Stress in Family Childcare

A few weeks ago I asked my fellow childcare providers what they could not live without. One provider said Pepsi and chocolate. I totally agree having a vice of some kind is helpful in a high stress job. One time at a childcare conference, a presenter said childcare was the second highest burnout rate job there is. The first is disarming nuclear bombs. Dealing with a whole group of different children and parents can be stressful, and a lot of the stress involved is in the way you handle it. Late pick-ups, late payments, unreasonable requests, not calling if the kids won’t be there, and other things parents see as no big deal make a huge difference in the stress level of the provider. Sometimes people think because we work at home, we don’t have a life outside our job. We are human, we are flawed, we have different cultures, but most of us do our best to provide good care.

Another thing that makes the job super high stress in Oklahoma is DHS regulations. No, not Department of Homeland Security, DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES. They add rule after rule after rule constantly, some of which are a huge time drain, and some of which are seemingly pointless. I know they add them because someone made it necessary, but the paperwork involved in family childcare is STAGGARING! In fact, 10 years ago when a friend and I started a family childcare organization in this community, we had 90 home daycares in town, today there are 28! It’s so stressful many people have just quit. So what happens to all the babies? Who will take care of them? Many times I think unlicensed providers just open up. But there is some protection for children in the licensing process. Licensed providers aren’t always better than unlicensed, but some of the rules are good. For instance cpr/first aid training requirements. So is that the best thing for our community’s children? Maybe not. But the chaos that is being licensed is stressful.

As providers, the best way we can continue to take care of others is to take care of ourselves. Remember the flight attendant on the airplane advising parents to get themselves oxygen before they put the mask on their kids? So true. If you are spent, you have nothing to give the children in your life. What are some ways to reduce stress in any person’s life?

  1. The biggest way to reduce stress in your life is to be PREPARED! If you hate mornings, take a few minutes the night before to lay out your clothes, make your lunch and get your things together that you need for work. For me, when I don’t organize what I need for the day, my day starts off feeling stressed because I can’t find what I need or am running behind. It takes just a few minutes of preparation to avoid the catch up game all day the next day. You are totally worth it!
  2. Eating good food reduces stress because it helps you have the energy to do everything you need to do. It also helps you think more clearly and reduces illnesses that slow you down in your busy life. You can make small changes to get there like adding fruit to your breakfast and a veggie at lunch. You don’t have to go from no fruits and vegetables to 9 servings a day overnight. Just strive to do better. I used to think eating vegetables at breakfast was weird, but now I usually have some sort of vegetable in the mornings. Right now because the garden is overflowing, I have tomatoes and cucumbers with my morning meal every day. My family still thinks it’s gross, and they don’t partake, but that’s okay, I know I’m doing something good for me. Making sure you eat regularly is important as well. Sometimes we skip meals due to busy schedules but you are much more productive when you have a good meal three times a day.
  3. Get plenty of sleep. Staying up late might be fun at the time, but a miserable day the entire next day is not worth it. Try your best to get 8 hours a night. If you can’t, just get as many as possible. The whole world looks better when you’re rested.
  4. Drinking plenty of water helps you have energy to face the day. Limiting caffeine, sugars, and processed foods keeps your mind and body running at optimal performance as well. Like I said, small steps toward health make a big difference.
  5. Get moving. Some type of exercise will help reduce stress, enhance your mood, and give you energy to carry you through your tasks. Make an effort to move in a purposeful way at least 20-30 minutes each day. I know you’re busy, but dance with the kids, pick weeds in the garden, vacuum the whole house, or walk around the block. You have to make time for you.
  6. Spending time with God is a big stress reducer. He’s my best friend. I know He loves me madly. Time I spend worshiping Him and talking to Him reduce stress in my life exponentially. I have read several studies showing prayer time brain activity matching that of rest. So physically it has been proven that prayer is calming. Prayer and meditation are an important part of your health.
  7. Finally, take some time to do something that makes you happy. If you love cooking, or making jewelry, or skydiving, whatever it is, take the time to do something that simply brings you pleasure. I have several hobbies I enjoy, but when I fell in love with gardening, it had some amazing effects on my mental and physical health. For me it’s been the most stress reducing thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I would get frustrated if it wasn’t perfect, but then I decided to let God take care of it and nature has balanced out. Some things we lose to pests but I just know those things weren’t meant to be. We have only so much time and weeding and harvesting take all of it, so the rest is what it is. Our Little Sprouts garden is not perfect.

Burnout is common. Taking the time to make sure you de-stress will help you in every area of your life. Like my friend Sharica always says, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Make yourself a priority. For goodness sake, take some time off during the year.  Take care of you, and you will have so much more to give the world. It needs you. This world is a mess and so many people are unhappy, ungiving, and uncaring. Be the change you want to see. Make a difference in your own life so you can help to change this world.

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Helping Ease Separation Anxiety

School is starting and many kids are exploring new adventures, it’s a good time to talk about separation anxiety. What is it? Everyone experiences a nervousness when they start something new. A little anxiety is normal. But sometimes children experience a greater anxiety about a new adventure. There are many ways we can help children overcome their fears about doing something they haven’t done before.

Parents:

Before you separate from your child for the first time, make sure they are well rested and have had something to eat. Everyone has a harder time dealing with life when they are hungry, thirsty, or too tired.

Talk about what’s going to happen for a few weeks before it happens. You are going to school. I am going to go to work. After I am done working I will pick you up from school. Mommy will be back. Mommy loves you.

Practice separation. Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods at first and then build your way up to a full day.

Have a ritual for saying goodbye. Whether it’s a kiss or hug or whatever, do it the same way every time. Tell them you are leaving and that you are coming back. Do NOT stall, or hang around not wanting to leave. This makes it much harder for your child.

Don’t give in. Make sure your child knows they will be fine, and leave. This is the hardest thing for parents to do, but if you give in and come back, it will make your child have a harder time adjusting because they will think if they are unhappy, you will come back every time. Also, children feed off of parent’s emotions, so remember if you are nervous, they can feel it and will be nervous too.

Remember that you have a job to do and you are leaving your child in the best care you can find for them. You are allowed to work and provide for your family without guilt. Leave that guilt at the curb. You are allowed to go to dinner with your husband or go to the spa as well. It’s okay to take care of yourself. It will make you a better parent in the long run. Don’t feel guilty about it. You are human too!

Make sure to tell the truth. Never sneak out when your child is playing. It will break the trust they have with you. Tell them what you are doing and then do it.

Providers:

If you are providing childcare for a child who is having a tough time separating, there are several things you can do to help them transition better.

I have a policy of having two interviews with each family before the child starts care here. One at their house and one at mine. If parents are not interested in doing that, I’m not interested in keeping their children. It gives me, the parents, and the child another opportunity to get to know each other. Going to their home helps the child feel secure when they see me at their home where they know it’s safe. If Mom and Dad let Ms. Christina come over and play here, she must be safe for me. In addition, while at the child’s home, I try to meet their pets, and play with their favorite toy with them. Then if they are upset at drop off I can say, how is your dog dizzy, or where is your elephant that you keep on your bed? It really helps the child and nervous parents cope.

Another thing you can do is let the child bring a familiar comfort item from home. A blankie, stuffed animal, or other item they use at home with which to comfort themselves will help make them feel secure at your home as well.

Having a picture of mom and dad at your house is helpful as well. They can look at them when they miss them and know they are coming back.

Make sure to give the child extra attention as they transition. They may need some extra hugs to comfort them. In contrast, make sure not to pick them up or touch them if they don’t want you to. They will tell you when they are ready for your comfort.

Be patient and remember how scary it is to leave the comfort of home and go to a strange place without the people you love. If you give it time, they will love your home and you as well. Some kids take longer than others to trust. Also, different ages of children are in different stages of separation anxiety as well. Don’t forget a child who is 10 months to about 2 will be much more leery than a younger infant or an older child. It’s a natural part of their development, so make adjustments for that as well.

Getting to know someone new is hard for everyone at first. I even feel nervous when getting to know a new child as well. Give it time and the friendship always grows. Usually faster than you think it will!

Music and Movement is FUN!

What’s the big deal about encouraging the kids to sing and dance?  Rich environments produce rich brains and every experience we present to the kids we provide care for is another way to enrich their learning.  But is music really important to development?

music and movement time

Obviously it helps develop motor skills, develops a positive attitude toward physical activity, and is just plain fun, but there are deeper reasons to expose young children to music and movement opportunities.  I totally geek out when it comes to brain development in young children.  I am in awe of the mold-ability of children’s brains at the age I teach in my home preschool.  Sometimes I get a little sciency when it comes to this subject, but I am totally enamored with the power we hold in our hands as we teach!

Music and Movement

Listening to music and playing music games helps children use both sides of their brain at the same time.  It stimulates the frontal lobe, which develops language and motor skills.  The rhythm of music reinforces language.  Since the brain goes through a major growth spurt between ages 2-6, music and movement is of utmost importance in the toddler and preschool years.

music and movement instruments

Movement causes the brain to produce endorphins, our feel good chemicals.  These chemicals increase energy levels and the ability to learn.  In addition, movement increases oxygen in the blood which sends more oxygen to the brain helping in thought processes.

music and movement dancing

Music and movement activities include cross lateral movement, or crossing the midline of the body.  Think of making big scissors with your hands in front of your body or giving yourself a hug.  This movement is incredibly important in brain development.  When children’s arms or legs cross the midsection of the body, both sides of the brain work together which strengthens brain connections exponentially.  This stimulates critical thinking, and problem solving, as well as math and reading skills.  Music and movement is full of opportunities for producing stronger brain connections.

music and movement, preschool

Children of any age as well as adults receive benefits from music and movement activities. Singing songs and doing finger plays and rhymes with kids are great ways to get them interested in the rhythm of music.  Exposing children to all kinds of music gives them an appreciation for a variety of rhythms and tones and increases their learning as well.  Every week we have music day where I play music on cds and let the kids dance with instruments and dancing ribbons and scarves.  It’s truly the highlight of our week.  We use disco music, oldies rock songs, kid’s songs, show tunes, and soundtracks from movies to get in the mood.  The kids get to choose what they want to dance to, but I will tell you that disco is king here.  I don’t know how the children I get all seem to come here loving disco, but it has NOTHING to do with me.  Finger plays are good for stimulating development as well.  Letting your kids make homemade instruments or dancing props is a great way to get their interest going.

music and movement joy

There are innumerable games, songs, rhymes, finger plays and chants available online to beef up your repertoire.  We usually learn one new song, rhyme, or finger play every two weeks or so.  When we have our daily music time, we usually do that activity along with two others the kids choose, so we focus on really learning the new one well.  How ever you choose to add music and movement into your day doesn’t matter, just do something to increase the kids’ exposure to it and you are on the right track.

Music is the life of my soul.  I love most kinds of music.  I love loud music, quiet music, elevator music, I don’t care.  I just love it all.  Music can soothe my broken heart, bring me into the throne room of God to worship Him, wake me up, get my heart beating, connect me to others, calm me, put me to sleep, and many other things.  There’s magic in the melodies and harmonies that are created by the artists who make songs.  I think people NEED music.

music with kids

The lives we touch are ours to change.  We make a difference every single day.  Whether you work with kids or adults, or whoever, be the best you that you can be.  Do something new today that will change a life for the better.

Share some music memories you have:

Finding Joy…

There are times in my life when I find joy elusive. My life is incredibly fulfilling. I have everything I need. But some days its just hard to feel joyful. When I have days like that I pray and I think about things that make me feel joy. I wanted to share just a few of the things that bring me unspeakable joy in my life.

The beauty of this momma duck and her babies.  She made her next just feet away from some of the swiftest rapids I have ever witnessed.  I was in awe of her.

The beauty of this momma duck and her babies. She made her nest just feet away from some of the swiftest rapids I have ever witnessed. I was in awe of her.

The pure joy of children.  It's contagious!

The pure joy of children. It’s contagious!

This pancake cactus.  I LOVE it!

This pancake cactus. I LOVE it!

Children being silly.

Children being silly.

Baby toes.

Baby toes.


Hummingbird bootys.  Is that not the cutest?

Hummingbird bootys. Is that not the cutest?

Mr. T, MY guitar hero.  :)

Mr. T, MY guitar hero. 🙂

Thing in nature that amaze me like these trap door spider tunnels.

Thing in nature that amaze me like these trap door spider tunnels.

Children discovering and learning.  The pride they feel in their accomplishments.

Children discovering and learning. The pride they feel in their accomplishments.

Gorgeous Oklahoma skies.

Gorgeous Oklahoma skies.

Hugs...

Hugs…

And one of my favorites, dancing in the rain.  Growing up my sister and I would get our umbrellas and sing and dance in the rain.  I used to do it with my cousin too.  And I still enjoy dancing in the rain today.

And one of my favorites, dancing in the rain. Growing up my sister and I would get our umbrellas and sing and dance in the rain. I used to do it with my cousin too. And I still enjoy dancing in the rain today.

This morning I was feeling unusually down for a number of reasons, none of which were a very big deal. I just had a sadness that I couldn’t shake. Any time I see kids that I keep or used to keep, it makes my heart leap and brings me unexplainable joy. There is a teenage boy that I kept until he went to preschool, so he’s been gone for maybe 12 years. Anyway, today when I was feeling sad, I saw him, and when his eyes met mine, my heart lept its usual leap and then he got a smile on his face that made me feel a foot taller. He quickly realized and, as a typical teenage boy, tried to stop smiling because he was embarrassed by his show of emotion. But that look on his face when he saw me is why I do the job I do today. If nothing else goes right in this world, I KNOW I am making an impact on these kids. When the day seems too hard, I think of kids like that and I remember that it’s all worth it and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. So remember that joy can be found in tiny moments and small pleasures. I know God intended for that to happen today. I drove home through downtown where there are about six stop lights in a row really close together, and as I approached each one, it turned green right before I got there. I knew that it was a wink from God telling me He was there and He loves me.

What small things bring joy to you?

Garden Glory-Cantaloupe

Me and my sprouts harvested over 52 pounds of food from the garden again this week. I’m amazed at how much the garden is producing right now. Tomorrow I plan to try to trim some wiley things back and open up the walkways so we can get to it easier if it’s not too hot in the morning. Wow, it’s a scorcher out there today! We picked almost 15 pounds of cucumbers this week, 20 pounds of tomatoes, 13 pounds of cantaloupe, and okra, tomatillos, peppers, and carrots. I’m amazed at what the kids have learned about growing this year, and what they have learned to like eating.

Monday's harvest.

Monday’s harvest.

Today's pickings.  We usually pick on Thursday but yesterday we got a lovely 2 1/2 inches of rain that kept us from working outside.

Today’s pickings. We usually pick on Thursday but yesterday we got a lovely 2 1/2 inches of rain that kept us from working outside.


The rest of today's score.

The rest of today’s score.

Today also marks the end of my time watching a very special young man. I’ve taught and taken care of him for over 10 years and it’s super hard to let him go. It’s always hard to say goodbye…

Saying goodbye to daycare kids.

saying goodbye to daycare kids

I Reached for the Stars…

In 1998, the state of Oklahoma implemented the Stars Program for rating quality. One star was for providers who meet minimum license requirements, one star plus was working toward a higher quality level, two star was better quality, and three star was the best. As a new childcare provider I thought this was a GREAT idea and was on board immediately to get the highest rating.

In order to reach the two star level, you have to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Certificate of Mastery in early childhood education, as well as numerous other qualifications. To reach three star level you have to have all of the two star requirements plus be nationally accredited. All of the requirements are great. They include goal setting, parent conferences and meetings, parent involvement activities, additional hours of yearly training required, and things of that nature. I feel like all of those things make me a better provider.

I learned so much through the process of getting my CDA and I know it made me a much better provider and mother. I would recommend every provider do it. It was hard to work 55-60 hour weeks and still go to class for 10 hours a week and then have projects and homework after that. At times I thought it would kill me. My husband continually complained about the extra work, so I quit several times. It took me two years to finish the year long program because I didn’t stick with it. When I was taking my last two classes, he started complaining and I said, this is why I never finish this, now I’m almost done, be quiet! What’s crazy about that is he is my biggest supporter in everything and he is always on board with whatever I come up with as a goal or dream. We got through it and I felt like it was such an accomplishment.

Next I set out to get nationally accredited. Oklahoma had a mentoring program and someone came out once a month and watched me with the kids, taking notes. I was given advice, books to read, and support on whatever areas I would need to improve. After a year of observations, I applied for a grant to get supplies I needed to meet the requirements. I was awarded money for impact material for outside and edging to hold it in, and multicultural dolls and supplies. (Believe it or not there are strict requirements on what can be accepted as multicultural and the only dolls available that meet it are super expensive). After I dotted all my I’s and crossed all my t’s I was awarded national accreditation. I was so excited.

After 10 years of being three star and accredited, I was beginning to tire of all of the paperwork involved. In Oklahoma, there is a massive amount of paperwork involved in just being a licensed provider. Every year the state adds more requirements and more paperwork to the load and continually more and more providers quit (or more likely provide care illegally instead). As the load increased, I began to get disheartened with the process.

For the first nine years I was accredited, the fee was $495 every three years. That is A LOT of money for a childcare provider whose profit margin is laughable. I got a scholarship one year, did a fundraiser one year, and one year paid for it by saving up for two years before it was due. Then I got a notice from the accrediting agency. The price would increase to $600 every three years PLUS a yearly renewal fee of $150 on year two and year three. The fees went from $495 to $900!

A provider who wants to get accredited must have FBI fingerprinting done for a federal background check in addition to our state background checks already required. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 8-4. A provider must also have a TB skin test. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 9-4. I work Monday through Friday 7:15-5:30 so I have to take days off to get those things. Guess what happens when I take days off? I don’t get paid. A provider must also PAY for all of those things. Fingerprints are $53, TB skin tests are $27, copies of your last three years of training cost money, postage to mail a box full of paperwork costs money, fees, fees, fees. Time off and time stressing out about mountains of paperwork and requirements I could be spending to just BE with my kids. Laughing with them, talking to them, and loving them. Spending my evenings getting rejuvenated so I can run and dance and play with them in the days. I felt the process had become more about money than quality. Anyone can put on a show while they are being observed, even if the observation date is a surprise.

I felt like the state had taken us on a journey to the wilderness and then left us out there. When the stars program was being promoted to us, we were told it would be advertised, and the whole state would be informed about what it was. That never happened. We reached for the stars and when we got them, we were left hanging from them. Most parents have never heard of the stars program or have no idea what they mean.

Over the year the grant program was shut down, scholarships discontinued, and raises for DHS subsidy for starred providers did not reflect the amount of work and expense they required. One year the three star raise was 75 cents per day. For paying $500 to get certified, I was receiving 50 cents more per day than a two star provider. That spoke volumes to me about how the state felt about quality. They eventually fixed that a couple of years later, but it was such a slap in the face at the time.

I had a long talk with myself and then with my husband. I wanted to spend my time being fun instead of grouchy and drowning in paperwork. It was really tough for me to give up my rating because I thought the program was such a great idea, but I knew I would be the same me without the stars behind my name. So I decided after 12 years of being three star, to let my stars go and quit the program. I would celebrate my gifts and not worry about what the state ratings said about me.

Sometimes the popular decision or what looks right to everyone else is not what’s right for you. I’m finding that in several areas of my personal life right now, but I can see God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him! That scripture is very real in my life right now as God is working on me in another area. I never tire of trusting Him, HE’s a great and amazing God!

I have not regretted for one minute letting my three star go. For me, it has been the best choice. In childcare word of mouth is your best tool for success, and I do my best to meet the needs of my families, so they naturally talk to their friends about it.

What steps can you take today to simplify your life? Less is more, you won’t regret it. Have a super day!

Finding a Jewel-What to Look for…

For all of you who are parents, finding a daycare that is a perfect fit is not always easy. Quality childcare is not a guarantee. Even if a childcare facility is top of the line, it may not be the best place for your family.

There are many types of childcare that are good. Is education top priority to you or would you rather have a passionate provider who deeply loves your child? Do you want someone who will treat your child like their own or someone who will care for your child in ways you would like them to be cared for? Some providers are open to suggestions, while others think they already know the best way to do things.

I have provided care for many parents who could not be happier with Little Sprouts, and I have also had multiple families who I could not please no matter how hard I tried. They were constantly dissatisfied with something. I think in those cases, our goals just did not line up. I cannot change myself or my beliefs to please people. I do try hard to provide the best quality care I possibly can, but I am not perfect, nor are my parents.

Childcare is personal. Each day I open my home to my families and allow them into my world. If you have another career, can you imagine having 5-7 families come into your home every day? Exposing your family to them and all of your possessions? Letting them see your clutter, and your dust? It’s an intimate relationship and it’s important the people I provide care for are people I trust. On the other side, it’s personal to families. They are not bringing their favorite watch or pillow here for me to care for, they are bringing me their CHILDREN. Human beings that are the very essence of them, the most precious thing in their lives. They have to trust me as well. It’s an extremely important relationship.

One provider may be great at encouraging parents while another may be wonderful at putting children at ease or teaching kids to write their names. Some providers may do lots of crafts with the kids and another may be a great at making the kids smile. We are each unique and we each have our own special skills and talents to offer. Even if someone is an amazing provider, they may not be the right provider for you. We all have flaws because we are human. You have to make sure the flaws your provider has are something you can live with. For me, safety is of utmost importance, I am organized, and crazy passionate about the development of my kids. But I have been told over and over again people do not appreciate my language. I don’t sit around dropping the “f” bomb or swearing around the kids, but I do think the word butt is funny and I might say something else parents may not like. That is me. To me those are not bad words. I don’t lie about it. If that’s a deal breaker, I can understand. I make sure to be honest and transparent about my short comings. Make sure you find the right fit for you and your child so your childcare days can be a positive experience for all of you.

What are some things parents can do to make sure they have the best situation possible?

The most important thing to remember is use your mommy vibe. It’s like spidey sense. It tells you if a situation is good or bad. If you get a bad feeling, run, don’t walk to the next option. Trust your instincts and listen to your heart. God gives moms intuition for a reason. Don’t doubt yourself.

What are some signs to look for when visiting a potential childcare setting?
Are they licensed? This is not always an indicator of quality, but you need to know if they are or not. A license comes with some protection because the provider is being monitored and required to have lifesaving training an unlicensed provider may or may not have. Here in Oklahoma, you can look on okdhs.org and see what your potential provider has been written up for if they are licensed.

Look around and check the childcare area for safety. If you see plug covers or bottles of cleaner lying around, you may want to check elsewhere.

Is there room for the kids to play and explore?

Are there quiet places for kids to retreat to if they are overwhelmed by the group? Is there something soft to sit on?

Does the environment smell like cigarette smoke? Do they have pets? Is your child allergic?

Are they trained in CPR and first aid?

Do they have references you can check? Ask. CHECK THEM! If your provider already cares for your friend’s children, ask questions about them. Get to know what others think about the provider so you can be more comfortable leaving your child.

Will they be cared for by the same person each day and for the entire day or is there staff change of some kind? Parents should be allowed to know who is directly caring for their child at all times.

Is there an open door policy? Can you visit at any time? Can you go in any area of the facility if you want to? If there are restrictions on when you can visit, that might be a red flag.

What is their discipline policy? How do they handle potty training?

Will your child receive one on one interaction and attention?

What is the provider’s temperament? Is that a temperament your child will respond well to?

What is the daily schedule? Do they follow it strictly?

Is the provider respectful of children? Respect for parents is important as well.

Children should be encouraged to be independent. Childcare is preparation for school and life. They need self-help skills, confidence and independence to be successful when they move forward.

What are the provider’s values and religious beliefs? Will those be shared with the children? My parents know God is the most important thing in my life. I have had many children over the years whose parents did not believe the way I do and they handled it in their own ways, but I was honest about my beliefs.

Take time for the interview or interviews. The time you spend in the facility before you start using the care is vital for your own peace of mind. Don’t rush it.
Make sure you have a backup plan in case you need it. Vacations, illnesses, and building problems do happen.

What days is the facility closed?

Pick up early or visit on your lunch break to see what the kids are doing when it’s not regular pick up time. This will help you see a greater piece of the children’s day. Be respectful. If you visit during nap time, be quiet. If you visit during lunch, don’t expect the provider’s full attention, they are busy.

Communication is key to making a provider/family relationship the best it can be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, give suggestions, or make requests. If all parties are open with each other, the childcare situation will be the best it can be.

Remember to trust your instincts. You know what your child and your family need.