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*Disclaimer: If you run a daycare, work in a daycare, send your kids to daycare, or if Daycare is your middle name, please understand I am only culling together my own observations.  I have experienced the full gamut of quality child care, and this is in no way meant to disparage the good ones out there, nor the need for high-quality child care, which supports the working families in our country.  

How to make a daycare center

Find a building, any building, or a space in a building.  It can be an abandoned school, a mechanic’s garage, a storefront, a church basement, or the 2nd floor of a strip mall.  Splash paint on this building.

Think of a creative name to put forth your mission – Creative Minds, Future Footsteps, Minds Matter, Little Shepherds, Little Ones of the Future, Precious Babies, Kiddie Karriage, Kiddie Korner, Terrific Tots, Wonderfully Made, or Shake, Rattle, & Roll.  (These are actual examples.)  Now call a sign maker, and ask for your daycare’s name to be emblazoned on your storefront. Under no circumstances should you ask for a proof or – heaven forbid! – go into the store to make sure the spelling is right.  Having the name of your center spelled correctly would only make people feel insecure when they can’t spell the center’s name.  If you have extra money, have multiple signs made – for the doors, the marquee (if it’s an old movie theatre), the awning (if it’s an old laundromat), the windows, or walls inside.  Don’t worry about consistency in spelling.  Again, if you get 3 different spellings of “shepherd”, one of them is bound to be correct.  For marketing purposes, you can also write on any of your signs the attributes parents are bound to be attracted to in child care, such as “trips”  “computers” “French classes” and “open at 4am”.  

Buy lots of materials.  Make sure you buy the kit from the school supply catalog that will label the centers – science, math, art, reading housekeeping, blocks, writing – and paste these liberally to the walls, regardless or whether or not you have those actual centers at your daycare.  Repeat with the ABCs and numbers.  Make sure you have borders for the bulletin boards.  Bulletin board design is a very important way to show what creative teachers you have.  Another way to show creativity is by buying art kits.  Kids will learn exactly where to place the pre-cut, pre-glued dog’s nose on his face, and all the projects will turn out exactly the same.  

Also, buy lots of tables and chairs.  These do not have to be precisely fit to the size/age of the kids you’re serving, because kids grow into things, don’t they? And besides, small children are meant to spend long hours seated at tables doing worksheets, which reminds me –

Buy lots of workbooks to copy worksheets out of.  Don’t bother buying reference books for teachers to learn developmentally appropriate practices.  They’ll just figure it out as they go along.

Make sure you have 1 thin rug from a school supply catalog for circle time.  At this point, if you’re worried about running out of money for actual toys, fill empty bins with broken Happy Meal toys, torn books from the “Free” bin at the library, and your kids’ old Barbies and Beanie Babies.  

Staffing is not really an issue to get worked up about.  Young, inexperienced teachers will learn from older, burnt-out teachers.  Overweight teachers with Daycare Butt © will use their loud voices to command presence in the room.  Make sure each teacher is working toward a CDA so you don’t lose your license.  If teachers are really green and can’t handle their rooms of children, just put more new teachers into the room to help.  Don’t bother making one the “lead” and others the “associates” – that kind of hierarchy just makes people angle for bigger paychecks, and might give certain teachers a sense of superiority.  And you can always just move them around in the middle of the school year if they’re not a good fit.  

Lastly, use whatever money you have left to put up walls to make separate classrooms, depending on how many rooms you can legally create.  If you have just a few dollars, buy some cubicle partitions – the walls work great for displaying kids’ art projects using push-pins.  If you have more money or know a handy-man, you can put up a half-wall.  This makes sure the daycare noises of loud teachers, crying children, and the clean-up song will be able to travel from room to room, unabated.  Teachers will also be able to communicate freely over the wall about their upcoming court dates, custody battles, and new tattoos.  If you’re lucky, your building will already be divided into rooms, or if you want to spend the big bucks, go for real walls. Otherwise, you have many options.

And with that, throw up one more sign that says “Now enrolling, subsidized excepted” and open your doors to the oncoming masses.

I have to work up close and personal with kids.  The kids I work with are rather small, even by my standards of height.  I view my world from a solidly 5’0″ tall vantage, and these kids are shorter yet.  And when they’re sitting down?  Forget it.  This is a job to do when one has young knees and has not yet developed vertigo. 

I have to get in their faces for many reasons.  The ones I work on articulation with need to see my face.  Not to sound boastful or anything, but my face has cues they need to see.  Little kids struggling to acknowledge that our language has final consonants need to see my lips come together at the end of “cup” or they’ll be asking for a “kuh” forever.  Another reason is that kids understand better.  And kids who understand just fine, listen better.  “He won’t listen,” I hear people tell me.  Well, if you’re yelling at him from across the room, he may not even know you’re shouting at him, let alone detect the message you’re hollering.  If there was one “technique”, strategy, or trick I could offer to many of the teachers I work with, one simple action they could do to increase interactions with their students, it would be to Get up.  Go over to him.  Talk to his face.  On his level.  And to stop asking him why he hit the kid.  Kids can’t answer “why” questions at that age anyway, but they might be more likely not to hit again, if you get up from your chair and go tell him to stop hitting.  I’m not asking you to give him a discourse on “friendly hands” or use a “problem-solving suitcase” or even change your words from “share” to “let’s take turns”.  But  please.  Get up off your ass and give the child the privilege of your immediate presence.  Adults don’t often have conversations standing more than 3 feet away from each other; why do we expect kids to listen to us when we’re halfway across the gym?

This lack of face-time I have observed has led me to name another phenomenon I have seen in daycares, head starts, church basements and the like: Daycare Butt.  A close cousin to Dispatch Butt, which 911 operators and EMS dispatchers get from a steady diet of inactivity and fast food, Daycare Butt evolves from perching an adult-sized body on a child-size chair, stationing oneself at a viewpoint from which one can see most of the children, so one does not have to move, and, accordingly, not moving.  All day long.  And you thought you had to be fit, flexible, and fleet of foot to work with small children!

However, all is not hunky-dorey when I’m face-to-face with a small child.  While I am increasing the likelihood they will be able to listen better, follow directions better, and imitate my speech sounds better, I accordingly increasing the likelihood of other, less than desirable possibilities.  There is risk of a drive-by hair brushing, using the hairbrush that’s been in the dress-up area for 16 years, and has brushed the hair of 275 children and countless dolls.  With lice.  There is the risk of the subsequent beauty parlour treatment,  which may or may not include curlers, a broken blow drier, a curling iron, and a shower cap.  With lice.  There is the risk of other numerous dress up crowns, tiaras, construction hats, hair nets, and headbands.  With lice. 

If you are down at a child’s level, working face-to-face with a child, you will get sneezed on.  Coughed on.  Spit on.  In the face.  Not just on your arm, in your vicinity, in your general direction — in the face.  And you will feel that puff of air germs come your way, and you will go home and check your last paystub for your sick leave, because you will be needing it.  You will blow noses.   You will touch sleeves that were used as tissues.  And used tissues that were curteously put back into the tissue box.  And you will use your sick leave.

Mealtime contains endless hazards.  Food that was previously in a child’s mouth will be in your mouth, on your glasses, your cheese, your chin, your hair, and most definitely your clothing.  Today, I am wearing oranges, guacamole, peaches, pasta, sauce from meatballs, green beans, and milk.  I am only responsible for contributing the oranges and guac.  Positioning can help to avoid some larger issues.  Angling oneself away from the spill-prone child, and having lightning reflexes can help one avoid having an entire quart of milk dumped on one’s lap and shoes.  Usually.  Ask me how I know.

Then there are the wardrobe malfunctions.  I’ve become very instinctive when I sense a glasses-grab or a hair-pull on the horizon.  And I’ve even learned a maneuver which can help to free those items from a child’s deathgrip.  I don’t wear earrings, and I’d be afraid to. Kids seem fascinated by my watch, grabbing and pulling at it without regard to the arm it is attached to.  When they start wrangling my arm, I’ve taken to chiding, “That’s my body!”  

And there are still other dangers.  Errant art supplies have left me covered in marker (Why do they even make non-washable markers for kids?  Does anyone know this?), pen (usually my own), pencil, paint (same question), play-doh, shaving cream, glue, and sand, dirt, and dust from the “messy table”.   And as the well meaning adults are cleaning off the tables from the children’s latest artistic endeavour, bleach from the diluted cleaning solution will find its way to my favorite shirt before the table has completely dried, leaving festive dots or streaks.  This will all happen.  All this and more.

I’m finally understanding why people who work with small children in non-healthcare settings feel they’re entitled to wear scrubs.  It has nothing to do with their desire to dress up in unicorns, pastels, and polyester fabric.  It has a lot to do with the elastic waistbands and loose-fitting tops.  It must have at least something to do with the disgusting, germy messes that end up on my clothing after a day’s work.  But I can’t do it yet.  I can’t give up.  I can’t go to scrubs. 

The tipping point will come, and I’ll either be driven to wear a biohazard suit, or to work with a population who knows how to cover their coughs, and blow their noses on a tissue.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

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