Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

What’s the Deal With Preschool Anyway?

play-and-learn-preschoolThe word pretty much speaks for itself. The school before the “big school.” As a kid, I loved going to preschool. We got to play and make art projects. But there is more to preschool than just having fond memories of fun times. Those play experiences build the foundation for future learning!

As an adult I when I was reintroduced to preschool, I was hooked from the get-go. Play is a huge focus in preschool. Play is actually how kids learn. For instance, how many of you, as a child, played “house?” Growing up that was all I ever wanted to play. I was always the mom, I loved to be in charge! Playing house and having dramatic play areas in preschool classrooms are a way to get kids ready for kindergarten. Think about this. Kids “pretending” to act like they are in a “real life situation.” They model what they see from their own lives and what they see their parents/caregivers do all while using their elaborate imagination.

One of my many responsibilities at 4C for Children is to facilitate Play & Learn groups. We play, learn about cleaning up, read a story together that falls in line with the lesson of that day, we have our snack and parents leave with their kids once the session is complete. In addition to the children playing and learning the parents are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of the session. We use these evaluations for data and feedback on our sessions. 4C also offers parents the opportunity to fill out ASQ’s (Ages and Stages questionnaire) on their child. In a recent Play & Learn I had a child that just turned 2. His mother filled out the ASQ saying that her son could not string beads. In that very session I sat with him and watched him string beads onto a pipe cleaner. When I told this mother, her face just lit up. It was so exciting for her to learn that her son has been growing and learning different skills.

Kids are like sponges; they literally soak up all the knowledge. It is amazing to see how their minds just brighten when they learn something new. Writing their name, understanding the importance of what it means to be a friend, and more! For parents that are on the fence about preschool I would encourage you to look at the advantages of quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, preschool is not an option for all families. Search out the resources in your community; learn about some different early childhood experiences in your neighborhood. Talk to other parents, teachers and community members who are advocates for early childhood education and learn what you can do to set your child up for success in school.

Here are some local resources:

Confidence in Child Care

confidence-in-child-careAs I send my oldest child off to Kindergarten, I find myself worrying how his day at “big school” is going. Is he being kind? How does his teacher handle his love for talking his way through activities? Is he making progress? This change from our previous routine of being at child care all day has me reflecting on how comfortable we’ve become with our child care provider, and what it is about our provider that eases my mind.

Making our initial child care decision was somewhat overwhelming. We knew how important doing our research and making an informed decision was. I utilized the “Find Child Care” quick link on the 4C for Children homepage, and further explored the “Choosing Quality” tab. Ultimately, utilizing these resources and touring facilities brought us to our current child care provider.

We were greeted over the phone by a loving and professional voice that encouraged us not to schedule a tour, but to come visit at any time. To me, this signified confidence on the part of the provider. When we toured, we were immediately greeted by the director and by every teacher whose classroom we entered. The spaces were calm and organized; the teachers were warm and welcoming. I paid close attention to how the children treated each other, and how they approached the teachers. Everyone was comfortable in their surroundings, which is an essential foundation to learning. After touring the facility, we were given a copy of the age-specific parent handbooks and encouraged to ask any questions we might have. We weren’t pressured to make an immediate decision, rather, we were guided to look over the information and contact them if we’d like to enroll.

After making our decision to enroll, we were able to fill out a questionnaire regarding our children that would help the teachers with basics about our boys before they came into the classroom, as well as scheduled a time to meet with each teacher so they could ask additional questions and get more comfortable with us. This was very reassuring to a nervous mom! Knowing they had an “open door” policy meant I could stop by at any time, and I could call to check up on them. In the coming weeks we received daily communication with special notes about what they enjoyed each day. The attention to detail and development their teachers put into their notes helped reassure me that my children were well cared for. The program director asks for feedback and welcomes questions and input from all parents. The words and actions from our program say “We are partners in caring for your child.”

Overall, every parent needs to have choice in choosing child care, and feel confident in those caring for their children. We are so thankful to have found a program which partners with us as parents while truly appreciating our children for who they are. It is among the most important decisions as parents we’ll make!


Choosing Child Care Through Groupon?

There’s no question about it. We live in an age where people access information and services via technology. Parents are no different. So I commend early child care programs that utilize technology to reach parents where they are. Most promote their services online and use the web to communicate via social media. Since I value thinking outside the box, an ad I saw recently jumped off the screen at me. A child care center was advertising a deal on preschool though Groupon… this I had to see!

The program that chose this modern method of advertising did many things well:

  • Highlighted some of the benefits of quality child care, including activities that enhance early development
  • Offered parents options to meet their financial and scheduling needs
  • Painted a picture of what a child’s day might look like (activities, meals, etc.)
  • Provided an overview of their philosophy and educational programs along with locations
  • Included an “Ask a Question” link with the advertisement

The last item listed was the one I felt best about as a parent. Curious to learn what questions parents had, I clicked on the link and found they didn’t ask the same things I would have. I wondered, at first, why hadn’t anyone asked about touring the program before taking advantage of the deal, or inquired about the quality of the care and education their child would receive while there? Is it that they didn’t care, or is it that they didn’t know to ask? Having been there myself, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

When I needed child care for the first time, I was in a major state of transition. I was newly single, returning to the workforce after staying home for three years and broke. Though a teacher for a decade, I knew virtually nothing about child care and was terrified. So much so that I switched careers and became a center director. That way I knew for sure what was going on with my children! My foray into the early childhood field was supposed to be temporary, but six years later, my job is to share my experience in order to help other parents move out of that scary unknown child care place into a place of being educated, equipped and empowered.

If only I’d known back then what I know now! In sharing what I now know, I use this CARE acronym to summarize how parents can get started:

Contact 4C. You’ll learn what to look for in a quality setting, what questions to ask and whether you may be eligible for financial assistance.  4C does not make recommendations, but we do offer free referrals. There are three ways we can help you find child care.

Ask questions. What type of care works best for your family’s needs and schedule? Ask about vacancies, ages served, cost, location, hours and days of operation. And don’t forget to ask the six questions for providers:

  1. What training have caregivers received on how to care for children?
  2. How will my child learn and grow?
  3. What shows it’s a healthy and safe place?
  4. How is family involvement encouraged?
  5. Is this program quality-rated, accredited or working toward it?
  6. How well is the program managed?

Research. Visit and interview two or three places. Spend about one hour at each program while children are there. Observe the program in action.

Evaluate. Ask for and check references. Evaluate each program using 4C checklists. Keep in mind what is best for your child and family’s needs!

The child care advertisement that caught my eye is really no different than a friend referring you to a center. In either case, you should educate yourself on what to look for in a quality setting and then equip yourself with the information to make the best decision. Making these choices isn’t always easy, but it’s always important, so a discount or freebie shouldn’t cause you to lower your standards when weighing your options.

If you follow the suggested tips above, you’ll feel empowered to select the best possible care and education for your child, regardless of its cost.

Now that’s a good deal.

– Tammi

Robots Work for Free

One of the latest GEICO car insurance commercials begins with a sharply dressed mother complaining about the cost of child care, and her choice to use robots to care for her children because they “work for free!” While I admit I laughed when the little girl was squirted in the face as the robot tried to give her a juice box, the parent educator and professional in me says “Whoa!”

Choosing a quality provider isn’t about saving money, but cost is a factor for every family. Cost of care, especially in the current economy, is a huge factor parents face when finding a great match for their child. Infant care in our area typically runs around $190 a week, and that doesn’t take into account centers who go above and beyond our minimum state licensing requirements. Their costs can be higher, but the true “cost” of finding care is in the quality of care provided.

When parents looking for care visit a center or family home provider, I encourage you to do what we learned in grade school: stop, look and listen. Stop and be a child for a moment. Get down on your child’s level. Are there things you can get into that you should not be able to reach? Is the floor clean? Is this an environment you want to be in for eight hours? Do the caregivers smile and look friendly?

Really take a look at the space. Is it bright, colorful and inviting? Are you seeing an environment where your child is going to learn? What activities have the teachers prepared for them? Do they have choices to make throughout the day?

Listen to what the children are saying. Are they enjoying themselves? Are they using indoor voices or are they crying and screaming? How are the teachers conversing with the children? Are they encouraging or berating? Are they nurturing and building relationships with the children?

I am a frugal shopper and love to use coupons and get the freebies as much as anyone else. But when it comes to your most prized possession, your children, don’t settle. Make sure you aren’t going for the “robot care” because it’s free, or letting the cost of care be the only, or even the most important, factor in your decision. When 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5, reflect on what your choice is really going to cost you and your child in the long run.

– Debbie

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

Family Child Care–Keep Asking Questions!

4C’s Laura Heuser is a mother of two and has worked in the field of early care and education for twenty years.

The recent Cincinnati Enquirer story about a child pornographer preying on children in his mother’s family child care home may cause some parents to shy away from considering family child care as an option… I hope this won’t be the case. Instead, let this story drive you to ask questions of the person who are trusting to care for your child—and to keep asking them.

I knew my youngest daughter would not do well in a center environment. She was never quite settled unless she was being held or talked to most of the time. When things got loud, she got upset, and though she would sleep four hours at a time one day, she’d only nap for 15 minutes on another. I knew that she needed a smaller, more quiet environment and have one caregiver. Friends and family weighed in with lots of questions when I began considering family child care: “How do you know who is in that home?” “What is going on if other people aren’t around?” “What if you don’t like the providers family members, like their husband or older children?”

I asked myself all of these questions as I visited family child care providers in my area.  After visiting four providers, I selected one who was Kentucky certified.  This meant that the provider – and her husband – had had a criminal background check and a home visit. (Unfortunately not all states provide licensing for small family child care homes. Ohio is one of only five states where this is the case, and state licensing is only required when more than six children are cared for.)

My journey with family child care began when Rebecca was eight weeks old and ended when she was 3. I had to ask, and keep asking, what Rebecca’s day would be like, where she would sleep, how her meals were prepared, where she would play, what  would be on TV, what other children would come into the home when older children returned from school, what neighbors might visit…  And when her husband was home sick, where did he stay? It seemed that at least weekly, and then monthly, I had a new set of questions.

My provider was never hesitant to answer my questions.  She never felt I was being silly. She had a true “open door” policy, and I took advantage of it, dropping in whenever I needed to, at different times of the day. This is what kept reassuring me that I had made a good choice.

Family child care providers are a valuable resource, and I have a deep respect for these providers who open their homes to care for children. But you do have to be an active participant in your child’s care, and a good family child care provider will welcome that.

Photo courtesy of Savanna Smiles.