Tuesday, June 24, 2014

International Mud Day 2014

International Mud Day.  I’m not sure many people realize it exists.  But it does and it sounds like fun.  It's a day to celebrate nature and the outdoors.  I spent my childhood puddle jumping, tree climbing, and playing in mud.  It seems like a lot of children today do not have that opportunity.  

I must admit, as I looked through suggestions for mud day, I was concerned about the dangers associated with some of the ideas.  Some of the mud puddles that I saw looked deep enough to be drowning hazards and, of course, mud is dirty.  But, with appropriate care and supervision, mud activities can be safe and fun.

Here are some possibilities for celebrating International Mud Day on June 29th (and perhaps all week).
  • Make muddy footprints.  Put a large piece of paper on the ground, get mud on the feet of plastic animals and ‘walk’ them across the paper, leaving a trail of footprints.
  • Make mud bricks in ice cube trays or muffin tins.  Bake in a 250 oven for about 15 minutes to dry the bricks (if you don’t want to wait for them to air dry).  Use additional mud or plaster of paris as mortar to build with the bricks.
  • Create mud sculptures.  Add sticks, leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Paint with mud.  Paintbrushes or fingers on canvas, cardboard, wood, or the side of your building or fence.
  • Build a mud puddle for some free play (make sure it’s not too deep and that children are well supervised).  
If, like me, your local soil is clay, bring in a few bags of topsoil to make the mud.  If a full-on mud puddle is too much, you can do your mud play in a dishpan.

Have a hose ready for rinse-off, some clean clothes ready for the little adventurers, and enjoy your muddy day!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Staffing Your Child Care Program

With child care staffing comprising as much as 70-80% of a program’s budget, controlling staffing costs is critical.  We’ve been doing a lot of budget work lately with multiple scenarios and it’s amazing how much a slight pay difference or 15 minutes here or there can make.  It can be the difference between continuing a program and closing the doors. 

Since 15 minute-blocks can make a big difference, we have to make sure that we are not overstaffing our program.  At the same time, though, we have to be absolutely sure that we are not understaffing either.  Understaffing can decimate a program as quickly as a negative budget will.  Understaffing, in addition to violating licensing regulations, leaves children at risk, reduces the quality of the program, and stresses out the staff. 

Our balancing act is making sure that we have correct staffing at all times, not overstaffed, but not understaffed.  This sounds easy….to someone who has never done it.  But children, even those with regular schedules, don’t always arrive and depart at the same time.  Then there are staff schedules to work around; some have family responsibilities that limit the hours they can work, some are taking classes, etc.  These schedules can change with the season, the semester, or simply changes in their own lives.  Dealing with all of these contingencies can present quite a challenge.

To be able to design a schedule that maximizes the staffing budget, a program manager must know how many children are in attendance at any given time, on any given day, in any given room, and how many staff members are working with them.  Our tool for capturing this information is an “Hourly Ratio Tracking Sheet” (although it actually tracks every half hour).  Every 30 minutes, a staff member in each classroom notes how many children are in attendance and how many staff are on duty in the room.  For ease of reference, the sheet notes the ratio for the classroom.  It also highlights those times that we may need to be overstaffed; lunch, snack time, diaper change time, etc.  Our program manager then looks over these forms and highlights areas in which we are overstaffed.  (Hopefully there is never an area in which we are understaffed.)  If patterns of overstaffing are found (every Wednesday from 7:00 to 8:00, for example), the staff schedule is modified to use our staff and money more effectively. 

If you don’t already have a ratio tracking sheet, check ours out here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer Learning

Summer break!!  I think I was almost as excited as my sons were once school was finally out for the summer.  No more rushing them out the door every morning, no more struggling to get hours of homework done, and just being able to spend more time doing what we wanted to do instead of what we had to do.

For other parents, summer break is a new kind of struggle in figuring out how to keep their children properly cared for over the summer.  Regardless of what summer break means to the parents in your program, one thing is a given.  Classroom teachers often spend the first month of each new school year reviewing information learned in the previous school year.  Summer “brain drain” or “summer slide” are real and happen every year.  Children lose, on average, 2 - 2 ½ months of grade equivalency in math and reading during those 3 months or so of summer break.  

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to stop this drain from happening.  Regardless of whether parents are home with their children for the summer or working full-time throughout, they can set a plan to keep their children learning. 

Suggestions for parents:
  • If a vacation is in your plan for the summer, see what kind of learning activities you can build into it.  Going to Boston…walk the Freedom Trail.  Going to San Francisco…check out the Exploratorium. 
  • If you can’t get away for a full vacation, how about a day-trip to a local attraction?  Check out a local zoo, aquarium, museum, or other fun place.
  • If your child doesn’t already have a library card, this is the time to get one and use it.  Many libraries have free summer reading programs.  (Make sure you have lots of reading materials available at home.)
  • Heading to a ball game?  Find a book about that sport or an athlete that plays it or help your child keep stats during the game.
  • Write notes to family and friends.  If you can get away, send a postcard from your destination.  If you are staying home, just a note about what fun things you are doing will be enjoyed by the grandparents or a pen pal. 
  • Let your child help you in the kitchen.  Shopping and cooking provides a ton of learning activities, and can be a lot of fun.
  • Plant a garden…even if it’s just a window box with a couple of plants.  Your child can help select what to plant and care for the garden.
Help your families have a great summer finding fun ways to learn!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Who Cleans Your Child Care Program (and When)?

Regardless of whether you have a cleaning service that cleans your program, your staff does it by themselves, or some combination of the two, it’s very important to know who is responsible for doing what and when.  If you hire an outside cleaning service, you need to have someone who manages the contract—makes sure that the contract includes all necessary tasks and that those tasks are being completed according to the agreed-upon schedule.

If your staff is responsible for all or part of the cleaning, as is the case in most programs, they need to know who does what and when.  Someone should do a walk-through of the program in the morning, before the first children arrive, to make sure everything is clean and prepared for the day.  Many sanitizing solutions need to be prepared daily.  Is each classroom responsible for their own solution or is it prepared in a central location for all rooms?  How do you make sure items that are soiled during the day are removed and cleaned before being available to children again?  Who is responsible for any cleaning that needs to happen before and after meals and/or snacks?  Is someone assigned to do a walk-through at the end of the day to make sure that everything is cleaned up and ready for morning?

Assigning specific tasks to specific individuals (or job titles) with time frames in which they are to be completed will help you to ensure that your program stays clean.  And, as with a commercial cleaning contract, tasking someone to oversee the cleaning ensures that the cleaning is happening as it should and when it should.  If you don't already have a Cleaning Schedule, check ours out here.