Setting Up Child Care Takes 'Life Plan'

By:JUDY LYDEN

Scripps Howard News Service

The No. 1 question I receive is: "How do you start a child care?"

I'd like to answer: "How do you start a symphony?"

Let's say, just as with a symphony, developing a place for children to play and learn takes what you might call a "life plan."

A life plan is something that grows. Firmly rooted in good adult discipline and a concrete idea, a life plan also has enough energy, experience and creativity to overcome the obstacles of beginning.

Perhaps the first consideration in planning a child care is the provider or teacher. Does she understand very young children or is she only guessing?

Lots of women want to "do child care," but the truth is, most people can't. They can't discipline properly or keep up the pace on an extended basis. The sweet old mother-to-the-world attitude sinks many a well-intentioned ship.

That best candidate is someone who can make the kind of emotional and intellectual commitment that goes beyond work hours. Planning for child care takes a lot of hours of homework, and providers unwilling to work outside of work hours will be second rate.

Space and light, too, are a big part of the life plan. Minimum requirement: 35 square feet for each child. Optimum? At least twice that.

Child-care space should be just that child-care space. If you're going to make a space for children to play, do it right; empty a room of everything, open the drapes, turn on the lights and design it for the children.

Toys are a child's tools. There should be a variety of toys to choose from which are in top condition. There should be at least four play stations: art, library, building and house. Most toys will fit into these categories. A large table with child-size chairs is indispensable.

Food is a moral consideration. Meeting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Child Care Food Program nutrition requirements is bottom line. Knowledge of food and child care are inseparable. Care givers who avoid feeding children or who don't understand nutrition don't belong in child care.

Life plans also include a regular curriculum or preplanned stuff for kids to do. Schedules that can be kept day in and day out are important. Just getting through days with the television on is sloppy child care.

Schedule example: Breakfast, circle time, art, free play, reading, recess, lunch, recess, circle time, quiet time, snack, recess, free play. Such a plan needs to provide for all aspects of the day. Providers who can't manage a simple schedule and find children aimlessly roaming too much of the day should re-evaluate their plan.

Outdoor play at least three times a day should be an everyday activity. Children need to spend at least an hour and a half outside just running.

Child care also is a business. It makes money. Based on time and space, it should be profitable enough to meet the kind of expenses necessary to replace and renew supplies and equipment, cover the overhead, and pay a respectable salary to the providers.

The life plan, then, provides for the care givers, space and light, toys, food, curriculum, outdoor play and finances. Now the biggest consideration of all: Would I want my own child spending 10 or more hours there?

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to jlyden@evansville.net.

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