Crying babies. Demanding toddlers and active preschoolers. Sounds like a daunting way to spend the day. But that's a day in the life of a child-care professional.
At Great Expectations Day Care and Learning Center in Hubbard, Diane Popadak puts in a full day coping with all these and more. "I wear a lot of hats," said Popadak, who serves as the administrator and teaches in the preschool room. "Accountant, marketer, nurse, counselor, and referee: these are just a few of my many jobs."
According to the requirements for state licensing in Ohio, a child care staff member must be at least 18 years old and have a high school education or have completed a training program approved by the Department of Human Services. Other levels of education for child care workers include a certificate program as a child care development associate, and a degree in early childhood education, in either an associate or bachelor's degree course of study.
Family day care is another option parents might consider. Mother Goose Day Care in Kinsman is operated by Mara Mathy, a CDA certified child care specialist. Mother Goose is a Type B home according to the licensing law in Ohio child daycare requirements.
"Family day care follows the same regulations as centers but have smaller numbers of children so are able to give more individualized care," said Mathy, who has opened her home to families for day care for 17 years.
"It's not babysitting, as some people think," said Mary Smith, who works in the 4-year-old room at Hillyer Children's Center in Warren. Smith has worked in the child care field for more than 20 years. "I went to the vocational school (now TCTC) in their child care program the first year they opened and I've been working in the field ever since."
Smith has a bachelor of science in early childhood education and has presented at state conferences; she recently completed a yearlong diversity training course and is excited about setting up an anti-biased classroom.
The Ohio Department of Education has content standards for early learning just as they do for school-age children, and the providers said they use these guidelines as they make up lesson plans for their classes.
"Children are learning all the time through play; sorting is actually early math, tracing a stencil is a pre-writing skill, they learn when they're singing songs," said Popadak. "I work hard trying to think of activities they'll want to spend time and everything has the motive toward getting children 'kindergarten ready.'"
Nutritional meals and snacks offer another way to teach children. "Counting out the pretzels, pouring the juice, these teach children skills," said Smith. Smith also does some cooking with her class and has the educator from the OSU Extension office come and talk about nutrition and healthy eating. "She reads a story and we incorporate that into the lessons."
Different learning centers, which might include a library with books, sand and water play area, a creative area with art materials, and a science and discovery area, are part of the children's day. "The toddlers might paint with ice cubes," said Popadak. This is good for motor development, teaches a science lesson and allows for water play. At Hillyer, they have a classroom pet, a rabbit, which is another way to learn about nature.
The ratio of providers to children is also established by state standards. In center-based care, the ratio of children to adults is 14:1, but Smith said at Hillyer they exceed those standards and use a ratio of 10:1 in her classroom. Mother Goose Day Care can have up to six children and no more than three children younger than 2.
Before- and after-school care is also available for students up to the age of 12 at most centers. At Great Expectations, they meet the elementary bus and greet the students. "The first thing we do is give them a snack," said Popadak. "Then in good weather, they go outside to ride bikes, play basketball or some other activity to burn off that energy."
Homework assistance is available if the parents wish, Popadak said. "If students have extra-curricular activities like football or dance, it's helpful to have the homework done." At Great Expectations there's a separate room for school-age children with computers and video games, as well as some other activities like art and science.
Mathy provides parents with a list of questions, goes over them and encourages parents to ask even more questions about the care their child will be getting during the day. "How often are the toys washed? Is there space for outdoor play? Will the provider be transporting your child anywhere and are there enough car seats? These are important issues for the parent and daycare provider to talk about," said Mathy.
"If you don't have patience, it's not the field for you," said Smith. "You need to leave your problems at the door and have a smile for the children. It's a big responsibility. Parents are entrusting their beloved children to my care."