Two Worlds: Family Daycare or Center Provider?

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By: Sheri Karan

Somewhere in the midst of sleep, I hear James Taylor singing. I listen to a few minutes of "I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain," before rolling over to look at the alarm clock. Squinting a bit, I read 5:32. Time for me to get up, get a shower, and get my 12-year-old daughter moving and into her shower too. Darn! Too late I hear the water running in her bathroom. "So, I guess I am the second shower today," I say to myself. Stopping into her bathroom to remind her that I need some hot water too, I head down 2 flights of stairs to my office.

My office is not an office in the conventional sense of the word. The walls are painted in beautiful shades of bright colors and shapes; an aquarium scene on one wall, a large purple flower on another and a tree on yet another. It’s a cheery room – and it needs to be. It is the daytime home to four children besides my own. I am a family daycare provider and this is the start to my day.

I turn on the lights, run the vacuum cleaner, and set out some activities for the early arrivals. I make sure that the room is clean and organized and check supply levels on diapers and wipes. By this time, my daughter is out of the shower so I head upstairs again. After my shower, I head downstairs to be sure my daughter is eating something nutritious and to make my own breakfast and check our menu to see what is being served that morning to the daycare children.

At 7:00 the first child arrives. Before too long, all four children have arrived. We spend our day playing and cuddling, reading some books along the way and taking a walk or two outdoors to enjoy some fresh air. Because I have a group of mixed ages, as most family providers do, our schedule has to be a bit flexible. Infants take naps and eat as needed, while preschoolers can adjust to the schedule that I have set up for them. It makes the day a little crazy, but it does move quickly!

While in the middle of all of this with one baby situated on my hip and trying to maneuver a one year old into her booster seat for lunch while the other infant is fussing to be held as well, I think back to my work at a daycare center. An assistant teacher sure would be a big help right now! But my group would be much larger, and the different stages that I get to see each day would be non-existent because I would be limited to one age group. It was great for activities though. I remember. As a teacher of three year olds we talked about things like the water cycle, a butterfly’s life cycle and more complicated issues that my infants would ever understand.

My schedule wasn’t flexible either at a daycare center. If we had a sleepy morning, we couldn’t move nap to the morning and do crafts in the afternoon. The flexibility that I enjoy so much at home wouldn’t be possible in a daycare center setting. But some children and teachers need the constant schedule that doesn’t change. It’s comforting and secure, and that is wonderful for them.

The biggest drawback to home daycare over center care though, is the interaction that you don’t have with your co-workers. I can call other providers throughout the day if I need to, but their days are just as full and busy as mine, and we don’t get more than a few minutes of conversation in before someone needs us and we have to postpone our discussion. In a center, you can take a break and spend it with the women in the kitchen chatting and catching up, or hanging out with your friend who works down the hall and can take break with you because she has an assistant teacher too. There are many more opportunities to interact with others around you.

Before I can reflect on this too much though, one of my babies is fussing and I have to switch back to reality and pick them up. It would have been nice to have a day off today and call in sick, but it’s so much harder to call four sets of parents and tell them to find alternate care than it was to call a director. Well, sometimes, it wasn’t that easy either!

Whether a provider is home based or center based, there is a set of unique challenges and rewards that come to them each day. We are both rewarded with hugs and kisses, but both have the challenges of parental involvement and behavior issues. For me personally, I like having my office downstairs but I wish I spent a little less time there sometimes.