Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Quality Day-Care

(Honestly, I feel like I’m on a campaign to drive people away from my blog. First there was the Harry Potter logic problem, which was basically unreadable, and now this is the third post this week that comes with a disclaimer about why you probably don’t want to read it. Anyway. Here’s another post with me stressing about day-care. Regular blogging will resume someday.)

I toured two day-care centers last week, both kids in tow. They splashed at the water tables while I admired the language- and emotional-intelligence-building curriculum; they gazed longingly at the paints while I asked about sickness policies and pick-up times.

Both centers are exactly what is meant by the term "quality day-care." They are what the Liberal and NDP parties are trying to get themselves elected by promising for everyone. Newly built with spacious rooms and shiny new playground equipment, both are beautiful, cutting-edge facilities. The hallways are lined with cubby-holes marked not only with the children’s names in that large, perfect printing only teachers are capable of producing, but also with icons that the children can recognize: an outlined lion for Caden, a crocodile for Hailey. The innovations do not end there: the outdoor play areas are divided into age-appropriate sections with progressively larger slides and tricycles; instead of sand or wood chips, they are paved with a kind of cushiony tarmac, with corners set aside for deep sandboxes and shady play-houses.

Pie and Bub loved every minute of the tour. By a kind of magnetic force, the Pie is always drawn to where the bigger girls are playing – when it was time to go, it was all I could do extricate her from a little knot of four-year-olds engaged in an elaborate game of house. Bub, for his part, was all fierce, concentrated energy, climbing ladders and drawing with chalk as if his life depended on it.

And yet. I am, as I have admitted already, not sold on either of these up-to-date, certified, high-quality day-care centers. While I was there I was dazzled, but as I drove home I felt a weight of sadness pressing down on my shoulders.

When I went back to work after my second maternity leave, I left my children at Sharon’s house. There, Bub and Pie could wander freely from the living room through the kitchen to the play room. There were kitties to look down on them from their perch next to the fishbowl; there were trees in the backyard where they got soaked on warm days. There was quietness there as well as activity; when I arrived to pick the children up they might be marching around the living room with their "dancing sticks" (foam connector-pieces from a long-ago disassembled puzzle), or they might be quietly stuffing themselves full of leftovers from last night’s supper: squares of ham and microwaved carrots.

Sharon does not have a curriculum; she does not have a diploma in Early Childhood Education. It is quite possible that she does not know CPR. But everything about her – and the environment she has provided for my children – is real. When she came over for a playdate last week, the Pie gave her the cold shoulder (as only she can do) and Sharon was literally reduced to tears. She loves my children, and now that they’re no longer in her care they miss her – as indeed they miss Livvy and Michael, the two-year-olds with whom they have always had to share her.

I am a passionate advocate for available, affordable, high-quality day-care. But what I have always loved about home-care is that a home is a place where one can productively do nothing. I am reminded of the value of such time-wastage now that school’s out and Day Camp season has officially begun. There are camps running at the local archaeological museum and the Little Gym, and there are Vacation Bible Schools at all the churches (including mine, which starts next week with an Avalanche Ranch theme). Every time I see an ad for Zone Camps or VBS, I am reminded of the various day-camps I signed up for as a child. There were things about them that I liked – the snacks, for instance, and the macrame owls we wove from brown and orange yarn – but it was always such a relief for me to come home at the end of the day to the empty hours in which I could putter about in my room, reading Nancy Drew and writing stories.

"We’re going to Sharon and Michael’s!" Bub exclaimed joyfully when I told him to put on his sandals last Thursday morning so we could leave for our day-care tour.

"No," I replied, "but we’re going to find some toys and kids."

He accepted that readily enough. But toys and kids feel like a poor substitute for what we’re leaving behind.


Suz said...

It's my humble opinion that more of us need to be writing about issues like child care. It's such a huge issue for working moms and not many bloggers seem to discuss it.

I'm going through the same process. Daycare Center vs. Nanny. Thankfully, I won't have to make the decision for a little bit, but it's always in my thoughts.

slouching mom said...

Very interesting, not at all off-putting. I think I was a kid a lot like you, always breathing a huge sigh of relief to get home, where I could be alone, read, write, stare at the walls. Nothing felt as safe as home.

HOWEVER, there are kids who don't need that like I did, like you seem to have. In fact, they need something so very different that it's hard for me to fathom. But I've been repeatedly instructed by Ben, who (yes, I finally get it)needs constant (constant!) social stimulation and activity, and this is best accomplished in a group setting. He thrives surrounded by his peers. He bounds off to camp, never a wistful look back. In fact, if he's not at camp, he's wistful.

Jack, on the other hand... Well, you know.

I've come to believe that the preschool/daycare/Montessori/group home choice is all about the child. That there is no right setting, only a setting that suits a particular child.

Omaha Mama said...

When we moved here (to the city) we changed from a small home daycare to a center (at our church). I cried when I left them for the first time. At both places. Leaving kids is hard, regardless of where it is. I totally see your point. The picture you posted is awesome, I'm sure your kids will love it. And there will surely be unstructured playtime built into their days there too, yes? I know it's not the same, but I'm sure whatever you come up with will be great! The most important things: safety, cleanliness, nurturing environment, are available at any of your choices. So you're going to have to trust your gut. Or, if you're like me, make a ginormous pro/con list.

flutter said...

I don't think one of us is running away

Omaha Mama said...

Oh - and RESEARCH says that regardless of pre-k environment (SAHM, daycare center, homebased daycare) that kids all even out mid-elementary school anyway. So don't stress about development and what effect it's going to have on their education (because really, that's possible, right?).

And don't forget to factor in which one is going to be most helpful to you - because a happy mommy always equals happier kids.

JMA said...

It's all good stuff. If it wasn't, you wouldn't be getting double-digit "good cooperations!"

I opted for a childcare center when I went back to work after my first. I was too much of a first-time-mommy-control-freak to leave him in a less structured environment. Drew has never had as many illnesses as he did when he was attending that daycare center.
I quit my job after my mat. leave with Hailey ended, but did look for part-time home care once I started freelancing. It was lovely. I am still friends with the caregiver and our boys are best buddies. If I end up requiring care for Elyse, I don't know what I will choose. So it's good that you bring these issues up: it makes us pause and consider where we stand.

Momish said...

This post reaches my heart as I am going through the same thing. My daughter is in a home care enviornment she loves and is very happy at for the most part. I keep stressing over whether she needs more structure or more attention to educational factors over play factors.

We toured two day cares that were great and yet... we have done nothing about it. Just too weary of taking her out of what she thinks of as her second home to an institution.

If you figure it out, let me know!

kgirl said...

You mean you don't want to institutionalize your children earlier than you have to?

I struggle with the same decision to make next year. Daycare would be a little less expensive than another option for two kids, but there are so so many what-ifs that I have a problem with. What if Bee doesn't want to nap? Will she just have to sit on a cot and cry for an hour and a half? What if she poops and nobody notices for 1/2 an hour? What if...

We've never done daycare. There are pros and cons to all situations, but really, you should do what your heart tells you.
(although the fact that you have a CHOICE is pretty awesome. that shit wouldn't fly in the t-dot.)

nomotherearth said...

Actually, you couldn't post something that would be of more interest to me.

The Boy started out in homecare because we couldn't get daycare. He has been in daycare since 18 months. I loved the homecare situation and I was reluctant to leave it (we had to due to pick-up hours, and the fact that she didn't do summers..) Something she said to me when we left eased my mind though - that homecare is really good to start, but eventually kids grow up and need more interaction/structure.

For the Boy, at least, she was right. It was an excellent transition, and I don't think he was ready for daycare at 12 months. I certainly wasn't. I felt like he was getting more individual attention and, well, coddling at the homecare. And with daycare, his independence, language and abilities have simply exploded. And he loves it.

The centre we're at is really big on free, unstructured play time too - which I love.

Kyla said...

I've been loving these posts...not that I don't generally love your posts, but these have held particular interest for me. KayTar has to transition from ECI into the school district on her 3rd birthday (February) so I am thinking about these things as well. I'm feeling wholly unprepared for such a change.

bubandpie said...

Kgirl - The amount of obsessing I'm doing is creating an illusion of choice that doesn't exactly exist. That's mostly my fault, though, for waiting until now to have my decision-making crisis.

binkytown said...

Oh this is tough because as moms I don't think we ever think a child care center is good enough, even if it's really, really good.

The piece that is easily overlooked here is that they will have day care friends at school and teachers who care about them and they learn SO MUCH. It's different, to be sure, but it can be very good for them.

That said, It's still hard to accept.

Luisa Perkins said...

I loved the HP logic problem, but I was lurking that week because I was finishing my manuscript.

So hard! I've already given you my $0.02 (CDN or US, whichever you prefer). But I would pay attention to the weight of sadness.

mamatulip said...

I really enjoyed this post. I'm not running for the hills just yet. ;)

sandra said...

A school or a day care center or a home care environment is only as good as the people who run them. Having a caregiver or teacher that your children love and love your children is priceless. That doesn't mean that Sharon is the *only* one who can do that but everything you are feeling makes so much sense to me. It wasn't so long ago I was gong through the same thing.

V-Grrrl said...

I'm a big believer in the value of "productively doing nothing."

My kids are almost 10 and 12 now and I still work to ensure they have time to "do nothing" at home. Even at their respective ages, they love to catch bugs, explore the edge of the pond, collect rocks, make stuff from other stuff. Sure, they sometimes get bored, but boredom is the mother of imagination!

painted maypole said...

you will find new things to love about wherever they end up. as will they. It will never be the same, but different can be good, too. Transitions are hard on kids and mommies, be kind to yourself.

Bon said...

no fleeing. was actually hoping for more, as the distinctions between centre and homecare are either far clearer where you are than where i am, or you, astute one, are just better at seeing them. :) i like the way you lay things out, in any case...much food for thought.

i will say that with O being only 14 months, i'm very happy that i was able to find a home care situation that i'm happy with, that i feel safe and comfortable leaving him in. i think he's nurtured, and now that i think about it, i'm glad he's not "institutionalized" but is rather in a homey environment.

during the 1994 teaching job drought that followed my completion of my B.Ed i worked in both home daycares and centres, for awhile. some home day cares are quite large and structured. most classes of two year olds have to be kept very small, no matter how large a centre...these variables do make a big difference to the child's day to day experience, i think. but you're right...in a small home care setting, the child may actually get to just wander, explore and be. which is awesome. sounds like Sharon's pretty awesome too.

Mad Hatter said...

I just took Miss M to the day care she will be attending in the fall and she seemed to like it quite a bit. For her, it is definitely time for a transition to a place where her social needs can be nurtured a bit more.

Oh and we met up with her class earlier in the day at a park downtown where they were just hangin' out, watching the changing of the guard (or the marching band as Miss M calls the red-clad summer soldiers who make our town twee), and waiting for a spate of outdoor theatre to start. It was a fun, structured activity that involved a lot of lyin' on the grass and thinking about clouds.

As for your concerns about your kids being loved at a day care centre? My sisters still see kids that they had in day care who are now having kids of their own. They remember their names. They remember who they were as little people. My sister, Nan, seems to have an infinite capacity to love all her charges.

In the end, it all depends on the people and the place.

Antique Mommy said...

I think it all has to do with your frame of reference and then remembering your frame of reference is not your childs frame of reference. I never was in day care (it wasn't invented then) so I tend to not think corporate style daycare is not so great, that homes are better. But I know kids who grew up with, kids in their 20s, and they say they loved it. There is good in both environments, and not good.

Jenifer said...

As someone who has never had to put her children in any form of daycare, but was raised in daycare - I agree that the people providing the care are the key.

I can totally see what you are saying about the idea of a home environment versus the daycare environment. My friend has her two children in the same childcare organization. The youngest is in the home-care option and the older one is in the daycare setting.

The youngest thrives in the laid-back home care setting with other young children. There is a curriculum of sorts they do the basics like letters and numbers. The older a boy, needed the structure of the daycare, to learn the social graces he was lacking at the time. He thrived with the routine and structure.

Most of my friends use a home-based daycare that they found by accident or word of mouth. I think the transition from one home to another home is somehow less traumatic for the parents. Daycare centres seem like a huge deal because they are not like being home, it is a huge transition from that perspective.

I wish I had the answers or better yet a wonderful childcare provider for you. I wish I could help!

Keep us posted...you are in my thoughts.

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

Very interesting and important topic. I have a childhood friend who still lives in the Netherlands, where I was born. She said that the trend there is towards having kids in small, mixed age groups, even within centers, because it's more like a family, and because research showed that it was more satisfying for caregivers to deal with kids at different stages of development. I found that fascinating, especially as a mother of twins! My boys are also totally fascinated with babies and "big kids", but not particularly interested in two year olds, yet if they went to a US daycare center, they'd be in the "two year old room".

Carrien said...

Oh I'm sad for you.

One of my favorite things to do is eavesdrop on the Boy and Girl while they "do nothing". It's so much fun to catch a bit of their pretend, and they can stay in character for hours, while doing chores, and getting ready for bed.

Kit said...

I know exactly what you mean. Kids should have time to do nothing. I remember as a child my usual answer to my mother's questions of 'What have you been doing this morning?' was 'Nothing'. And they were important nothings.

I'm lucky to be working at home so my kids can do something or nothing after school. I hope you find another home-care situation that suits you and Bub and Pie just right.

Beck said...

Oh, that's too strange - I was going to write a post about walking through a daycare today, too. Maybe I still will.
One of my primary problems with daycare centers is that they are much too busy. Some research does suggest that more introverted children DO find them highly stressful.
But having said that, I do think that there is quite a bit of unstructured time at any daycare - my son had a morning of daycare a week back when he was three and frankly, bored out of his wits at home, and whenever I'd go to pick him up, there would always be some kid cheerfully reading to themselves in the book center or whatever. So that's something that you might want to talk directly to the daycare providers about, and possibly that will ease a lot of your worries.

bubandpie said...

Emmie - I know people who consider the single age-group factor to be a big plus with a day-care center, but I've always felt the opposite - that children learn more from a mixed age group. The older ones initiate the younger ones into a higher level of play - and the being around the little ones requires the older kids to learn gentleness.

Beck - I'm sure you're right. I think my reaction has a lot to do with ME feeling overstimulated in that environment more than anything. Bub has never been troubled by situations like that - he just stays on the sidelines and does his own thing. Of course, that's part of the problem too! (I hope you write your post - I'll be checking for it!)

ewe are here said...

I think discussions about childcare, especially the lack of access to good, healthy, educational childcare for many, are important.

And, I have to say, MF would love the options available in that room you've posted a picture of, even more so if it contained children his own age and adults who care about the wee ones.

Good luck with your decision.

DaniGirl said...

I didn't read all the comments, but you know the daycare thing is always at the top of my mind and I too read this post with avid interest. It's such an achingly personal and difficult decision to make... and the choices you have are often, as you mentioned, more the illusion of choice.

I have always favoured home care for the very young, under three or so, because of the down time you mention but also because it just seems more appropriate for a very young child to be in a home environment (IMHO). On the other hand, now that the boys are older, I really like the idea of those clean and cutting-edge centres you mention, and have gone to great lengths to ensure Simon is in a nursery school program this year because I think he is not only ready for it but needs that kind of order and stimulation and we'll never make it to the top of any day care centre's wait list in our neighbourhood. So we pay for both, the nanny and the nursery school.

Day care doesn't have to be formalized to be effective, and our kids have their entire scholastic careers ahead of them for that kind of stimulation and learning. Right now, what you need to know is that your kids are happy and well-cared for and loved in your absence. THAT, in my humble opinion, is what quality day care is about.

All that to say, I feel for you but of course have no answers for you. But if we keep rattling our cages and opening this discussion, maybe we can illustrate that all is not well with daycare in Ontario, not by a long shot. < /ramble >

Jenn said...

"Productively do nothing"

Exactly why Little A is the ruler of a different castle during the day and not sharing space with other members of her kingdom.

Best wishes...it's so very hard.

Mom101 said...

Oh I so understand. This is why we're at grandma's most weekends now. There's a garden full of fat peas, a swing, a few toys, and many hours of productive nothingness. It's heaven. I can only hope that when they do end up in daycare/preschool/institute for the absurdly gifted but still socially normal...that they will find good things from that experience too.

Magpie said...

Like a bunch of people have said, the choice is about the child(ren) - there's no right answer. Mine is in the kind of daycare that is Montessori-like - and full of free play. Little bits of learning get done in the interstices. Sometimes they do things all together (the other day they made jello!) - but there's plenty of room for the individual to play quietly, or paint in the corner.

Patois said...

It really is about the people. I was blessed with a "Sharon" of my own, a wonderful woman named Maria. Not licensed, not educated (in our country), not anyone a "real" center would hire. But a woman who loves my children, who would do anything for them, and who, along with her family, has become our family. They are the Chinese godparents to the two eldest and the true godparents to our youngest. Our youngest is named after her husband. They will raise all three kids if something happens to us.

When I found a preschool/daycare for my youngest when Maria moved too far away to bring him every day, it was the teacher who I picked, not the center. She was wonderful. The center isn't up on the latest and greatest, but it has long-term, beloved teachers and caregivers. That's all I could ask for.

I'm not helping you. I'm sorry. I guess I'd say your gut tells you. But you already know that.

Good luck! Good wishes!

mcewen said...

When I left my first baby in day care full time 26 years ago I honestly thought that by the time she was my age, things would have improved.
They haven't.
Same issues, same problems, one generation later.
Best wishes

Mimi said...

It sounds like here 'institutionalized' is a bad word. And 'home care' means care like you would get at home.

I chose to put Munchkin in a university day care centre because the workers are well-paid and trained, the love the kids, the governemtn inspects them, the food is great, and there's no TV. They LOVE her there, and the ratio is three kids to one adult. She loves it. I know that her care there is consistent and stable. She makes art, she has naps, she blows kisses.

This whole topic is very fraught for me. I think we all do our best, within the limited range of choices often available to us, to do what is best for our families.

I wish everyone the happiest and most agreeable child care experiences (staying home, home-based care, institutional care). Good luck with your decision -- I know it's a hard one.

bubandpie said...

Mimi and Mad - I know this post could easily come across as an indictment of "institutionalized" care. I did come away from my tours feeling like there's something impersonal about day-care - but that probably says more about the experience of doing a "tour" than anything else. Of necessity, the tours focus on the facilities and curriculum. I got a chance to chat with the director, but I don't even know which rooms my children would be assigned to, much less the individuals who would be working there.

As so many people have said, the individual caregiver matters more than the "type" of care - but in the case of selecting a day-care center, I don't really have the option of getting to know the caregivers ahead of time.

thirtysomething said...

Oh, Daycare. I know. My children have, for reasons beyond my control, been in daycare since they can remember. In an effort to make it less painful for me, I worked at respective daycare center, gradually building my experience both as a teacher and as a mommy. I have thirteen years experience in Childcare, but let me tell you one thing I learned for sure. It is not the classroom. It is not the amount of manipulatives, blocks, dress-up opportunities, playground equip. It is the Teacher. Completely and utterly.
My 4 y.o. daughter is extremely attached to her teacher (as one of my posts explains) and comes home each day full of Ms. J stories, but she can't tell me what new toys the room has, or really even what she played with per say.

Take it from someone who has been there---go with what your gut tells you when you are talking with the teachers, and the FEEL of the room as you stand in it watching the interactions of the children and teachers during your tours, not what it has in it, or how many stars the center brags. It is a hard call for any mom though, so don't feel as if you are alone.
And post about it as often as you want! It is your blog!

Laural Dawn said...

I read your posts all the time, but don't comment that frequently.
But the daycare posts .. I totally get where you are coming from.
When I was trying to figure out what to do with my son (he's been in daycare 2 years now - he's 3) I went to many places, home care, daycares, etc.
I ended up choosing the daycare route. For my son the social aspect is so needed. He wants to be doing activities. He thrives in the atmosphere of daycare. He's actually switched a couple of times (because we moved) but I think you go in and you know. I've always relied on my instinct, the gut feeling of what works for my child.
In one of his daycares I was friends with the mother of one little girl. She was struggling with the whole issue of how this daycare had all the "right stuff" but her daughter was unhappy. She made the choice to go to homecare - it just seemed right for her.
I guess what I'm saying is that you can make a list of pros and cons and a centre can be perfect on paper, but at the end of the day you'll know.
Personally, my golden rule for everything (daycare for my son, going back to work, etc) is that I just have to try it - and that's it's okay to back out on a decision I've made no matter how long I struggled with it.
PS I have to say that Matt is actually REALLY happy in daycare.

Christine said...

oh this is so tough, huh?

I stay home, but my daughter needed a social big preschool part time when it was time. My son may or may not go, but I've never felt he needed it, really. He likes the quiet of home. And so do I. And although many of the great preschools and day care centers are wonderful, i don't always think kids will suffer missing out on them. You clearly love your little guys so much, and I'm sure it will all work out. I'm with SM and others--it really depends on the kid and the family needs.

kittenpie said...

I must admit, I love our daycare - but it is not all shiny and new. It does have lots of great things about it, but the thing that sold me the most was that the staff is long-term. The room teachers have all been there at least ten years, and the turnover is very low. These are nice ladies, and they have loved my little pumpkinpie, and seh has loved them, even though the Fisher Price airplane she was playing with last week had seen better days.

Heidi @ GGIP said...

Interesting post. Came here from Beck's. This can be a dicey issue, but I don't see why people have to tell other people what to do for preschool.

Jenifer said...

Thank you for putting that into perspective for me. I have a day care provider 2 days a week much like you SHaron who watches my kids for next to nothing because she knows I can't afford a nice certified day care. I have always felt some guilt, like I am depriving my children of activities and social interacion that a more structured day care could provide.

Thank you for reminding me that sometimes someplace like "home" and the ability to "putter" can have value too.

jen said...

i am so conflicted about our choice to use QDC it's hard to even write about.

Mama Goose said...

Choosing the right daycare is such a hard thing. I feel the same way you do about in home care and thought the larger center was the way to go for us.

We started out in a small center when F was 6 months old. He was in the infant room and got wonderful loving care.

When he was 9 months old I changed jobs and had to find another center. There were only two nearby that had openings and I reluctantly chose the less expensive place. The first day he came home with rug burns on his face and he was filthy! I removed him after two weeks. We went to the larger more expensive center and tried to fit in to their mold.

F was 17 months old when he was kicked out for biting other kids.

They gave us two weeks notice but there was no way I was going to leave him there another moment! I could just imagine them straping him in to the highchair and leaving him there all day!

I was so angry at the time because the staff had done next to nothing to resolve the issue. The "teachers" (and I use that term very loosly) spent more time gabbing about their adventures in on-line dating than paying attention to the children.

If I was a wee one in a room of 20 some-odd 18-24 month old kids with little to no verbal skills, all vying for the same toy I'd bite too!

Now I count our blessings that we were tossed out. We found a medium size center in the basement of a church (not affiliated) where F (and now O too) hang out all day with kids of all ages. They have a loose curriculum (art, reading, physical activity etc) but spend more time letting the kids govern what they want to do. It's a wonderful place and my kids are thriving.

Not to say that the large centers aren't the right choice for some, but it definitely didn't work for us.

bgirl said...

QDC - i can't begin to understand what that means, i've toured so many preschools. what works for some kids doesn't work for others. currently i'm undergoing a similar internal debate, unlike you, seattle has kids on waitlists for a year, so the pressure to decide is strong or you'll lose your place. like you i struggle with how much of it is my feeling about the place vs. my little dude's feeling. with him, my big concern has to do a bit with *mainstreaming* him now, where things can move too fast for him, coupled with his tendency to turn inward and do his own thing, rather than make connections with the other kids and the games they are engaged in.

then there is the neverending issue of cost.

The Expatriate Chef said...

The social skills and interaction are really wonderful. Our school has teachers with early education degrees, video-taped classrooms to document anything and everything for safety, and all the great equipment, etc. It's about the best (and priced that way) in my area. Still, I miss the kiddo. For me. I think there must be something wrong with a society where its cheaper to have someone else raise your kids part of the time. I never have quit debating it.

Susanne said...

This is a hard decision to make. I'd say either way might be fine for the children.

Since my working hours and day-care hours don't quite match my son spends a lot of time with his grandmother. I don't really like her but he does. And he is in day-care for 7 1/2 hours each day. He loves it there. We all miss each other though. We try to make up for it on weekends.

When he is not in preschool he gets bored and cranky. No other children.

I'm sure that you will find the best solution for both you and your children.

(And maybe you already have, again I'm late in reading blogs.)

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