Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Am I an Employer??

Since Misty and I have been attending child care conferences at the national, state and local levels for both center based and family child care over the past 10 years– we have discovered that, throughout this industry, many providers have a very fuzzy idea about what makes them an employer.

I have heard, “I’m not an employer, I only have 1 part-time helper.”  Well, I have news for you….regardless of whether you have a helper, an assistant or a full staff – you ARE an employer.  If you have someone in your program who you pay, supervise, and/or require certain activities from – you are an employer.  Even if they are a family member!  In the case of your own children, if they are older than the age of counting as one of the children in your care (typically 13 years old), they MAY be able to "volunteer" in your program as a helper, but tread carefully.  This is a very fuzzy area.

As an industry, child care has been, and continues to be, targeted by federal and state wage and hour officials.  Historically, our industry is horrible at understanding and/or following wage and hour requirements.  Making yourself aware of the federal requirements, as well as your local requirements, is absolutely necessary for your business.

As an employer, you must follow minimum wage laws, exempt vs. nonexempt rules, proper calculating of overtime, establishing and following employment policies such as sick leave and vacation, having appropriate workers compensation insurance, displaying required labor posters in your facility, etc.  Making a mistake in any of these areas can spell the end of your business.

You need to have policies in place regarding interviewing, evaluating, hiring, firing, employee documentation, labor law posters, etc.  Don’t assume you are not an employer because you “just have a helper"; the IRS will see it differently.
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pre-Reading Skills: Teaching Beginning Sounds

As early childhood educators, we know the importance of play in a child's learning.  The same idea applies in developing pre-reading skills.  

Some children see a word as a whole rather than as individual letters (or sounds) that combine to form a word.  This makes it difficult to learn to read.  For example, a child may read the word "dug" as "dog" because the words look so similar and the child doesn't notice the difference.  

We can help the children in our care to develop the skills that they need to be able to read by playing language games with them. 
  • "My name starts with /m/ (the sound of "m").  Who else's name starts with /m/?"   Move on to other sounds.
  • "I'm going on a trip and I'm taking a toothbrush."  Next person--"I'm going on a trip and I'm taking a turtle."  Continue taking turns naming things that start with the same letter until someone has difficulty with the task.  Choose a different letter and start again.
  • "We're going to make 'c' soup."  Put soup pot in middle of circle and have a child start stirring it.  Other children come up and pretend to put something in the soup that starts with the target letter.  "I'm putting corn in the soup."  "I'm putting carrots in the soup."  Children can be silly with their ingredients if they want--"I'm putting a camera in the soup."
  • Word sort--provide children with pictures that start with one of two different target sounds.  (The target sounds should not be similar--don't use /m/ and /n/ together.)  Children name each picture and sort them into piles of words starting with the same sounds.  For example--one pile will have a picture of a banana, a boat, and a bone, while the other pile will have a picture of a man, a map, and a mop.
Making language fun is one way to help children more readily develop pre-reading skills.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Child Care Employee Evaluation

Last week we talked about the importance of solid Job Descriptions in helping your employees to understand how to be successful in their positions and to provide a framework for your Employee Evaluations.  When you give your employee a Job Description and answer any questions about it, it's important to also explain how that Job Description relates to his or her evaluation.  The more directly the two documents are related, the easier it is for you and the employee to determine areas of success and areas of difficulty.

The first step of an employee evaluation program is to have one in place.  Ideally, each employee will complete a probationary period in your program; 90 days or so.  This will give each of you an opportunity to see if they are a good fit for the program.  (Of course, even with a probationary period, their employment is not guaranteed for the entire probationary period; make sure you don't imply any sort of employment contract or you could really be in a mess.)  At the conclusion of the probationary period, you need a way to decide if you want to extend an offer for that person to remain on your staff.  Your Employee Evaluation can help you make that decision. 

 After the probationary period, your staff members need regular feedback on their performance.  Having a schedule in place for Employee Evaluations makes this simple and predictable.  One year is a pretty typical time frame for evaluations; whether it be one year from the date of hire or one year from the probationary evaluation.  A word of caution; I worked in a program in which all evaluations were conducted in the same month, regardless of date of hire.  This was a nightmare; talk about a sleepless month.  All evaluations should never be due at the same time.  Spreading them out throughout the year gives you the opportunity to spend much more time evaluating each individual's performance.

Your actual Employee Evaluation form should be, primarily, a reformatted version of your Job Description.  If you are requiring that your teacher plan and implement a developmentally appropriate program, you need to evaluate on their ability to do just that.  We go section-by-section through our Job Descriptions to write our evaluations.  Do not include anything on the evaluation that is not included in the Job Description; that's simply not fair to your employees.  

In addition to a rating system to evaluate the employee's performance, your Employee Evaluation form should also contain space to explain why each area was rated as it was, with examples of the employee's performance.  It should also contain space to detail any goals that you, as the manager, has for the employee for the upcoming year and any personal goals that the employee has.  This will be your opportunity to designate any necessary coaching or training for an employee that is having difficulty or additional training and/or responsibility for an employee that is showing great promise.  

Having your Employee Standards of Conduct, Job Description, and Employee Evaluation clear and coordinated will help make your job much easier.  If you don't already have an Employee Evaluation form, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel  
Image courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Child Care Employee Job Descriptions

Last week, I shared how our child care program management experiences led us to the creation of Employee Standards of Conduct to supplement our Job Descriptions.  These documents help us make sure our staff members know exactly what we expect of them in regards to their behavior.  This week, I'm focusing on those Job Descriptions themselves.

Your employees must be given, and sign, complete Job Descriptions on their first day of employment, if not earlier.  The Job Description accomplishes two purposes; it tells your employees what they must do to be successful in their positions and it provides you with a framework for employee evaluation (next week's discussion).

Your Job Descriptions have to be carefully balanced; they have to be very explicit so that there is no question as to what you expect from each person on your staff, yet not get so bogged down in details that your employees can't breathe without wondering if it's covered in their Job Description.  I shudder to think of how many modifications we have made to our Job Descriptions over the years.  While the core layout has remained the same, we've learned (just like with the Standards of Conduct) that a few things just really need to be spelled out more clearly.  For example, we just kind of assumed that if we hired a program manager with a recent Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, that person would know how to use email, Word, and Excel.  We were mistaken.  We also assumed that if we hired a teacher, that person would have thought ahead enough to realize that they needed a way to get to work.  Again, we were mistaken.

Making sure that your staff members know these basic requirements right up front (we explain the Job Description as part of the interview process), helps you to make sure that you hire the correct person and provides them with the tools they need to be successful in their position.

If you don't already have comprehensive Job Descriptions for your employees, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel

Image courtesy of:  www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net