your first aid kits, and put new batteries in your smoke detectors.

Your Relationships--how is your relationship with the parents and your staff?  Are there areas that could use improvement?

Yourself--is there anything about yourself that needs to be changed to allow you to function better?  How's your diet, your weight, your exercise, your stress level?  Challenge yourself to improve professionally; enroll in a class or plan to attend a conference.

Remember, the goal of any New Year's resolution is improvement.  Make sure that your goals are reasonable and not so overly ambitious that you don't stand a chance of achieving them.  Good luck and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Staffing for Holiday Child Care

"I hope your holidays are wonderful......but I need you to work until 6:00 on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve."  Ouch.  Unfortunately, since we have parents who sometimes have to work those hours, we sometimes need to as well.  The question becomes how to balance out the needs of the parents with the needs ( or desires) of staff.  

Hopefully, your contract with your parents already indicates the days and/or times that you will be closed, such as Christmas Day, Christmas Eve after 3:00, etc.  You may have contracted with parents to remain open until 6:00 on Christmas Eve, but if only 3 children will be in care from noon to 6:00, you certainly won't want to staff as if it were a regular day.  Determining which children will be in care at that time will enable you to staff appropriately. 

The simplest way  to figure out which parents will actually want to use your services during the typically slow times is to provide them with a survey.  Just ask which children will be in care during what times.  (Of course, if you don't already have that survey created, we have one for you!)  You then know how many employees you will need to have on-site during those times. For the record, I have never had a parent complain about the survey, as long as they understand that I am planning to provide care for my entire contracted time, as needed.

Ideally, your staff will have already turned in their time off requests, or somehow communicated with you if they would prefer to have the hours during the holidays or if they would prefer to have the time off work.  With a little luck, you can match up the needs with the parents with the needs and desires of staff and make as many people happy over the holidays as possible.

Of course, as during any time when a lot of parents are off for vacations, you will probably need to have that discussion about child care fees during vacations, but that is a discussion for  another time for me. 

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Five Finger Rule: Choosing a "Just Right" Book

How do you choose an appropriate book for a child to read?  Unfortunately many children, especially young or struggling readers, want to read books beyond their ability.  A Harry Potter book may be very intriguing, but most young or struggling readers couldn't read it successfully and would just become frustrated if they tried.   

The first step in selecting an appropriate book is to have the child look at it, read the title and see if it looks appealing.  A book that is simply not appealing is going to be a tough sell, regardless of how well a child can read it.

The next step is to turn to a page in the middle of the book and have the child read 2 or 3 pages.  The child will hold up one finger for every word he struggles with or simply can't decode.  If the child holds up 5 fingers, the book is too difficult and an easier book should be selected.  

The final step is to talk with the child about the book.  Does the child understand what he just read?  Can he read it fluently or is his reading slow and choppy?  Is it interesting?  If a book has met all of these criteria, congratulations; you have found a "just right" book!


P.S.  If a child insists on a book that is too difficult, read it with him.  You can read it to him or share reading with each of you reading a page or a paragraph and you helping the child with any difficult words.  Our goal is for children to learn to love reading.  This can only happen if they are taught how to avoid frustrating books and find ones that they will enjoy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Death of Preschool?

A provocatively titled article in November's Scientific American, "The Death of Preschool?", raises the question of whether child care, as we know it, is dying.  Congress's No Child Left Behind Act has done exactly what many early childhood educators have feared for years.  By providing financial penalties for schools that don't meet certain achievement standards for 3rd grade children, the Act has pushed schools to implement stricter academic standards for younger children.  
Many of us who have been early childhood educators for many years have watched 1st grade standards become Kindergarten standards.  Now, as we have feared, it seems that those Kindergarten standards are becoming the new preschool standards.  Where does it end?
The problem is filled with irony.  First, both long-standing and current research indicate that a developmentally appropriate education is by far the most important early start that we can provide for children.  A developmentally appropriate program provides a solid educational background while encouraging exploration, creativity, and social interactions.  Second, the parents who seem to be pushing hardest for the academic transformation of preschools are often the more educated, wealthier parents.   Those who have the most options for the care of their children are often choosing the least appropriate programs.  
As child care professionals, it is up to us to maintain our standards.  We must be knowledgeable of current research and best practices for the education of young children.  We must continue to provide learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate.  And, we must be able to explain to parents why our developmentally appropriate programs are much better for their children than heavily academic programs.  We must continue to do what is right for children, regardless of outside pressures. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cultivating Communication

"Daycare. What do you want?"  I'll never forget the day I heard those words coming from a staff member at the center where I was a brand-new Assistant Director.  Really??  That's the way our staff answer the phones here?  I was stunned.....I suppose I just figured that simple phone etiquette must be common knowledge.  All I could think was "Who is on the other end of that phone and what must they be thinking right now?"

Obviously, in retrospect, not everyone knows how to answer a phone properly.  Which also means that not everyone is going to respond to a parent's (or potential client's) inquiries in the same way either.  So, how do you protect your program by making sure that the messages you would like to have shared with people are the same messages your staff will be sharing?  You have to establish the standard and then train your staff so that they understand your expectations.

You will need to establish a policy that addresses situations that you feel are important to your program and how you expect your staff to respond. 
  • How would you like the phone answered? 
  • What happens if you are helping a parent when the phone rings? 
  • How do you handle a conflict with a parent? 
  • What verbal and nonverbal techniques should be used? 
  • How do you take a message for another staff member....and be sure that person receives the message in a timely manner? 
 After you establish your policy, you need to ensure that EVERY staff member is trained on it during their New Employee Orientation.  You work hard to ensure the success of your program.  Don't let a mistaken assumption of common knowledge undermine all of your efforts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thank Your Staff (or Parents)

At this time of year when we stop to reflect on all of the things we are thankful for, I would like to suggest a quick and inexpensive way to thank your staff or parents.

Assemble a "Thank You" kit and present it to each person during the holiday season.  Choose 5 or 6 of these items to include (along with a note with the text so that they know what you are thinking):

  • A Couple of Marbles: To replace the ones you have lost.
  • A Hershey's Hug & Kiss: To remind you that someone cares.
  • A Jingle Bell: To ring for help when you need it. We're here to help one another.
  • A Puzzle Piece: To remind you that, without you, we wouldn't be complete.
  • A Tea Bag: To remind you to take time to relax daily.
  • A Starburst: To let you know that you are a shining star.
  • A Shape: To thank you for helping to "shape" the future.
  • A Packet of Seeds: To remind you that you plant the seeds of knowledge.
  • A Clothespin: To remind you to "Hang in There"; you're doing a great job.
  • An Eraser: To remind you that the good start you provide for children can never be erased.
  • A Penny: To remind you that you are priceless.
You can put these items in a gift bag, a simple ziploc bag, or even in a mug with an addition to the note to include:  A Cup: My hope that your "cup always runneth over".

Thank you for all that you do for children.  I hope your Thanksgiving is truly blessed!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reducing Child Care Staff Turnover

National estimates put child care staff turnover between 25% and 40% annually.  We all understand why this is bad; lack of continuity for children, the cost of hiring and training new staff (estimated to be at least $3,000 per employee), a decrease in staff morale, and negative parent perceptions leading to decreased enrollment.  The million dollar question is:  What do I do to retain my quality staff?

The obvious answer is higher pay, but we all know that is often not possible.  However, careful attention must be paid to the program budget to ensure that staff are compensated fairly and as well as possible.  

There are additional, low-cost steps that can be taken to reduce staff turnover.

The first step is to hire well.  Make sure that potential employees thoroughly understand your program philosophy and your expectations for their performance.  Develop interview questions that will help you understand how this individual would respond to various situations, how he or she will work with other staff members, and how the applicant will fit with the overall culture of your program.  You may want to consider scheduling a "working interview" to give you the chance to observe the applicant in a classroom with children as well.  

The next step is to provide a thorough new employee orientation.  Again, your new employee has the opportunity to really understand your program and your specific expectations for his or her position.  New employees see your commitment to a thorough orientation as an investment in them, feel more comfortable in their positions and develop greater job satisfaction.

The next step is to ensure that your program has a professional environment and that all employees are encouraged to continue their own professional development.  Highly-educated individuals tend to stay in the child care field longer than those who achieve only the minimum required training.  Educate yourself about programs that provide tuition reimbursement or other financial incentives that your staff members could access and share that information with your employees.  Encourage your staff members to attend professional conferences (where they can learn a lot while bonding with their fellow employees) and pay their conference registration fee if possible.

The final, often-neglected, step is to simply make sure that your program truly has an atmosphere in which each staff member feels valued and respected.  We often spend time in our programs teaching children how to problem-solve and make decisions, but then don't include our own staff in our own decision-making process.  Providing each staff member an opportunity to have some sort of "ownership" in the program is invaluable; in addition to being free to you and providing you with potentially untapped resources.  Perhaps your staff members could write articles for your newsletter, suggest agenda items for staff meetings, chair a project, or even come up with their own project they would like to implement.  Let them be creative...improve your program....and become loyal, long-term employees in the process.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Back to Sleep"....and More

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all infants be placed on their backs to sleep. Since that time, death from SIDS have decreased dramatically, but other sleep-related deaths have increased.

Last month, the AAP released expanded Guidelines for Infant Sleep Safety and SIDS Risk Reduction. Three additions to the guidelines are:

  • Breastfeeding is recommended and is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
  • Infants should be immunized. Evidence suggests that immunization reduces the risk of SIDS by 50 percent.
  • Bumper pads should not be used in cribs. There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.

The additional recommendations are:
  • Place the infant on his or her back for every sleep time.
  • Use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  • Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, and bumper pads.
  • Do not use wedges or positioners.
  • The infant should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed.
  • Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development and minimize the occurrence of positional plagiocephaly (flat heads).
  • Avoid covering the infant’s head or overheating.
  • Do not use home monitors or commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
  • Pregnant woman should receive regular prenatal care.
  • Women should not smoke during pregnancy or after birth.

All child care providers must follow these guidelines and help educate the parents of the children in their care on these guidelines.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reporting Accidents and Incidents

What kinds of accidents and incidents need to be reported to parents? The simple answer is "everything". Anything that might cause a parent to have a question about what happened needs to be documented. A very simple injury or incident can suddenly become a big deal if a parent thinks we are not being honest with them about what actually happened.

Obviously, if a child is injured in our care, our first job is to care for the injured child while still providing proper supervision to the other children. But, once the child is cared for, the next priority is making sure that the child's parent knows exactly what happened and how our staff cared for their child.

As soon as the situation is settled, an Accident/Incident Report must be completed. Delaying a report can cause staff to forget important details.

An Accident/Incident Report must be:
  • Filled out completely as soon as possible; delays can cause staff to forget details.
  • Objective, not subjective. Include only what was directly observed.
  • Signed by the staff member who observed the accident or incident or observed the injury on the child.
  • Reviewed and signed by the Center Director or designee.
  • Properly shared with parents. (Does the parent need to be called or can you notify them of the injury or incident when they pick up their child?)
  • Filed in the child's file for future reference.
Handling accidents and incidents properly can help keep small occurrences from turning into major situations.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tracking Product Recalls

I had a very humbling experience earlier this year when I realized that some of the cribs in my program were recalled last year and I didn't know about it until months later. Since that time, I have instituted a couple of measures to make sure that we stay more on top of product recalls. Some of the measures that we now take are:
  • Ensuring that the staff member with purchasing responsibility completes (and mails) all product registration cards.
  • Signing up for emailed recall notifications from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
But...I know that I still don't have a good system in place yet. I've been brainstorming this for some time now, but just don't have a good solution.

I have thought of a "hard-copy" system, such as keeping receipts, purchase logs, etc. in a binder. But how do you organize that binder; alphabetical by product, alphabetical by company, according to the product's category, etc.? Then, I suppose you would have a staff member assigned to check that binder on a monthly basis or so and compare your products to the online list. Of course, one of the questions then is, how much detail do you go into on your purchases? Do I really need to track purchases of markers and crayons? But, if I don't, Murphy's Law dictates that one of the sets of markers I purchase will be recalled.

It seems like the only manageable system would be some sort of automated system. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could, maybe, scan UPC codes on the products we purchase and have them automatically entered into our program database with product name, purchase date, etc.? Then, we could link that database to the CPSC database so that when one of our products is recalled, we are automatically notified. I suppose that's my ideal world. But, since something as simple as this newsletter tests my "tech skills", I don't think I will be the one developing that system.

So, this week, I'm asking for your input. How do you track product recalls? Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Take It Outside" Week

The Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play has designated October 16 - 22 as Take It Outside Week to "encourage educators, families and caregivers to make time outdoors an important part of young children's daily lives."

They state:
  • Today's children spend less time outdoors than any generation in history.
  • American preschoolers watch 32 hours of television a week.
  • Current research indicates that children who regularly play outdoors are healthier, smarter and happier than children who do not.
Suggestions for a Take It Outside Event include:
  • Host a Play Day filled with lots of outdoor games and activities
  • Host a Gardening Day and plant fall flowers and shrubs and grasses to enhance your outdoor space
  • Host a Nature Play Day – go for a nature hike, build forts and dens and dig for worms
One activity I enjoy doing with is a "Sock Walk" Each child needs a big, fuzzy sock. (Old wool socks work well.) Have each child put the fuzzy sock over one of their shoes. Go for a walk. Try to walk through interesting areas with a lot of different types of weeds, etc. When you get back to the Center, look at the seeds, etc. that have gathered on the socks. Plant each sock in a pot. It's fun to watch the pots over the next couple of months to see what grows from the seeds, etc. that were collected on the socks.
Enjoy your Sock Walk and the "fruits" of your walk!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Actually, I want to talk about rainy and windy days, but "rainy days and Mondays" just sounds so much better.

I was talking with a co-worker last Monday and she was very concerned that her students were very distracted that morning. She was worried that she was doing something wrong that morning and was doing a self-check to see if she seemed crabby or something. I kind of chuckled, pointed to the window, and asked her if she hadn't looked outside yet. It was pouring down rain.

I live in Northern California. For those who don't know about the weather around here, we pretty much haven't seen rain since about March. We get quite a bit of rain from about November through March, but VERY little throughout the rest of the year. (A warm rain is a foreign concept to most of my students.)

So....this was our first rain of the season. People who have worked with children for a while know how weather changes impact children. For us on Monday, not only was it a rainy day, but it was the first one for a long time. No wonder our kids were a little "off".

Since my co-worker had never heard about a connection between children and weather, I decided to do a little research. Researchers have found a correlation between changes in temperature and humidity and children's behavior. Although this just confirmed what I already believed to be true, it was nice to know that it wasn't just my imagination.

So what do we do with this? I suppose the biggest take-away I have is that, while I understand that I need to have solid lesson plans so that I know what I am trying to accomplish with my students on any given day, I also need to have the flexibility that, when the weather changes, my plans can change as needed. I need to be aware of how children are impacted by weather changes and manage the day with that in mind.

Keep your umbrellas handy and watch out for puddles!