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.