|If you've chosen wisely, next to mom I am the second-best thing.
by Hanne Denney
photo by Mark Burns
Childcare provider Hanne Denney reads to Michael, on her lap, Brady, in front with overalls, Rachel, back to camera, Sarah, twins Austin and Daniel and baby Joshua behind Hanne.
To recognize the importance of childcare providers, Gov. Parris Glendening has declared Friday, May 11 Provider Appreciation Day. The proclamation reads, "The future of our state depends on the quality of the early childhood experiences provided to young children today and, high quality early childhood services such as childcare represent a worthy commitment to our children's future."
"I miss my mommy," Sarah says quietly.
"Yes," I answer, "I miss her, too."
It's been a fun day of playing in the backyard, painting pictures of daffodils, reading springtime stories and baking muffins. But now this family childcare provider is tired and ready for the kids to go home with mommy or daddy.
"Do you want to draw a picture? Or would you like to come sit with me and baby Joshua while we wait?" I am out of creative ideas for childhood entertainment. It's 4pm, and I've been working since 6:45 this morning. I'm ready to sit down with the evening paper and relax, but I've got another hour until I can let my responsibilities go.
It's been a good day, full of activities of exploration and enjoyment, education and entertainment. It's been a successful day in the lives of the children in my care, and a successful day for me. No illnesses, no injuries, no inappropriate language from the children. We learned something and we shared a lot. We had fun.
Monday through Friday, I spend my days with up to eight children. Their parents are busy managing, teaching, engineering or whatever it is they do for a living. I serve as educator, nurse, nutritionist, librarian, playmate, safety director and surrogate parent. Am I mom to these kids? No, but if the parents have chosen wisely when they selected me to be their childcare provider, I am the second-best thing.
No one loves a child as much as a parent, and that's the way it is meant to be. But every child enrolled in my family childcare program receives love from me. You can't be in this business if you are not willing to open your heart as well as your home.
From Working Mom ...
I am mom to two children of my own. Tom, now 18, is a freshman at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Katie, now 14, is a high school freshman at Severn School. When they were younger, I was an employee working outside the home, and they were in childcare. That's how I learned my first lessons about what makes good childcare - and what doesn't.
Like most parents 15 and 20 years ago, I thought childcare was a "babysitter" whose job it was to keep the child clean and safe until the parents came home. Now early childhood experts have examined what makes quality care, and knowledgeable parents look for more than safety and cleanliness when choosing who will help raise their child.
Tom was fortunate to be placed with a very loving woman who offered care in her home. Nina gave him a great feeling of security. As Tom has grown up, researchers have concluded that consistent and stable caregivers is a first priority of good childcare.
Tom thrived in her home for five years. She was not registered as a provider, and at that time I was not worried about it. Now I know the importance of registration and licensing for centers and family childcare homes. "A license does not automatically guarantee that a family day care home is good," writes Sonja Flating in Child Care: A Parent's Guide, a book I think makes useful suggestions. "But," she continues, "it's an excellent barometer of the provider's commitment to establishing and maintaining standards. If someone is not licensed, there is usually a good reason for it."
When Katie was born, Nina had had a back injury that left her unable to care for babies. I enrolled my daughter in a childcare center near my office. Within six months I pulled her from the center, and she moved through a succession of family childcare providers. The first was my sister-in-law, Donna Denney. Donna loved and cared for her well, but I changed jobs and it wasn't feasible to drive the baby to Bowie.
For all sorts of reasons, we kept changing our childcare plans. Katie spent six months with one person, three or four with another. In consequence, she missed out on that crucial, secure child-to-caregiver relationship that I think is so important for very small children. Fortunately, my jobs allowed me to spend a lot of time with her myself.
Learning to rely on the caregivers in your life is a significant part of developing healthy relationships. That's one reason babies need to know the same person will be there for them each day.
When Katie was five, we found a registered provider who was exactly what we were searching for. Nedda Welch offers a program full of fun learning activities for the children in her care. She is loving and warm and smiles easily. She offers creative projects, field trips, nature explorations, books and toys and lots of outdoor time. She was once named "Provider of the Year" by the Chesapeake Children's Museum.
My children were happy in her care. Fortunately for other families, she is still caring for children in her Shady Side home. Childcare is a field where experience counts.
After our various experiences, we had learned enough to pick a childcare provider wisely. If you're still learning, read the book Nothing But the Best: Making Day Care Work for You and Your Child by Diane Lusk and Bruce McPherson. They conclude that as parents, "we do our best because there's nothing else to do, and our hopeful and honest efforts are our best and brightest love."
...To Working for Other Moms
In 1992, I was facing a layoff from my job. Nedda suggested I become a registered family childcare provider and led me through the application process. After six months of paperwork, medical exams, inspections and home improvements ordered by the fire marshal, I had my registration number. Cape Anne Child Care was in business.
I start my day around 4:45 with a half hour of exercise to wake the body and coffee to wake the mind. This is the time of day I most enjoy with my husband, as we watch the news and chat. At 5:30, I'm making lunches for my family and planning the day's food menus. From 6:00 to 6:20, I'm getting myself ready. Fortunately my job doesn't require my clothes be pressed or my hair carefully styled. I schedule 10 minutes of inspirational reading, meditation and prayer to open my mind and heart to the day.
By 6:30 I am downstairs again, waking my daughter (this can take several minutes) and preparing my home for little children. Sometimes I prepare an activity or take care of other business. At 6:45, my doors are open.
Breakfast is served at 7:30. Please don't be late! If I clean up breakfast and have to get food and dishes out again, it throws my whole morning off.
Daniel and Austin, the Starnes twins, get on the bus at 8:00, with washed hands and faces and having used the bathroom after breakfast. Coats, hats, book bags - everybody outside to wait for the bus!
photo by Mark Burns
Unless wind chill is negative or rain is torrential, were outside every day. From left, Rachel, Austin, Brady, Sarah, Daniel and Hanne with Joshua and Michael.
Working with the Children
Between 8:00 and 9am, everyone else usually arrives, and we're ready to begin our organized activities. Cooking projects are great science lessons, and children love to eat what they make, so we cook and bake often. Today we made banana muffins; I love them, too, so it's a favorite cooking project. And mashing the bananas is great fun.
We also use lots of manipulatives, an educator's term for sets of things kids can sort and count. These days my preschoolers are really enjoying playing with water. I fill a large bowl and distribute cups, scoops, and toys. We'll have fun learning about gravity, measuring, sharing, language - and making a mess and cleaning it up.
We read lots of books, and we may have "circle time" for sharing something new or enjoying an old friend of a story. There's free-play time, when kids can choose their activity: blocks, puzzles, trains, dolls, cars, dramatic pretending, puppets, coloring. We're outside every day, unless wind chill is negative or rain is torrential.
Guide for Parents: Fresh air does not make children sick, so please dress them for the weather. Bring mittens and boots if it's cold or wet, or shorts if it's hot. Send them in clothes that can get dirty.
At 11am, Daniel and Austin return from school, and our group grows from five kids to seven. At noon, Rachel is back from her school, and it is lunchtime. I participate with the USDA food program and offer a nutritious diet for the children. Lunch each day includes a protein, two fruits or vegetables, a bread or grain, and milk. The kids get at least four things to eat. If they don't like any of them, well, snack is served at 3:00.
Try feeding six or seven small children - including a baby who needs to be spoon-fed and a toddler in the high chair. At least one cup of milk spills at every meal, and lots of ketchup stains little mouths and hands. But the conversation is often amusing and lively.
I like to sit down with the kids. I like to show them that I eat carrots and chicken. I like them to feel we're a family sitting down together and that their conversation is interesting.
I ask questions: "Did you read a good book in school today? Can you tell us about it?" And I tell them things about myself: "I liked ketchup on my chicken when I was little, but now I like it plain." You'll love their responses; I'm not making these up.
"I like ketchup on my green beans. Brady likes ketchup on his fingers," Rachel tells us. We get into a hilarious discussion of what else we might like ketchup on.
"I like ketchup on ice cream!" from Austin. "I like ketchup on bread!" from Dan. Brady just keeps licking the ketchup off his fingers.
Wow, it's 12:45, and lunch is over. Now there's a big mess. Ketchup is pretty much on everything and everyone. There are several spots of it on my shirt; I think that came from lifting Michael from the high chair. The baby is fussing, so the first job is to get him tucked in. Then everyone can play for a few minutes while Ms. Hanne loads the dishwasher and puts food away. If everyone is calm, the floor gets swept and the table is disinfected. If the kids are hyper, the cleaning gets done later.
Guide for Parents: If you serve only nutritious food, your child will eat only nutritious food.
Almost Nap Time
Now the kids sing Barney's song: "Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!" We need to get the toys off the floor so the nap mats can be spread out. By 1:30, children are lying down with favorite blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, thumbs. Michael and Brady are fading fast, Daniel and Austin are tickling each other, and Sarah is curled up under her Little Mermaid sleeping bag. She's happy because it's her turn with the teddy bear pillow. Rachel is almost five, and she usually doesn't sleep, but she likes to rest for a few minutes on a mat and watch a movie or draw a picture.
Guide for Parents: Kids learn responsibility by helping clean up after activities.
Here comes Jacob's mother to pick him up; he's part-time so he goes home at naptime.
Rare is the day when everyone is sleeping. If I am lucky, though, the three little ones will overlap their nap for at least a few minutes. If that happens and I'm smart, I sit down to rest my body for 10 minutes. Most days, however, one of the little ones is awake and must be kept from crawling over the sleeping preschoolers.
For an hour or so things are calmer in my home, and I have time to prepare an afternoon snack if it's not something we've already made, like the banana muffins. I might prepare a project or activity. Today we picked daffodils, and we're going to paint pictures of them this afternoon. So I need to find the green and yellow paint, brushes and paper.
I check the baby in the crib and every sleeping body every 15 minutes. All is calm, all is quiet.
Rested and Ready
photo by Hanne Denney
Daniel and Austin sleep curled up as only twins can, arms entwined and heads touching.
When Joshua wakes up, what joy! He is smiling and kicking his six-month-old legs. Brady stirs, rolls over, and - covered back up with his favorite blanket - sleeps again. Michael hasn't moved, and his mouth is open as if ready for his thumb to climb back in. Austin and Daniel sleep curled up as only twins can, arms entwined and heads touching. Sarah's eyes are half open; she's still asleep, but it's a sign she'll be waking shortly.
I pour drinks, put the snack on the table, give Joshua his bottle and change his diaper. Everybody's moving now (except Daniel; he likes long naps), and Michael wakes up crying and disoriented. He likes to be held while he's waking up, and I treasure those sleepy cuddling moments. Brady wakes up and climbs on the couch, too. So I'm holding Joshua, Brady and Michael. I call them "my three boys"; they like that. We move into the kitchen to eat banana muffins and juice.
More diapers to change, dirty dishes to pile up and nap mats to put away. We talk about the daffodils, and I pass out paper and brushes to everyone. Daniel wants his daffodils to be orange, but this is one time I want to encourage painting from reality. We use the yellow. The paintings turn out really well. In fact, I'm inspired by the kids and I paint a daffodil myself. This project takes only 15 minutes or so, and the kids leave the table as they finish.
Toys start to appear again, and the noise level rises. It's 4pm - an hour to go. I'm tired. I've read the train book for the fourth time today to Brady and then Michael's favorite Barney book. Joshua likes all books and is happy sitting in his baby chair watching. Dan is making a "laser" from a piece of the train track; Sarah is letting me know about it. Austin is still yawning and doesn't want to play with Dan. Dan is yelling because Austin won't be Woody to his Buzz Lightyear. Rachel is trying to keep her baby dolls from Brady, who wants to play, too. Michael needs another diaper change.
We put on socks and shoes, gather papers in book bags, find the special toy someone brought today. Brady wants to take the train book home to show mom, and he puts it in his bag.
"It's 4:30, going-home time, can you put away the toys? Rachel, you played with these; please help me. Dan, the train track is not a laser; Austin, what's the matter? Brady, no, you can't take all the books home today. Michael, where did your shoe go? Didn't I just put it on? Joshua, are you laughing at sister Sarah?"
Here comes mom or dad. A happy chorus greets parents walking in the door. I smile and chat about our day and plans for tomorrow. Five o'clock, closing time. I've been "at work" more than 10 hours.
My daughter is waiting to be picked up from school, but someone is late. The phone rings, traffic is bad be there in 15 minutes. Nothing to do but get a book and read with the waiting child. Should I charge the late fee we agreed to in my contract? No, this mom is rarely late.
When she pulls up I walk out with the child, pass the bag over and jump into my car. I leave before the family drives off. I've left a bunch of dishes in the sink, toys on the carpet and banana muffin in little clumps all over the kitchen floor. There's yellow paint on my table and paintings taped to the front window to dry. I hung up my daffodil painting, too. I'm tired, but satisfied. It's time for me to be mom to my own.
Guide for Parents: If you can't clean the mess up right now, just leave it. The mess will wait; your child may not.
And You Thought We Were Just Playing
That's what we did today. But what did we do today? We talked all day long, learning new words and new information. We walked around the neighborhood and discovered rain puddles that were warm from the spring sun and Bay waters that were still cold from winter. We picked daffodils and made observations before painting what we saw. We watched robins doing something (I don't want to explain that to young children). We made up a story about the cat that lives next door. We said "hi" to an older neighbor (Daniel calls her "Grandma").
We practiced fine-motor skills by using crayons, manipulatives, paintbrushes and mixing spoons. We used our developing gross-motor skills by kicking and throwing balls outside. We measured water and poured it. We read books and watched Little Bear and half of Lady and the Tramp. We listened to Celtic music and 98 Degrees (when Katie holds him and sways, Brady always falls asleep to "I Do").
We ate four meals together and sort of cleaned them up. This encourages social skills. We made a mess of toys and sort of cleaned it up. This encourages cooperative activity. We made a big mess with water and used towels to soak it up. "Where did the water go?" This encourages scientific thinking. We made a mess with muffins, and haven't gotten it all cleaned up yet. This encourages seeing a project through to completion.
Guide for Parents: Pay attention to what I'm doing with your children. Let me know if you like what they are learning. Don't drop their papers and projects on the floor of your car and forget about them. Read my newsletter, note my planned events. Give me some feedback.
When I get home with my daughter an hour from now, I'll update my attendance records. I'll clean up the food residue and the dirty dishes and the paint splotches. I'll serve dinner to my family and clean the kitchen one last time. I might watch a little TV and listen to Katie recite her school assignment. I'll read a book written for adults, if my eyes will focus. I'll go to bed at 9 and be asleep by 9:05.
At Cape Anne Child Care, I've created close to my ideal for childcare.
Children are a mixed-age grouping from infants through school age, as I prefer. The space is clean and safe but not too tidy. Books and age-appropriate toys are accessible, and art materials should be plentiful. Our day is organized with specific learning activities, but the learning includes free play and hands-on exploration as well as papers to be completed and sent home.
I'm professional in demeanor, but I laugh easily at silly jokes and funny faces. I'm willing to plop down on the floor and run on the grass. I'm eager to learn about new things. I like playing with cars and dolls, like to read and tell stories, and I think creating something is fun.
I'm also an active participant in the provider association, and I participate in training and workshops beyond what is required by the state. I work under a clearly worded contract, and I make a calendar of scheduled closings and special events.
Sound like Mary Poppins? Perhaps, but Mary left after a short time with the Banks family. The most important gift parents can give their child is to entrust them to a care-giver who is going to be there for a while.
Guide for Parents: For my time with your children to be ideal, I need more from you. Many providers feel they receive little respect from their clients. Recognize how hard we work for your children and give us support. Be on time when you pick up your children, and pay on time. Realize that we sometimes need a day off. Encourage us to stay in the business. Burnout is a real threat, and good childcare is precious. Have you thanked your provider today?
You, in turn, need to ask questions of me. Is the center staff committed? Or do they have a high turnover rate? Is the family childcare provider happy to see the children every morning? Are her children and spouse affectionate and welcoming to the childcare children? Is the home or center investing in new materials, books, toys, and training? Do you see your child's future in this place?
Ready for Tomorrow
photo by Hanne Denney
Sister Sarah and brother baby Joshua.
I'm not mom or dad or a doctor, a nutritionist, a librarian. I am a teacher, a caregiver and an adult who cares for these children very much. And that's an important need to meet in a child's life. I provide a service for working parents, and I provide love and learning for their children. I am honored to be a childcare provider.
"I miss my Mommy," Sarah says again as we sit waiting.
"Yes," I answer, "I know you do. I think she misses you, too, when she's at work." And I think to myself, when the children go home, I miss Sarah.
Guide for Parents: Trust your instincts, choose your provider wisely and look forward to hearing about your child's wonderful day.
·The Anne Arundel Child Care Resource & Referral Office maintains a database about each registered provider or licensed center and can detail hours, location, capacity, fees and program descriptions. Program Director Carolyn Carter says the office is "dedicated to helping parents make an informed choice and to helping providers get the training and support they need to offer quality care."
For information or their "hot topic cards" of "quality indicators" for childcare: 410/222-1721.
But a parent-consumer warns there's no answering service or web site, so getting in touch can be "a full-time job."
The Child Care Administration offers a consumer education booklet and will give information about a provider upon written request: 800/492-2414.
The Anne Arundel County Public Library system has a number of books and references available on choosing childcare. Visit the "Parenting Centers" in each branch, or ask the staff for help.
The Anne Arundel County Family Child Care Association maintains a provider referral list: 410/384-1684 · www.geocities.com/heartland/ranch/3414.
Making the Choice
When parents cant be home all day, they face the difficult choice of where to place the child. I was an employed parent, and I struggled with the decision. My kids had both excellent and poor childcare. I learned to trust my instinct and to listen to my children. If a childcare situation didnt feel right, and if my children were not happy, my children should not be there. Its really that simple.
Today parents have an easier time locating and evaluating childcare providers. The state mandates that both childcare centers and family providers be licensed or registered. This requires the providers and their families, or the center staff, be screened for criminal records and health problems. The Child Care Administration and the Fire Marshal inspect the facility. The water quality is tested, and the plumbing, telephone, refrigerator and stove are checked. The provider is trained in health and safety, child development, business practices and curriculum design. Licensing and registration at least reassure the parent that minimum standards have been met.