Child care is evolving, and most care providers and parents agree the changes are for the best. What are some of the latest trends in child care and what should parents be looking for when making an all-important child care decision?
More parents are taking a careful look at child care costs, and decisions to reduce hours or even pull their kids out of organized programs entirely due to job losses or expenses are affecting child care providers as well. As a result, more providers are offering flexible hours, keeping rates the same or even reducing them in some cases, and working out pay arrangements for struggling families to encourage families to stay. Special programs or fees are also being scrutinized as providers scramble to find ways to lessen costs while maintaining a quality care program for kids.
No longer is child care for young children simply babysitting. Child care centers have mostly transitioned to centers for early education, where young tots are involved with early learning. The trend to learning centers is partly due to high parent and school expectations; it's also attributable to research that shows that kids are capable of learning early academics and other skills that previously were not taught until later. Care centers often offer formalized early education curriculum, and staff receives extensive training in instruction geared for preschoolers.
It's no surprise that drop-in child care is on the grow. What may come as a surprise to some is that these facilities typically offer high-quality, safe, and affordable care options. The drop-in care facilities focus on fun activities for kids and often include mealtimes and special theme events to provide parents with a worry-free evening or time away from kids. Gyms, recreation centers, churches and even schools are getting into the act of offering Parent Nights Out or similar events. Look for this trend to continue with even greater flexibility in the future.
Corporate child care is raising the bar in terms of quality child care. An increasing number of companies are either offering (or considering) in-house child care centers as a perk for attracting and retaining top employees. In addition, more companies are partnering with child care centers to offer discounted rates or even special hours for employees. Some developers are even focusing on including a child care facility as part of master planning of new areas, knowing that having a quality child care center nearby will make the area more desirable for both employers and employees alike.
An increasing number of facilities offer parents the piece of mind of being able to check on their child while at daycare as desired through videostreaming of classroom activities throughout the day. Other providers regularly take photos of children and send to parents, post daily or weekly blogs or e-newsletters online for parents to view, or even exchange emails or text messages throughout the day. The technology provides parents and providers with another tool for staying "in touch" and bonding with activities and events planned for youngsters.
While no system is absolutely fail safe, and occasional stories will continue to occur about child pornographers or sex offenders found to be working around children, the truth is that most child care providers are increasing measures to protect children in their charge. Increased security concerning picking up of children, additional background checks and screenings being done on prospective employees, and more surveillance and monitoring (both overt as well as the covert varieties) are helping to increase safety. Training and more thorough checklists is also helping to keep kids safer on field trips and outings.
Parents today can consider a wider menu of child care choices, and many families are choosing to use a variety of care options based on current needs. Some families may use a nanny for an infant, an in-home provider for a toddler, and then switch to a care center for a preschooler. Some families use one type of care during the school year and then another for summer months. Occasional care service options can include babysitters, drop-in care, specified parent night out nights, and even child care co-ops. Options do abound in most areas, although sometimes you have to really seek them out.
Word of mouth or driving around a neighborhood used to be the most common way to find child care. Today, however, many families, especially those who have moved to a new community, rely on the internet to find quality child care. Many websites offer free listings of child care; most states have a child care site for review as well. Web-based babysitting and child care services are on the increase, and parents can type in a zip code and find providers who meet the specifications designated. Entrepreneurs are increasingly advertising availability for child care as well. Of course, nothing replaces reference checks.
In today's instantaneous, "tell me now" society, communications between child care provider and parent continue to strengthen. Where once a month newsletters used to suffice in addition to daily greetings and goodbyes, child care providers are using a variety of tools to provide parents with ongoing information about their child's day. Some providers create websites where they post monthly menus, weekly day-by-day activities, and even behavioral reports. Others provide parents with a daily update that is then emailed (written during naptime). Even with technology, face-to-face communications is still the best.
Have you noticed how more and more child care centers are offering enrichment options for tots to participate in while still at child care? Parents nowadays are busier than ever, yet want their child to participate in an array of activities at the same time. The solution for some is to sign kids up for optional fee-based ballet, karate, soccer and gymnastics classes that kids participate in during the week while still in care. The instructor comes to the facility rather than the other way around. This type of option may not be for everyone, but it works for those who are very busy or have long commutes each day.
In order to entice parents to stay at a particular hotel or area, many resorts and tourist-based communities have added on-site or close proximity child care. While some facilities may have pricey fees for kids to participate, others are free and include crafts, special movie nights, field trips and more. As tempting as it can be, make sure you thoroughly check out the facility and are comfortable with the rules, safety procedures, staff training, health practices, and activities planned for the kids. If everything checks out: have fun!
Choosing a quality after-school care program can have a tremendous impact on your child's academics, self-esteem and overall happiness. Many daycares transport school-aged children from school back to the center, provide a healthy snack, and then start kids on their homework, so that it is mostly done by the time parents arrive. Some schools have on-site programs as well to avoid kids going home to an empty house until parents get off work.