It's Not Easy Getting Kids Anymore

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Do you have spots to fill and calls are coming in slow? Does it seem to take forever to fill the spots anymore? And it's getting frustrating? It's not just you or your area. This seems to be hitting providers all over the county these days.

With free preschool popping up everywhere and other programs for preschool age children, it seems that family child care providers are being pushed aside. Family child care has become more competitive. It's more then just competing with other providers in your local area or with Child Care centers. The rules have changed on us and we are competing at a different level now compared to years past where it was just the center style environment vs. the family style environment. Today, in order to be on a level playing field we are turning our homes, which are supposed to be the family environment, into mini centers. We are going back to school and accumulating ECE units and teaching permits. We are engaged into continuous workshops and conferences on how to teach, provide age appropriate curriculum, recognize special needs, solve problems with parents, and deal with different techniques for behavior problems. All of this just so the parents will look and see us as professional and as educated as any center base teacher. Truth be known most providers have as much or more education as center teachers. We were already doing these things, but we were not recognized for them. It seems we need to show proof so that the parents can see we actually might know something or we were trained to know these things. Never mind all the years you might have put in as a child care professional. Nothing seems to count anymore unless you can back it up with proof.

Our profession has evolved into a professional career. We have asked and shouted to be recognized as professionals, but there is a price to be paid. Going back to school has become part of the price. This is a good thing, but in doing so we are losing our "family touch". The family child care providers that do not follow the others into professional growth, education, and training's are finding themselves with more empty spots. There is always an exception, but eventually it will catch up to them too.

Life evolves and so does child care. Because of that we need to find new ways to promote ourselves, build our reputations, bring the families into our programs and show that we do have quality programs that will stimulate the child to grow and develop emotionally, physically, and cognitively.

Word of mouth isn't the same as it used to be. Our cities are larger, more and more families are moving in or out. People just don't know each other like they use to. A simple ad in the paper isn't bringing in the calls like it use to. The Internet has become more of the popular way to advertise. A lot of things we use to do to advertise or promote our business doesn't work anymore. However, you still need to be consistent in keeping your name out in the public year around. Even if you don't have openings, keep your name out there. If you get calls, you can pass them along to other local providers. Networking is very important. Although you might not need the calls when your spots are full, you can still talk to the parent and tell them about your program. Tell them when you expect an opening and that if they are looking again at that time to keep you in mind or to pass your name along to someone else. Never pass up an opportunity to talk about your program. You would be surprised how people will remember you simply by you opening up communications and sharing information and resources.

In order to promote our child care programs, we need to do a little more leg work. Don't be afraid to make flyers and post them door to door in areas near your home. Go to local community events that cater to children and place your cards or flyers on cars or stand and pass them out. Find community boards where you can post a flyer. Never pass up an opportunity to advertise your child care when you are out in public. When you are out with your child care children wear T-shirts advertising your child care. Carry business cards with you at all times to pass out. Keep your ears open at the park and if you over hear someone talking about needing child care, approach them and give them your card. Put signs on your car when you are out and about. Use all these opportunities to be promoting your business. One key thing... DON'T RELY ON OTHERS to bring the business to you... You need to work at this and get out and advertise, promote and sell your business. The calls don't just come in automatically. You need to work at it. It's part of this profession.

Big businesses have marketing people do this for them. Small businesses, such as child care, can't afford marketing personnel so you have to do it yourself. There are a lot of ways to advertise. You can spend a lot of money or less money and in some cases even do it for free. However, you must do it continuously. Find the methods that work best for you and get you results. Be creative so as to draw attention to your business. Use promotions. But the most important thing is to promote and produce quality child care. So many providers use the word "quality" but do not produce quality child care. So back up what you advertise. We will always be in competition with the centers, free programs, public school programs, as well as other providers.

There are so many ways to go about getting the word out. However, I am sharing one particular idea here to give you a start and something to think about.

Open House

Spring, summer and early fall are good times to have open house visits, before the bad weather. You don't want people with wet shoes coming in your home. Pick a nice Saturday to do this and promote it before hand. Run an ad in the paper, advertise on local community web sites, etc. Much like you would do if you were having a yard sale.


Make up nice signs that you can place on poles, directing people to your home, again much like you would for a yard sale. They must be big and very neatly done. Make sure it's obvious that it is a "child care" open house and not a "house for sale" open house.

It is optional to put an address on your sign. Usually with directional signs you just need arrows pointing the way. Put some balloons on the signs or a cute picture, so that they can spot your signs block to block. Make them all the look the same and use the same color, so that they are easily recognized and not confused with something else. The wording needs to be in thick bold letters, as this is easier to see and read. Put another sign out in front of your house for that day, which says that today is open enrollment day.

Have Help

Do not do this alone. Be sure to have helpers that day and make everything look and feel inviting. Look professional. Don't leave anyone in the house alone. This is why you have help so while you are showing one person around your helpers can answer the door and watch other visitors in the house. Have a parent there to talk to them about their experience at your child care.

Sign In Sheet

Have a sign in sheet for the visitors. Make sure they sign in and leave a name, phone number ages of their children, and how soon they need child care, so you can call them back.


Have cookies and a light beverage or bottled water on hand in the kitchen.

On Display

Make up a display board of pictures showing the kids in action. If you can, make a short video showing the kids in action. This way the visitors can sit a moment to view it, but five minutes is long enough. .


Give visiting families a coupon with an expiration date, stating that you will waive the registration fee if redeemed by that date. (If you don't have a registration fee, still do it. You don't have to tell them that.) Offer a free parents night out after they have been there a month.

Information Packets

I had picked up some cheap folders for about 10 cents each and made up about 50 packets. I allowed one packet per family and no extra for anyone. If they wanted to share information, I kindly told them I was limited on packets and they were welcome to Xerox their packet and share it. I labeled these packets with the name of my child care, phone number, license number, website address and email address. You can glue your business card on the front to make it even easier. You want to send them away with a lot of information, so that they remember you. Include in your Packet:

  • a brochure
  • a business card
  • your philosophy
  • your daily outline/schedule
  • parent resources (you can get them from your local R&R)
  • a list of the local schools near me that provide bus services to your neighborhood
  • a rate card

Be prepared to answer questions. How you answer these questions will determine the impression you make on these families. You want to make a good first impression.

If you have one open house and only sign up one family that day, that is still one paying family that made the open house worth it.


By Pat Alexander, 
NAFCC accredited provider - Elk Grove, CA 
Licensed since 1971