The Basics of Starting a Day Care Starting your own day care business is a good way of scratching several "itches" all at once. It can fulfill your need not just for a job but for a career that is really a calling in a lot of ways. All of us want to do for a living something that is really meaningful and that utilizes the best of our skills and temperaments for the betterment of others. This is a basic need of all adults to find meaning full employment that not only pays the bills but is something you love to go to do every day of the week. The other "itch" that owning and running your own day care can scratch is your deeply rooted desire to work with children for a living. Many of us have that calling in our lives. But not all of the careers that involve children are right for everyone. You may have wonderful skills in caring for little ones but you are not called to teach nor do you have the education or the skills to work with special needs children or to go into pediatrics. A day care career gives you the chance to use that love of children and your talent for mentoring and caring for them with your career. Its a perfect match. Probably the first basic question you should ask about starting a day care is the same one any new business must ask and that is, "is there a need for my new day care?" In any formal documentation about how to open a business, this question is called the "market analysis." To put in terms we can relate to, if you build it, will they come? Sometimes this leads to some hard questions you should face down long before you take event he first step toward organizing your own day care facility. Questions like: * How do you know that your community needs a new day care? * Do you know specifically who your first customers will be? * Are you serving a niche market? * Will your day care accept handicapped kids? * What will be your age limits for your day care? These and dozens of other questions must be dealt with during the earliest phases of your decision making process. A niche market might be that you are going to offer day care for just kids of families from your church or to only children whose families live in a specified area around your facility. These questions are all about understanding your customers and knowing in advance that they are there, that they need you and that they will be lining up at your door when you are ready to start business. Along with the market need, the daily functioning of the day care is something that deserves some thought up front as well. For example, discipline of the children must be thought through both in terms of policy and the "contract" that you come to with the parents who are your "bosses" but in terms of your employees and what everybody expects to happen. Next to discipline, emergency preparedness is a high priority as well as compliance with health and legal requirements for any day care. These are just some of the nitty gritty "basics" level issues for you to think through as you prepare to open your day care. There will be more and your patience for dealing with them must be enduring. But if you keep that core motivation to create a place where you can care for children for a living and a place where the children you care for are happy and safe, then you will get through all the questions and eventually find yourself running a very successful day care. A Day Care Starter Kit When you make the determination that you are ready to start the process of owning your own day care, the first thing to recognize is that you are not going down uncharted paths here. The steps you will need to take to set up your day care are pretty much cut and dried. And while for you each step along the path to finally turning the key and opening the door of your shiny new day care is an adventure, it is an adventure many have had before you. That is why there are already a number of good day care starter kits available to guide you on the path. Probably the most useful thing a day care starter kit will give you is a check list not only of what things you will need to do but what order you will do them. And the process the kit will take you through will accomplish two big goals. The first goal obviously is to get the set up and preparation work done so you can move forward at a steady pace toward making your dream of owning a day care a reality. But the second goal may be the most important one. The process the kit will take you through will give you an education into what is required of you and what areas of study and focus you must give time to before you take the next steps toward opening your day care center. The education process of taking you from the dreamer status to a well informed day care owner is vital to equipping you with the knowledge and the awareness of pitfalls and opportunities to keep your eyes open for throughout the preparation time frame. A good starter kit gives you a number of organizational advantages that put you way ahead of the game in starting your day care. For one thing the kit answers the question, "What do I do first?" as well as the question "What next?" The plan of development by itself is worth the cost of the kit because you get the sequence of steps to go through, the details you need to attend to in order to see success each step of the way and the timing you should expect to need to complete each step. That schedule is critical so you can tell if you are ahead of schedule or lagging behind and you can forecast a date when you can expect to actually open your day care center. A day care starter kit will also give you a jump start on the regulatory issues that you must attend to so you can get your day care operators license and the medical and dietary "must dos" so you can document that you are running a facility parents can entrust their children to. The kit gives you the forms customized to your state and the procedures, email addresses, web sites, and phone numbers so you can learn what will be required of you to comply with regulations so your day care center can be certified and operate in a way that is approved of legally as well as by the parents who look to you to run your day care in a professional way. Finding a day care starter kit isn't difficult. There are a number of them available on the internet. But get some references on these kits because if you are going to spend money on a starter kit, you want to know it has helped others be a success in getting their day care up and running. In fact, doing some interviewing with recently opened day cares and their owners might point you toward starter kits that have tangible evidence that they work because they helped one of your neighbors get started. So they can help you too. Things to Think About When Starting a Home Based Day Care Side by side, the work and expense of starting a day care at home compared to setting up a dedicated facility are dramatically different. Owning and running a full scale retail day care is not everybody's ambition or calling whereas operating a smaller scale day care right out of your home is much easier to take on and maintain. But there are some preparations you must do and things to think about when starting your home based day care so when those cars start to pull up to drop of the children for the day, you feel prepared, relaxed and ready to take on this new challenge and carrier. As with any new business and particularly with one that is centered around young children, you have to think about the legalities and licensing issues of running a day care out of your home. While in may ways using a day care as your home based business may seem like a slightly more organized version of professional babysitting, to the state and medical authorities, they have to monitor all day cares to assure that you are able to care for the children and that you are running a clean, sanitary and safe operation to caring for those kiddos. You may find that you don't have to get a license when you are only going to keep 2-4 kiddos for profit. But even if that is true, you have to be prepared for success. And if success does sneak up on you, if you have done your home work about what you need to do to stay on the up and up with the local authorities, that growth can occur naturally and easily. You can find out more about what is required of you by networking with other home based or small day care operations or by contacting your local Office of Child Care Licensing. When you make the decision or are considering using your home as a day care, take a look at your facility. If you are going to have anywhere form a couple to a dozen children who are not your own in your home, you will need to contain them to specific areas of the home. If you have a large play room that can be adapted to handle all of the needs of a day care, that may call for a little remodeling to add a sink, some cabinets and padded carpeting on the floor and walls and some decorating to make it a fun room that is dedicated to child care. Also think in advance the age and the age spans of the children you plan to accept. If you are going to accept infants, toddlers and young children, you are going to be stretched thin to care of them all yourself. The infants need someone in the room with them all the time and if the kids who can run, play and get into mischief pull you away from the care of those babies, that is a dangerous situation. So if you are going to care for all day care aged children, you may need additional staff to make sure you can do so efficiently and safely. Also think about how to equip the facility to contain the children as well. You don't want the children to have full fun of the house so you must block them off from the bedrooms, the living room and the kitchen. But you do want them to have controlled access to the back yard as letting them run and play on because that is a big part of the day of any child in day care. So inventory your playground equipment as it needs to be safe for all ages of children as well as sufficient for many children to play on at the same time. You should also spend some time reviewing your stock of toys, bedding materials, stuffed animals and similar items. Its tempting to use the same toys and children's supplies that were good for your own children. But used items may not be in the best of shape. So look at the items you will provide to your day care children through the eyes of their parents and if there is a need to replace or expand on what you already have, consider that part of the cost of setting up your own business. Starting Your Day Care at Home When you think of a day care facility, the image of a dedicated building with a hundred or more children frolicking on the playground comes to mind. But while those kinds of facilities are fine, every day care doesn't have to fit that mold. If you have a vision of running our own day care, it is entirely possible to do so out of your home and run a very successful day care in that setting as well. There are some issues for you to take into consideration and some preparations to do but it is a fine alternative to launching your day care with a full scale dedicated building with all of that overhead right off the bat. The primary advantage of starting your day care in your home is that it is a setting you may already be used to caring for children in. If you already have children day care age there, much of the child proofing and many of the supplies are on hand. You must have to expand what you are prepared for by a factor of the number of children you will be taking in. Now, you should not look to start out with a large amount of children in a home setting. But that too is a good thing because starting out with 4-10 children gives you the opportunity to develop your skills, work up activities and programs for the kids and learn to juggle that many children before you take no a larger challenge. The other advantage of starting out with a home based day care is the expense. By using your own home, you eliminate the need for a separate facility and you can use a lot of your existing space and equipment for your day care. You no doubt already have playground equipment in the back yard. You can start with that and when the money allows you to, you can add to your equipment and your supplies. Since a home based day care is ordinarily geared toward small groups of children, you may be able to manage it yourself and eliminate the expense of employees which is a huge overhead. It makes things a lot simpler. Many people who want to work at home find ways to make a home based day care work and it never goes any further than that. But another strategy that an at home day care fits nicely is to use it as your starting place with the goal of eventually expanding your business to full day care facility with its own building and dedicated grounds and equipment. You can use the time while you are operating at home to build your business plan and lay the groundwork for that kind of expansion. So when you do open the doors of your dedicated day care operation, you already have a resume of experiment caring from children in your home. There will be some preparations to make to care for children at home and you must prepare your family to accept that these other children are your job, not additional siblings. But your children may love having lots of other kids around as well and the excitement of all of that activity may actually be a lot of fun for the whole family who are joining you in this new adventure. Running a home based day care maintains the goal that you may have of finding a way to make a living at home. There will be challenges as is true of any new business venture and a lot to learn. But if you can make it work, you can generate a nice revenue while enjoying the company of more children and perhaps even learning the ropes to expand your day care business to a larger facility down the road. Your Day Care Business Plan Many times people who want to start a new business chaff at the idea of having to write a business plan. The idea of going through a tedious process of documenting the business aspects of something that is really your dream that you want to make come true seems tedious and unnecessary. After all, you know at a gut level what you want to do so the thought that you have to get that all on paper at a fairly detailed level seems to be a nuisance. This may have been your reaction when you begin to plan your new day care that you want to open and perhaps your banker or someone at the small business association told you that creating a business plan was crucial to getting your day care out of the dream phase and into the realm of reality. But there are some very good reasons why you should give the process of creating a business plan for your future day care some serious effort and some patient tender loving care because it really is a major key to your future success in running your day care. The timing that most people who want to start a day care business encounter the need for a business plan is in seeking funding. It takes money to start a day care. You will need to secure a facility, remodel it to become your dream of a day care center, purchase the playground equipment, cribs, bedding, toys, medical supplies, office equipment, computers and software and the supplies to run your day care until the tuition from parents begins to roll in. So, like any new business start up, you will probably need to seek out a small business loan from a bank or some other financial institution. Lenders are generally very open to funding a well thought out new business venture. But the key is you have to show them that your plans to open a day care are well thought out. And it is the structure of your business plan that is the backbone of any effort you will organize to go and talk to lenders about backing you on your new day care business. This is also true even if you are seeking funding from private individuals such as family members, friends or an institution who is your sponsor such as a church or school. Any of those entities will need to see your plan for starting the day care and be able to appreciate that you have done your research, thought through the issues and have a solid plan to make this new business profitable so you can pay back the loans you need to get started. The good news is there is plenty of help available to you on what you need to include in your day care business plan and how it should look when you present it to lenders. There are volunteers at your local small business administration who are experts in writing business plans and they can help you a great deal. Also there are a huge amount of web sites, kits and books that you can buy to help you with the process. So don't feel abandoned and alone in what you need to do. Give it a good amount of attention and you will find yourself writing a business plan that will be a big value not only in getting funding but in running your day care over time. If You Build it, They Will Come Just like any business, there is basically one central event that will mean the difference between success or failure in starting your own customers. It isn't a difficult issue to figure out either. You have to find customers. And for you, customers are parents who need a quality day care that they feel they can trust to put their children in as they go off to work. The title we chose for this article is a famous quote from field of dreams where the voice tells Kevin Costner to build a baseball field for ghosts to play on with the encouragement, 'If you build it, they will come." While that is an inspirational line, you need more than that before you take the plunge of building a day care center. Starting a business is costly. Before you collect a dime of income from parents, you have to set up your day care center, pay licensing fees, hire workers, buy supplies and invest in many other ways so that when the doors of your day care open, it is a happy, professional and welcoming place that children will want to be in and that parents will want to use for their day care. Many times to secure the funds to build a day care, you get a small business loan. And any bank or financial institution that is going to fund you is going to require that you can demonstrate that you can find customers and that you have a real and identified market to serve when you open your business. So not only do you have to know that "they will come", you have to know who your customers are and that they are eager to use what you have to offer. The single most sure fire way to be able to know for a fact that you are building a day care business that is going to be a success is to already have your core customer base identified. So doing that market research must be in the top five of activities you do not after you have opened but before you even decide to go for it and build your day care. Market research is a fancy business term for identifying your customers and validating that they are there and need your services. One way to verify this is to produce a study that shows that there are a high concentration of homes with two working parents in the geographical area where you will place your day care and that there is a low concentration of day cares serving the needs of those parents. That is solid market research. Another way to approach documenting the market for your new day care is through a population study of existing day cares. Most day cares have a limit to the amount of children they can legally accommodate. If you already know where geographically you are going to open your day care, you can do a thorough study of the day cares in your area and then interview them to see how full they are. An even more telling statistic would be how many of those day cares are at capacity and are turning away children because they cannot accept any more. If that is a common occurrence in local day cares, then there is a market need for one more facility and that one can be yours. But probably the most sure fire way to identify your customer base it through networking with other parents about the need for a new kind of day care. If you have your children in a day care, you can easily find ways to socialize with the other parents. There may be a lot of dissatisfaction with a day care because of the way it is run, because of the attitude of the workers, because of cleanliness or safety issues or because of overcrowding. By networking, you can develop a list of parents who will commit to bring their children to your day care when it opens. And that list is the most convincing market research there is it because those commitments who for certain that if you build your new day care, they will come. Your Computer as Day Care Worker While running a day care is all about caring for children, when you get a population of several dozen or more children, there is a lot of detail that must be kept track of. Some of the areas of documentation that must be kept track of include: * Each child's profile data including birthday, allergies, medications, nap issues as well as the basic data such as name, address, parents, emergency contact and how long the child has been in your day care. * The payment history of each child including when the parents were invoiced and if the child's account is up to date. * Parent information such as place of work, home, work and cell phone numbers, email addresses and family history information such as whether the child is from a single parent home, if the child has lost a parent to death or the result of a divorce. Its not meddling to learn this information because it is part of the child's emotional profile. * Alternative pick up information so if the child is going to be dropped off at day care by her older brother every Tuesday and Thursday but picked up by Aunt Helen Wednesdays and Friday's, you know all of that information and have those person's profile information so you only turn over the children to recognized and trusted adults. The problem is that when you are running a day care, keeping up on the many details that you have to know about to run a day care is one thing that very easily falls through the cracks. Then one day you walk into the office to mountains of disorganized papers and it seems impossible that you could ever get it straightened out. This is where your computer can be the most important day care worker you have. There are several day care scheduling software packages that are designed specifically to organize the unique details that you must know to run a day care and to integrate that information with your accounting software and other packages that must tap that data base from time to time. The investment you make in the computer and the scheduling software is definitely a necessary part of your budget and not a place to cut corners. In addition to the important details about each child, that scheduling software can be a huge lifesaver in managing your day care workers. When I think of "scheduling software" the first thing that comes to mind is how to create and maintain the work schedules of each employee you have so you always have adequate staff on hand to manage the kids. This can be a real juggling act in light of the fact that you may not have the same number of kids each day. As you have some children there 5 days a week, others Tuesday and Thursday, others Monday Wednesday and Friday and others once a month, knowing how many children to expect and how many workers to have on hand could drive you crazy just keeping up on it. But this kind of balancing is a perfect task for a computer program like childcare scheduling software because it can do the math on your expected child population each day and then take the worker schedules and match things up so you know what to expect. It can also alert you when you will have holes in your schedule so you can get out ahead of such problems and it can help you maintain a list of backup workers to call upon when a worker calls in sick so you are not caught short staffed which is hard on the rest of the staff and not good for the kids. On the business side of things, day care software can help you track supplies and maintain your budget so you have a tool to watch the costs of running a day care and know in advance if you have any issues with money and what it is costing you to run your facility. These are just a few of the benefits a good computer and good software can offer you to take a huge amount of stress and worry off of you the owner and administrator of your day care. And when that worry is lifted, you can focus on what is important which is taking care of those little ones who are in your charge. Why Start Your Own Day Care Center? Have you ever heard of someone doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons? Most of us can think of someone who has been guilty of that. There are a lot of questions you ask yourself when you start the planning for setting up your own day care center. You have to spend time on issues like location, financing, market share and licensing. But there is one fundamental question maybe more important than all of those things. And that is the question, why are you doing this? The objective you are looking to achieve in doing all the hard work of starting a day care center will be a big factor in when or if you consider your hard work to be a success. In any big operation whether it is starting a business, going on a diet, invading a country or learning a skill, you have to know in advance what your definition of "winning" is so you know when you have arrived and when you can call yourself a success. And what winning looks like to you when you build your own day care center will be determined by your reasons for starting one. There are a wide diversity of reasons people launch out and create their own day care center rather than just accept that the day care centers already in existence are enough. Some reasons for taking this step might include: * Because the day cares you have had your own children in have not done the job so why not just do it yourself? * To do for a living something you love to do anyway which is to take care of children. * To own your own business and be the boss. * Because you know there is a need for a day care in your community and you feel you can provide that service. * To make a lot of money. * To provide a safe place for children while their parents do their jobs and to provide a place where they can learn social skills in a nurturing setting. It is not for this article or anyone else to judge why you set out to start a day care center. But the simple process of putting down in a sentence or two as we did here exactly what your reasons are for wanting to start a day care center is a process that could be crucial to your success. For one thing, starting your own business is hard work. In addition, there is always a risk in doing something new like this. Statistics tell us that a big percentage of new businesses fail within the first year. There will be long hours getting the day care built and ready to open. There will be struggles and frustrations getting and keeping good people, building relationships with suppliers and building your customer base. There will be set backs such as licensing problems, issues with your physical space or emergencies such a hurt or sick child that can come up at a moment's notice. We don't mention these things to discourage you. Rather its good to know the dangers and the challenges going in so they don't broadside you when the going gets tough. But moreover, if you have a firm grasp on your motivations for starting your own day care center and you can "keep your eye on the prize" despite the problems and challenges, your chances of success go through the roof. So you are wise to spend some time in reflection and understand exactly why you want to own your own day care center. Then when you know what the prize is that you are going for, go for it with all your might so you can know great success. Who, What, When, Where and How to Start a Day Care Center There is a moment when in your mind you cross the line between dreaming of running your own day care center and actually seeing it as a reality in your future. When you make that transition, all of a sudden, the details of what it will take to both bring a day care into existence and to operate it day in and day out and make it a success begin to become a reality to you as well. One way of putting some organization around your planning is to use the old four Ws and an H system where in you just ask yourself five basic questions about what it will take to start and operate your own daycare. And those five questions are who, what, when, where and how. 1. Who will be your customers? In Field of Dreams, the voice told Kevin Costner, "If you build it, they will come." But you need more specifics before starting your day care. So you have to understand where you are going to get your first customers and then how you will continue to build your day care by getting new families. Start at your "dream" of a day care and in that vision of taking care of children for a living. Where did the kids come from in that vision? You should have this question answered and have a identifiable target market pinpointed before you buy the first crib or swing set for your day care. You need to know there is a real need for what you do. Moreover, the people who are going to finance your dream must know this or they wont give you the money. 2. What will your day care look like when it is a reality? This is more than just day dreaming because you need to have a feel for the size of the day care center, for the types of things that will happen in your day care all day and for the way it is decorated and equipped. Before you develop your budget of how much money to ask the bank for before you actually start changing your day care from a dream into a reality, you must have a detailed list of the things you will need, the remolding steps you must take on a new facility to transform it into a day care and how much each of those things will cost. 3. When will you open the day care? Along with putting some real detail to what will be in your day care, the schedule of events between now and when the doors open is important. A schedule is more than just a time frame with deadlines to hit. It is also a way of laying out in enough detail that you can get started, the work that must be done and the order it must be done in before you can move forward with your development plan. Building your plan from the general milestones to the specific tasks is how you go about creating a time frame for success that is realistic and complete. 4. Where will you locate your day care? You may be able to see the building where your day care will exist in your mind's eye but you need more than that to actually get your plan off the ground. You will need to know first what you need in terms of a physical facility and second, what facilities are available in your market area and what are their costs. The first part you can hammer out in your office with a pen and paper designing the layout and size of your future day care. The second part means getting out there and looking at buildings and talking to leasing agents. This is the footwork of starting your day care and it is important footwork for sure. 5. How do you get started? Guess what? You have already started. By taking these general questions, now just start adding the detail to each question. Before you know it you will have a budget, a schedule and a project plan for getting from the dream stage to that day you cut the ribbon and invite the first group of day care kiddos in to enjoy what you have to offer. And that day will make all this hard work worth the effort. When Separation Anxiety Strikes Your Day Care Its easy to get caught up in the business side of running your own day care. But its a good idea to remember the core component of any day care and that is a population of very young children. You do all you can to prepare your day care so you can provide for the medical, nutritional, educational and social needs of the kids while they are in your care. But the fact remains that young children are emotional creatures and dealing with emotional issues is part of taking care of them. Separation anxiety is a common event that you will face when dealing with a new child entering your day care community. There are actually two sides of separation anxiety. There is of course the home sickness the child will exhibit when he or she is trying to adapt to the new situation. But there is also a separation anxiety in the parent that surfaces in a lot of ways. You may see emotional outbursts from a mom at drop off or it might surface in frequent phone calls to check up on the child or to even talk to their youngster. One way to reduce the impact of how the parents of your day care kids are hit by separation anxiety is early counseling and dialog about the problem. Many parents will deny that they will have those emotions when dropping their kids off. But if this is a first time experience of using day care for a parent, it will be an emotion that mom or dad will experience, even if nothing is said. There are a number of ways you can help the parent feel more at ease about leaving their child at day care. You might suggest that the parents consider using the day care for a day for free and that mom or dad or both take a day off to hang around, watch how the day is organized, witness their little one enjoying time with the other kids and see the professionalism, warmth and caring of the staff. That one day may be worth the day off to help the parents get to a comfort level about where they are leaving their child. That free day may also help the child get accustomed to being in this new environment which could help reduce the separation anxiety that child will inevitably feel during the first few weeks as he or she is getting used to day care. But there are other steps to take before the first day to help the child ease into day care with reduced stress including: * Have mom and dad talk about day care with the child so the little one is not taken by surprise. * If there is a little friend the child already knows at day care, make sure that connection is understood and even that the child is greeted at the car by the friend and escorted to the playground. * Allow mom or dad to "pop in" every so often for the first week or two to increase the comfort level. * Make sure the child sees the day care workers talking to mom and dad so the child knows these are trusted adults. * Encourage the day care workers to bond with specific children so when anxiety hits, that special worker can be a comfort to that child. When separation anxiety hits hard at the day care facility when mom or dad are not there, its good to not overlook or belittle the child. It could be the result of anxiety over a game or a conflict with another child. And when the anxious child wants mom or dad to help with the difficulty, not seeing that parent can cause anxiety or even panic. Above all the workers should remain calm. Be comforting, understanding and accommodating. If the child needs to be away from the group for a little while, make that possible so he or she can be in a smaller setting with trusted adults and children the child feels at ease with until the anxiety passes. Just remember that fear and anxiety will grow when the child senses it in others but if he or she senses calm, warmth and acceptance, that goes a long way to reducing separation anxiety in any child just getting used to the big new scary world of day care. The Grown Up Work of Running a Day Care For anyone who enjoys working with children, starting a day care can be a fulfilling and rewarding career. Not only will you be doing what you love to do which is caring for the very young, you are making a good living at it. The size of the day care you start can be as small as hosting a half dozen kids in your home to running a big institution with dozens of kids. The size of the day care is something you have to decide based on what your objectives are as a small business owner will. But notice that we used that phrase, "Small business owner". A day care is a business. And as long as you see that and don't think of your new enterprise as a glorified babysitting service, you will take the right steps from the first moment you get the idea to open your own day care all the way along the line until you are a big success in your new business. To start your own business of any type requires planning, knowledge of how a successful business of your type runs as well as a firm grasp on who your customers are, how you will bring them to your business and how you will keep them. You also have to know how to respond to problems that will come up as you develop your day care business. In the case of your day care, you are offering a service and not a product. But you have one huge issue that dominates much of how you set up the business. You are going to be given charge over a significant number of children whom you must care for and keep them safe, fed and relatively entertained all day long. On top of that, you must live up to parents expectations and that can be tough. At the very least that means you are going to have to invest in facilities that come child proof and are highly durable. Also insurance and compliance with the legalities over day cares is critical to your success. You must not only know how to take good care of children, you have to be prepared for just about anything that can happen to a child. From nausea to injury to fights to good old fashioned home sickness, if you are going to be a success, you must be ready to respond to the crisis that will happen every day to some extent and to respond calmly and professionally. There are going to be a lot of "hoops to jump through" from a legal and administrative point of view before you can be licensed to open a day care facility. Don't resent this process, even though it will be demanding and tedious for you to complete it. The parents who come to you to take care of their children want to know you are trained, that your facilities live up to established standards and that you are accountable to the state and medical requirements to be able to operate this kind of facility. The license you get when you open that day care center mean a lot to those parents. And those parents are your customers. So pass all of the preparation requirements with flying colors so you can open your doors with pride. Even though a day care is oriented toward children, it is grown up work to prepare to open and then operate the facility. Learn all you can before you open by talking to people with experience or even working at a day care center before starting your own. With that knowledge, you will know what is expected of you when its your turn to be the boss of your own day care center. The Five "Must Haves" to Start a Day Care Whether its going on vacation or building a new business, before you start on any of life's adventures, you have to know what you must have. And starting your own day care is a great adventure because there is risk, there is excitement and there is opportunity for great success and victory. So the very first thing you will set about learning are the "must haves" of starting your own day care center. Once you have that list underway, you can fill in the blanks as you go and before long your day care business will be becoming a reality before your eyes. The list of "must haves" to get your day care started may become quite long and complicated. But to get the process started, below are five "must haves" that will make your top ten categories list to start looking into right away. 1. You must have a space. The physical location of your future day care is going to have a big impact not only on how successful you will be but on how many children you are going to be able to care for and on how life will go on in the facility each day. Its possible to start your day care in your home. But if you want to separate the idea of a day care from a babysitting service and if you want a facility that is professional and allows you a lot of options, finding your own space is crucial. 2. You must have the money. Unless you are using your inheritance, you will need to seek out funding to get your new business going. Now this path is well worn by many a small business start up before you. You can get guidance from the small business association in town on how to write a business plan, how to project your market share, how to estimate expenses and forecast your earnings and profitability and how to approach a lender to secure the funds you need. All of this is not nearly as fun as taking care of children but the money will make it possible to have that fun and make a nice living while you do so. So give this part of your start up planning plenty of attention. 3. You must have your paperwork done. Health and legal issues must be addressed before you can get licensed to run your own day care center. You can get the protocol for how to become licensed to legally take care of children from other day care owners who can help you understand the process. This is really a step you should take even before you plan your space or develop your budget because what is required of you by state and local authorities will drive many of the facilities and budget decisions. The first step is to get educated in what it is going to take to get the green light from the authorities to open your day care. And the second step is to get to a level of compliance that you can actually launch your new day care business. 4. You must have customers. Market research, advertising and promotion are going to become much more meaningful terms to you now that you are a small business owner. The more you can do before you open your doors to recruit your first customers, the more successful you will be. But finding and keeping customers does not stop with just developing a contact list of parents who are waiting to become part of your day care community. It will be an ongoing quest to build references, network through your parent community to build your business and to use conventional promotion to keep a healthy and growing customer base for your day care coming in. 5. You must have love for children. Between the time you start learning how to make your dream of owning your own day care and the moment that dream becomes a reality, you will transform from a dreamer into a well educated small business owner. But at the heart of why you do this at all is your love of children and your desire to make your living caring for them. Hold on to that ethic and your day care business will stay on track to fulfill that dream for you and for your employees.
Networking to Build Your Day Care Business A day care is a business. But it is a unique business because, next to the medical profession, there may be no business that gets so intimately involved with its customers. A day care worker and the administration of the facility become family to the families you serve. You have been selected to hold a sacred trust because that mom and dad have decided that you can be trusted to care for their precious little ones for several hours a day. But nonetheless, you do operate your day care on a profit basis. You are not trying to exploit the families you serve. But your dream was to run a day care so you can have the freedom to do for a living what you love to do which is to love and care for children. But as a business, you do have to charge for your services, make collections, manage a budget and be concerned about getting and retaining customers. For most businesses, the methods for getting more customers includ things like marketing and advertising. While that kind of thing is done in the day care business, unless you are working in a franchise situation or you are competing with very large day cares, advertising is not an outstanding way to get new business. That is because the amount of business you get back for the amount you spend on advertising is quite small. Add to that the fact that there is a certain fit to the kinds of children and families that will be a good match to your day care and changes the picture for how you will go about building your client base for your day care. When you first start your day care, it might be in your home and the first customers of your facility may be your own children and children of your friends. This is an important stage in the growth of your business. That is because for every child and every family you have in your day care, there are many other children and other families that that family knows and many of them are looking for a good day care as well. This means that far and away the best way to go about building your list of children and families who will become regular customers of your day care is networking. Networking is how your customers seek out a day care. Next to proximity to their drive to work, parents use recommendations from friends and the "mommy network" to find out about new day cares and to seek you out to care of their children. And the key to networking is right in front of you every day. It is those children you serve and the parents who drop them off and pick them up every day. So you should sponsor ways to open communications with those parents. Too often we just greet the parents in their cars as they drive though and the parents never get the chance to get to know you or the day care workers who are the ones who spend hours with their children every day. So think of some creative ways to get those parents into the facility to see what goes on in your day care and to meet you and rub elbows with you and your staff. By finding ways to network with parents, you can learn if there is dissatisfaction in other day cares. There may be a movement of discontent with one of the large day cares near you and if you can get into that network, you can draw those families to your day care. By building relationships with parents and methods to bring in other parents, you use the most powerful marketing method there is, networking with the customers you already have. More Than a Day Care "Walk a mile in my shoes" was a popular song long ago which advocated that to understand someone else's point of view, try to see the world through their eyes. In running a day care, sometimes it helps if we stop and try to understand how your customers view you and view the experience they are having using your service. And, of course, the "customers " of your day care are the children who are in your care and the parents who entrust those little ones to you for several hours each day. To us a day care is a place to work and a business. At the day care worker level, there is a joy in working with children but it's a job similar to teaching or other children related occupations. But to that child who shows up every day, this place is more than a day care, it is their second home. As such the priorities of a child in your dare care are no doubt much different the priorities you as the owner and operator of the day care or even your day care workers bring with them each morning. But the extent to which your customers, those children, feel that their priorities were met will be how much they report to their parents that they had a great day and want to go back again tomorrow. To a child, there is a huge social value to coming to day care each day. Children love nothing more than to make new friends and participate in social events such as games and adventures. That is because a child spends very little time with people like them which is, of course, other children. So if they come to day care and they can make friends and enjoy activities that builds friendships with the other children, that makes all the difference to a child as to whether their day in day care was a good one or a terrible experience. This little peek into the mind of a child can give you as the one who plans the day's event for those children a lot to think about. For one thing, getting the perspective that what these children think is important to your success could have a revolutionary effect on your business and your potential success. And just as importantly, knowing what are the values of the very young by looking at the world through their eyes can help you design programs and conduct your day care worker orientation to address the social needs of children deliberately. Too often we as adults lecture children about getting along and making new friends but we don't create circumstances to make that possible. But a day care is the ideal situation to teach good social interaction skills and to create situations through games and activates that both encourages friendship and teamwork and allows plenty of time for those values to sprout and grow. You are not required at your day care to have a curriculum. You don't have to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to continue to be chartered to do business year after year. But you literally have hours of time with these children that you can use to teach them how to create relationships with each other. Moreover, you can even begin to instill in them the ability to resolve problems and handle conflict by using creative games and activities that such skills are used in a play scenario. As the children play at becoming good social creatures, those skills will take root and make them good social creatures. Circle time is a great setting to get all of the children into a social activity that is fun, happy and relaxed so even the shyest of child can enter in at their own pace and without being judged for being a little retiring. In the circle time setting, games, stories, role playing skits and other activities can be used that to the children are just another form of fun but you and your day care workers know it is being used to build social skills in the very young. And if you can instill strong social skills in those children, those will be skills that will continue to help them be successes throughout their lives. What a great way to use the hours you have with them in day care. It Takes Money to Love the Kids There are a lot of good reasons to start your own daycare business. It's a great way to be your own boss and have a business you run from your home. It can be a very profitable enterprise if you run it well and take good care of the kids so the parents want to bring them back and recommend you. And, above all, it lets you do the one thing you love to do, love the children for a living. But any new business takes money to get started. To operate a quality day care, you need a facility that is dedicated to taking care of a large number of kids. That facility must be professional, well equipped with the toys as well as the physical equipment you will need to care for the children such as beds or cribs, medical supplies, rockers, etc. And you will need some trained staff on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly. Add to that licensing fees and the daily expenses (snacks and beverages for example) and before long you have a budget that will have to be addressed when you start a new business. How to get funding for your new day care is a similar challenge that any new business faces. Start up costs are a big challenge with a new venture and finding that funding probably the biggest obstacle between the dream of running your own day care and the reality of seeing that happen. So once you make that determination that you are going to "go for it" and try to open your own day care, there are two steps that will make it official and get you moving on that path to finding the backers you need. First of all, find and get to know your local chapter of the small business association. These people can be lifesavers for any entrepreneur like yourself that has a dream but little detail on how to go about getting your daycare business off the ground. Very often the small business administration at the local level will have volunteers who are often retired business people with a track record of success who would love nothing more than to help you find the funding you need. They will also have free classes, brochures and most importantly, some contacts that you can take advantage of to start networking your way to "the money." The small business administration will guide you in what is easily the biggest step you must take be taken seriously not only as a qualified day care provider but as a business person that a financial institution might consider loaning to. That step is writing your business plan. That sounds intimidating now but don't let it unnerve you. Your new friends at the small business administration can help you and there are lots of books and kits on how to write your business plan. Above all, this one step will go a long way toward helping you ask the right questions and know what other start up steps you must take before going for the funding you want. Give the process of writing a business plan plenty of attention and take your time. A good business plan can be the key to your success in starting your own day care if you take it seriously. Once you are ready, there are lots of places to go to look for the funding you will need to get started. Banks and other financial institutions are actually quite open to giving you a small business loan to get you started. The thing they want to see when you apply for that loan is that you know what you are doing, that you have a real market to build your business from and that you will become profitable in a reasonable time frame so you can pay the loan back. There are also grants and other resources you can tap to get that up front funding. So look around and make this step of finding the funding to start your day care business your passion for as long as it takes. Because once the funding is yours, you can actually start setting up the business and you will be on your way. Is a Franchise the Way to Go with your New Daycare? Going into business for yourself is always a big step with a lot of unknowns. And those same risks are just as true when it comes to starting your own day care as they do with any new business. Its hard not to pay attention to the statistics about what a big percentage of new businesses that start each year fail. So you want to do anything you can do to give yourself the advantage to avoid that happening when you open your new day care. One option that is always available to you is to go with a franchise operation rather than start your own free standing day care under your own name and marketing "label". For most of us, this is unappealing because when you first got the vision to start and own your own day care, you saw it as a place where the parents would come knowing you would take good care of their little ones. So the idea of opening what might be equivalent to a Blockbuster Video day care operation can seem pretty unappealing. Like any business decision, there are good points to be made for going the franchise route and points against it as well. A franchise might be a great way to get your start in owning your own business and jumping through all the hoops that it takes to get a day care up and running. There is a lot more to it than just loving the children and since a franchise of a large national organization has the process down to a system of steps, the anxiety and risk factor drops off significantly. You still get the advantage that it is "your day care" in that when you buy a franchise, it belongs to you. But the corporate ID of the franchise is not yours. There will be rules to follow and a "look" that you will have to conform to in order to be a member in good standing with the franchise operation. The name of your day care center will conform to the franchise naming scheme as will your choice of furniture, interior and exterior decoration and even uniforms. The company that is supporting you in your franchise operation already know what they have found to be successful in the day care business so they will hold you to that standard. So in that way franchising runs counter to your desire to be free of being an "employee" and having to live up to someone else's rules and regulations. However, there is another value to some franchise arrangements to take into consideration. You may be able to lock in to the franchise for a limited period of time after which you are free to separate from the franchise and "buy them out" so you can take the day care over entirely. This is the best of both worlds. You get the security of the expertise and guidance the franchise system can give you during those crucial months as you prepare to open and then finally start you day care business. If the franchise has a good reputation, that may help you establish your customer base. And you can get through those first months and years with their help to reduce the chance that you will be one of those statistics of a failed new business venture. At the same time you are buying yourself some time to prepare for "going solo" in a year or two. So taking advantage of the franchise option may have some real value for you consider. This is not to say that a franchise day care is how you should launch your own day care business. But it is worth taking into consideration. Insider Tips From the Day Care Gurus In any profession there are those insiders who know how that profession really works. And no matter how many courses you take or kits you buy, that knowledge of what to expect when you are actually in the business is hard won. So in starting a day care, if you could pick the brains of the real gurus of the business to learn where to put your efforts and how to organize your business for success, that would eliminate a lot of trial and error and reduce the incidences of failure that can be costly as you are trying to get some momentum under your day care business. One tip that any day care guru will tell you is that the success of your day care is as much about your day care workers as it is about the facility or about you. Even if you do not have the perfect facility, if you have outstanding day care workers, you will offer a quality experience to the children in your care. The two keys to great day care workers is taking care in recruitment and treating your good workers like gold so you hold on to them for a long time. On top of great workers, maintaining a professional working environment in your day care is of top importance. Maybe no other type of service next to the restaurant industry is so strictly regulated and carefully monitored as day care centers. With that in mind, run your day care every day in such a way that inspectors could walk in and find your day care in top notch shape even if the inspection is without notice. If you simply maintain a lifestyle of keeping your day care at or above expectations, you will never get written up when you are audited and that good record of quality will be noticed by your customers. Next to a sanitary environment and a high priority on maintaining your nutritional standards, emergency preparedness has to have a high priority in your day care. Emergency preparedness is not something that you must face every day. But being ready in the case of any likely emergency and having your staff well trained in the event of a sudden crisis will make all the difference between whether you can handle an emergency efficiently or see it hurt your day care or even shut it down. The types of emergencies to be ready for are primarily focused on the facility and on the children. At the facility level, your ability to respond to fire, dire storms or other natural disasters is something you have to keep at a high level of awareness even if you don't see an emergency of this magnitude very often. But making sure your fire extinguishers are in good repair and that everybody on the staff knows how to use them will assure that even the smallest problem can be handled quickly. Also be aware of the major weather related emergencies and not only have your day care workers well briefed and trained on how to respond but teach the children and their parents how to handle a weather related problem. That level of preparedness will keep panic situations from ever occurring because when problems come about, you are ready. Day care gurus will also tell us that making day care a family event with social times, parties and open houses is a big key not only to keeping the children you have but in recruiting new families. Get the staff in on the act in planning ways to celebrate family right there in your day care facility. The more you make the parents feel they are part of what you are doing, the longer they will stay and the stronger your day care business will be for the long haul. Happy Kids, Happy Day Care There is always a little anxiety about the setting of a day care. It starts with the parents who often feel guilty about leaving their children with "strangers". In parents that guilt is combined with worry because of stories they hear on television about bad thing that happen at day care. Of course the television doesn't report about the thousands of happy day cares where children prosper and grow and go home happy after their time in day care. . There also is sometimes anxiety in the children due to separation anxiety or shyness. That is why if you make it your mission in the day care you open to send home happy kids from your day care, you will be doing both the parent and children population of your day care a great service. That service will be rewarded with long term relationships with those families and many referrals which will help you grow. Children have a common experience especially as they move into the public school system where they feel like they disappear into an institution only to somehow pop out 8 hours later to go home. So the more you can make their time in day care unlike that feeling of disappearing into an institution, the happier the kids will be in your day care. Part of that is learning every child's name. But it also means creating a space where the children feel validated and valued. When you think of creating a child-centric day care, the image of children running out of control springs to mind. But in truth, children are happiest when adults have control over what is happening and when they see the adults as on their side and that they want the kids to have fun. If they can have fun but do so inside the rules of the day care, they will look forward to being with you each day. Making a day care a child-centric environment is a decision that is made early on at a high level, which of course is you as the owner of the day care. Too often an instinctive attitude sets in at day cares and other children's institutions to treat children as captives or to regard them as nuisances rather than valuing them and seeking to make their time with you as fun and enjoyable for them and you alike. You have a lot of leverage in what you will do each day with the kids in your day care. You don't have a curriculum to live up to or exams to be taken at the end of a semester So you can devise activities and events that you know the kids will like and that communicate that this day care is all about the children more so than being about the day care's rules or making the life of day care staff easier. Once the young people in your day care come to really understand and believe that you want your day care to be all about the kids, their attitude will change to one of "doing time" to one of enjoying a very special place that they want to come back to often. It is easy to think that the only way to make a day care child-centric to let the kids play for hours on end and to not require anything of them at all. But this is a misunderstanding about the psychology of children. In truth children are happy when they are given the opportunity to do something of value and not just be unproductive burdens on society. And while this may seem like an unorthodox suggestion, service projects are a great way to give the kids a big project to do and to send them home feeling good about what they did that day. That builds self esteem and self respect which will lead to the child pronouncing that day as "fun" even though it might have involved some work. Learn all you can about how to give the children in your care a happy and fun program each day. Variety is important but just as important is the attitude in the day care staff and administration that this day care will be all about the kids. And that means a bunch of happy kids which leads to happy parents which leads to a very happy day care. Great Day Care Workers for a Great Day Care Even though the day care you worked so hard to open belongs to you, you cannot do all the jobs in a busy day care facility. If you have several dozen children who make that day care their home every day, you may have rooms devoted to infants and to each age level up until early childhood. So to know that each of those many precious children are being cared for well, you must hire high quality day care workers that you can depend on and that you know will be your eyes, ears and hands to care for those many children. Naturally when you think of hiring day care workers, there are the basics that you must do. Of course you are going to require a resume, some experience, references and a background check. The safety of your children is paramount and in this day and age, being sure the workers you have caring for them are of rock solid character and aware of the proper way to handle children cannot be more important. But beyond the basic requirements that the applicant is a trustworthy worker and one who has an interest in working with children, there is another level to being a day care worker that needs to be explored to find out how this potential worker will do when being with children for many hours a day, day in and day out five days a week. There are aspects of character and personality type that make a good day care worker that will call upon you to develop some unique interviewing methods that are not necessary in other lines of work. You may wish to employ an interviewing method that brings out the real personality of the applicant. A lunch interview in which there is plenty of time to discuss likes and dislikes, share stories from the applicants childhood, learn a bit about his or her relationship with parents or where they are in their own parenting process can shed a lot of light on whether this is a good applicant for a day care position. A young person who does not have children and who has not spent a lot of quantity time with children may have stars in her eyes about loving the little ones but not have the grit in her belly to deal with some of the tough times that working with the very young often bring as well. Now a lack of specific experience does not necessarily mean that this applicant will be a bad worker. Just being untried doesn't mean inability or a lack of aptitude for the job. That is why one great interview method is to let the children interview him or her. Schedule an hour or two to gather different groups of children from your day care and simply put it out there to them by telling them, "Children, Susan here wants to be one of our day care workers. Do you have any questions?" The variety of questions that will fly out of those little mouths will not only get you and the applicant laughing, they will be questions that you would have never thought or dared to ask. But when a five year old asks, "do you ever hit kids?" that kind of honesty is exactly what will surface the true day care worker in this applicant. Moreover, you can watch the applicant's face and the faces of the children as relationships form and get a feel for if this is a person who loves children or if they are getting on his or her nerves. But even that level of interview may not surface issues that you need to know about. Temper is a big issue when dealing with children because as angelic as children are, they can become real devils sometimes. A day care worker must be even tempered and be able to handle fights, sudden injuries, a bout of home sickness in a child or disobedience and administer the discipline prescribed by the day care center lovingly and without anger. So a probationary period where it is understood that you or the applicant can walk away with no hard feelings can finalize the applicants qualifications as a day care worker you want to have in your day care. And once you find a good one, you never want to let her get away. Freeing Your Day Care Workers to Love the Children In any business, how successful you are will to a large extent depend on your employees. So when you are running your own day care business, the people who spend every hour of their working day making that day care run smoothly are your lifeline to success. Unless your day care is just you and five kids, you are going to have to hire day care workers to help keep things running the way they should. In addition to being a small business owner and the one who calls the shots around your day care business, you also a boss. And what separates a good boss from a bad one is how well you can keep your workers focused on their goals and how well you reward good work in the staff you keep. The first step of making sure you have people in your day care working for you that are going to make your day care a success is the selection process. The normal rules for recruiting apply including references, background checks and experience. But the interview may be even more important than any of that. You can tell a lot about the personality of the worker by making the interview informal and focused on the lifestyle of someone who works with children all day long. This most important aspect of any worker you have is that they like children and that children like them back. Of course, their awareness of safety and health and their job of making sure the rules of the day care are followed are also important. But if your workers are going to make you a success, they must enjoy their time with the kids not only guiding them but playing with them. So one innovative approach to the interview process is to let the children interview them. You might even have a second interview that lasts half of a day and just let the prospective worker be with the kids in a "try out" mode to see how it goes. The rational behind putting such a high priority on finding and retaining day care workers who have a natural affinity to kids seems obvious but there is a good business reason behind it also. Success in the day care business is measured in kids. The number of kids you have and keep coming back to be "citizens" of your day care community is what will make you successful. Not only that but if the children are happy in your day care center, they will want their friends there and they will tell their parents that they are happy which means referrals. All of that leads to long term success for your day care business. So making it possible for the children in your day care to genuinely enjoy the people who are there to care for them is not only your calling in life as a day care owner, its makes good business sense too. There is a lot you can do from an administrative point of view to free your day care workers to love those kids and make their time with you a time they want to rush back to tomorrow, next week and next month. One big mistake many employers make is to burden the staff with a lot of administrative work such as filling out paperwork, dealing with maintenance or discipline issues that take them away from the larger population of children that they are there to serve. If you have a child that needs special attention, create a culture in your day care where the primary caregiver knows to turn that special issue over to you or a dedicated staff member so he or she can return to caring for the group. Create an open atmosphere of communication with your workers so if there are either individual problems or problems that could affect the entire day care, those workers can come to you and talk about them. That ability to communicate will head off many problems and nip them in the bud. There is a lot you can do to keep unnecessary worries off of the minds of your workers. By making it possible for your workers to focus on the kids, you keep them happy and you keep the kids happy. And that is a sure fire formula for success for any day care center. Effective Preparation to Start Your Day Care In any profession there is this thing called paying your dues. For an actor, they have to struggle for sometimes years before getting a staring role. For a business person, success takes years of learning the ropes. For an athlete, you have to be the rookie before you can be the star quarterback. There really is no profession where you don't pay your dues because that is the time when you learn how the profession works and how to overcome problems that can get in the way of your eventual success. If you are nurturing in your heart the desire to have your own day care, there is a process of paying your dues to see your dream realized as well. This may seem tedious and difficult to think that you have to spend time learning the nuances of the day care profession. After all, you have the basic requirement if you love kids and love finding ways to communicate to them and help them communicate with each other. Never lose that one core skill and passion you have to work with children. But as you protect and grow that passion, there are a lot of details, skills and knowledge that you will have to learn before you own and operate your own day care. So the smoothest path to success and the path that allows you to pay your dues is to put yourself into the apprentice mode working in a day care for a year or so to allow yourself time to develop those skills and the knowledge of how to handle the many situations that come up in the life of a day care. This may seem like spying and in a way it is. But you will be surprised if you come clean with what you want to learn by being an employee of a day care how quickly the management will become your best friend in teaching you the ropes. For one thing, because you are an eager learner, you will also be a good employee. By working hard and giving your teachers great work, you will more than pay them back for the knowledge they give you. Study every aspect of the business of running a day care business. Yes, you will learn about how to manage the children and plan their days. But you must also learn the business side of things like getting your day care license, how to hire the right skills so you have medical and counseling people on staff at your day care, how to manage parent relations, what to look for in good day care workers, what legal and medical requirements you must pass to get your day care license and how to handle discipline and other emergencies as they come up. While the idea of putting in this kind of time to learn the ropes of the day care business seem demanding, when you look at it objectively, you will be glad you made this kind of investment before you opened your day care. When you turn the key of your own day care facility, you don't want a rookie running the place. The legal, medical and social issues that can come up during the life of any day care could lead to disaster if you have not had experience working through them. Your time "paying your dues" will give you those skills. Then when you are ready, you can open your day care with confidence because you still have that passion for nurturing children but you have added to it hard won knowledge and now you know what you are doing. There is nothing more valuable than that. Discipline at Day Care When you first though of starting your own day care, the images of being with children, loving them, and having fun with them is one of the big attractions to making that kind of day care become a reality. But it doesn't take long to realize that in any social setting and especially one where children are involved, there must be a system of discipline. The tricky part of putting into place and then enforcing discipline in a day care setting is that you are put on the spot when you must discipline a child or several children. After all, these are the children in your care and they are your customers as well. Moreover, you must find ways to discipline a child then return him or her to the society of children without harm to their social standing and without damaging the relationship with the day care worker or the day care itself. If you do not find that balance, every time there is an incident that calls for discipline, it could be a situation that could cause you to lose a child as part of your community. . However, everybody, even children know that children need discipline. Children come to expect it of the adults who are in charge and they expect that discipline to be administered fairly but without fail each time. A child or a group of children have a much worse experience in a setting where there are no rules or where there are rules but they re either not enforced or they are enforced inconsistently. The most important thing to a young person is consistency. So the way to introduce the concept of discipline to a group of kids in your day care is to take a moment to go through the rules with them and explain to them that these rules are not to be broken and there will be zero tolerance if they are broken. This is actually comforting to children because they feel there are boundaries and that they should be respected. And when children know the boundaries are there and will work every time without fail, they feel safe in your day care. Much of the success of the disciplinary system of the day care will depend on how the rules are written. They should be absolutely clear and with as little interpretation called for as possible. But they should also put a great deal of trust in the authority of the day care worker who either witnessed the infraction or was in charge of the group at the time. In that way, as long as the day care workers show no favoritism so the children to not feel the rules are being selectively enforced, they will accept the rulings of the day care workers as acceptable and fair. No disciplinary system is of any value without punishment. This again is a tricky area for a day care because you walk a line between what you are allowed to use as punishment while trying to maintain and preserve your relationship with the child and with the parents. Physical punishment is almost universally out of the question. In most cases, loss of a privilege or a time out is a workable punishment that is sufficiently unpleasant to discourage the unacceptable behavior but not so harsh as to ruin a child's day or cause a big disruptions with the parents. However, it is important that on a family by family basis, you review with the parents both the rules of the day care and the disciplinary policy and secure a sign off from the parents that the rules are understood and that there will be no complaint if it is their child that is subjected to discipline. Most parents want to see their child treated like everybody else and under a system of laws that the child must learn to live with. But you will in the course of any day care year face a parent who was outraged that their child was disciplined. So having this conversation early and taking any questions can cut down on how often that happens. Put some thought into the discipline policy at your day care. But be encouraged that if you create a strong and fair discipline policy, you wont have to use it very often and it will lead to a happier and more peaceful day care for everyone. Daily Life in Your Day Care How do you view the daily schedule that you maintain in your day care? How the time is used while you are the primary caregiver for those kids will say a lot about whether you see day care as essentially professional babysitting or as a time when the kids in your charge can grow and mature together. Now, we know that day care is not school. So you are not expected to run a curriculum and show substantial intellectual improvement in the children you care for. For the parents who leave their children with you there are only a few requirements and those are: * Is my child safe with you? * Do you know how to handle emergencies if my child has one? * Is my child getting socialization skills? * Is my child having happy and having fun at your day care? For working parents, there is some guilt that comes with putting their children in day care. So if their children are having a positive experience and are as safe with you as they would be at home, much of that guilt is eased. Moreover, for many parents, the time in day care is a wonderful introduction to being in a social setting away from home and developing important social skills that the child will need when he or she starts school. So how you organize the time your children spend at your day care center can go a long way toward achieving those goals for the parents, for the children and for you as a day care provider. There are a number of great activities that hit several goals at once and are great ways for your day care workers to fill the hours during the day as the children are in your charge. A good activity is one that the kids enjoy and want to do again and again. When you announce "hey kids are you ready to: .", you want to hear cheers and not groans. A good activity is one that works in a group setting. Not only does this encourage socialization, it makes keeping an eye on the kids much easier and takes maximum advantage of a few day care workers caring for many children. And a good activity is one that the kids grow and learn from. That learning doesn't have to be facts and figures like they will get in school. It should be values and social and problem solving skills that are every bit as valuable as facts as they grow older. Circle time is a classic and a must have for any schedule you put together. There are so many things you can do with circle time that bring out the personalities of the kids. It's a relaxed format so if some children are shy, they can hang back. But as they see how much fun everyone is having, you will quickly see them beginning to come out of their shells as well. Some of the things your day care workers can do during circle time include songs, stories, role playing and group games. When you set up your day care, you should have included both the space and the materials for arts and crafts. Young children love to make things. And the materials you need to excite that creative side of them are easy to keep in stock including clay, colors, construction paper, glitter, glue, child safe scissors and colors. One great way to give a day a feel of being part of something big is to have a theme that carries through play time, circle time and arts and crafts. For example, if your theme is dinosaurs, you can select games and stories with those characters and create crafts that the kids can do as well. In addition to activates that can happen indoors, you may have wonderful outdoor activities you can take advantage of to get the kids out and about. Field trips can break up the tedium of week after week in the day care. You will integrate these organized activities with rest times and unstructured play as well as all of it is important. But if the day come to the end and you hear the words, "mommy, guess what we did", then you know you did a god job of providing fun and beneficial activities for the kids in your care. Coming Home From Day Care a Better Person When you are operating a day care, you may spend time with the same children day in day out for as long as 6-8 hours a day. And while all you are required to do it deliver them to their parents that night safe and relatively happy to have been successful, when you think of how long you have access to those young minds, why not use the activities you plan to help them learn strong values as well as have fun? Aside for the altruistic reasons for helping young people become better persons, there are some real benefits to teaching good social skills and strong ethics and values in your day care citizens in the social and play times you plan for them. The extent to which a child learns to behave in an ethical and virtuous way at a young age will not only effect them throughout their life, it will change how they behave in day care. Children are profoundly selfish creatures. Actually we all are that way but children are more direct and uncensored in focusing on their own wants. Those instincts lead to a lot of the conflicts and fights you have to break up all day long. So if the children learn to treat each other with respect as a value and they learn to live in an ethical manner, then their lives together at day care will be much more peaceful which makes for a better experience for day care workers as well. Thus that moment comes when little James wants to and can steal little Ruth's cookies, if he chooses not to because you taught James some values, he is a better person, you have a more peaceful day care and Ruth gets to keep her cookie. But there is another level of reward to teaching good values to children in the games you play and actives you plan at day care. Ethical and moral people are happier people. By teaching children to respect each other and to live in harmony with each other and with the world around them, they develop self respect as a by product. That self respect is a trait in a child that can change them profoundly from the inside out. Not only will the play and interact with the other children at day care better, you will literally send them home better people and mom and dad will notice it too. One value that does not come naturally to children is tolerance of each other. Despite a strong emphasis on tolerance of other religions and races at a cultural level that children will echo because they know they should, children and young teens are a notoriously brutal group on each other. This is particularly true in girl only situations where the ability of girls to bully and intimidate each other is amazing. So if we can teach tolerance and mutual support in children at a day care level, those could be values that might change youth culture for decades to come. It is possible to introduce tolerance based civilities without become preachy about it. And it is important not to fall into the trap of preaching or being moralistic with the young because that will just cause them to tune us out. But if we can introduce games that utilize the skills and talents of everybody in the day care social group, you will begin to see the lights come on as they realize that they were wrong to look down on a another child because he or she was handicapped or another race. Moreover, if the group activity or game puts a child into a team setting with someone they might be tempted to be intolerant of, that is a natural environment for all of the children to appreciate each others true talent and value to the group. Not only will this change the way the children see each other and bring more tolerance to the group at large, it will give children who were otherwise excluded from social acceptance a wonderful feeling of self esteem that can send them home glowing about their time at day care. Because You Can Do It Better There are a lot of reasons that people decide to start their own day care. For some its strictly a business venture. For others the motivation could be a background or academic training in child care and finding a way to use that expertise outside of public schools and pediatrics. But for many and perhaps for you, the motivation is quite simply that you know you can do it better than people who run day care centers that you have used. One of the most heart wrenching things a parent has to do is to drop off your child at a day care center and to leave them in hysterics because they don't want to stay there. And while some amount of separation anxiety is to be expected especially in very young children, if your child is miserable at day care, you have to wonder if something is going on. If that is the situation that you encounter when using day care centers, some networking with other parents who use that facility can be eye opening. Those conversations will often surface problems that seem endemic with so many day care centers that begin to give you the idea that you can do it better. Some problems that often drive parents from using some services are: * Not enough activities for the children so they are bored all day. * Not enough discipline so unruly children create a bad experience for the good kids. * Too much discipline so the children cannot "just be kids". * Cost cutting that becomes painfully obvious such as a drastic reduction in quality of foods or other necessities. * Poor training of the staff child care employees who are not good with the children. There are two kinds of day cares and the distinction reveals the priorities of the facility which are reflected in the service. There are day cares that are primarily a business who happen to offer day care services as their "product". The focus there is on the business, on profitability and on running the day care in an efficient and cost conscious way. The other approach that reflects the values of a day care shows that this is a facility that is dedicated to providing loving and quality care for children and they are doing it as a business. In such a facility, the children are the focus and every resource an incorporated business can provide is employed to give those children the protection and care they need as well as to provide for their emotional and intellectual needs and to do so in a way that assures each child will have fun and goes home happy. This is the good kind of day care and the kind that kids are eager to go back to. Sadly too many day cares are of the first kind rather than the second. When you see the evidence that the day care your child is in focuses primarily on the business rather than the kids, that is why you can legitimately say "I can do this better." And if you approach your ambition to start your own day care center with the heart of a parent and by placing a high priority and value on providing a place where kids are well cared for and a place they love to go to, they you will sidestep many of the problems that day cares you have experienced have had and you will build a day care that parents and kids love to use for their child care needs. And when you have that kind of success, not only will you know that you can do better, you will be doing it better as your passion in life and as your profession. That is an excellent motivation for starting your own day care facility.
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