Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why I heart day care

Nancy’s story the other day reminded me to finish this tribute I’ve been meaning to post, a love song to our family’s child care center. I hope this doesn’t come across as a big self-justification (as in, it’s OK if my kids are away from home all day, because look! What they do!), because that’s not my intention. Rather, I’m trying to record my good memories of this place, and maybe also to help anyone unfamiliar with good quality child care realize what a wonderful thing it can be.

I love that the center serves 3 meals a day, at no extra cost. No packing any lunches—not even when Opie was a puree-eating baby. The nursery has its own stash of baby food. And I’d never have known Jo likes cottage cheese if she hadn’t eaten it there. (Of course, the school chef also introduced her to tater tot casserole, but that’s another story for another day.)

I love that my children are being exposed to diversity, and I don’t just mean in their diet. Back in New Jersey, Jo and Julie’s Tacy were two of the only white children in their center. I called them as the token gringas. Now we’re in a lily-white neighborhood in a very white town in a pretty white part of a mostly white state. But every day at school, Jo and Opie play and learn with kids of different races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. Their parents are fast-food workers, doctors, sales reps, and line workers at local factories.

I love that the kids come home every day with some art project that was conceived and implemented by a mind far more creative than my own. Even the infants make pictures with their footprints.

I love the twenty-something, hippie, lone male teacher, Mr. Rob. He has a shaggy mop of curly blond hair, drives a beat-up old minivan with both a Jesus fish and an Anchorman bumper sticker, and sometimes brings in his banjo for singalongs with the kids.

I love how much they learn. Opie gave up the bottle (in favor of a sippy cup) at 8 months. At this rate, he’ll be deftly handling a steak knife before he turns 2. Jo comes home brimming with information about caterpillars, zebras, and the letter P.

I love the four playgrounds (one for the 1-year-olds, one for the 2-year-olds, one for the bigger kids, and a big open lawn for everyone to share) and the fact that the kids get plenty of running-around time every day. Even in winter, when the teachers have to patiently deck every kid out in boots, snowpants, parkas, mittens, hats, and scarves. Even in summer, when the kids line up for a generous coating of sunscreen instead.

Most of all, I love that every teacher (more than a dozen of them) knows every child (probably a hundred of them) by name, and greets each one with genuine care and interest. I love that they fawn over my baby, even though they see him every day. I love that they give Jo big hugs and admire whatever it is she just has to show them, from her new swimsuit to a rock she just found in the parking lot.

I love that we have this place where we all feel safe, secure, and adored. I don’t know what we’re going to do when it’s time for kindergarten.

P.S.: If you are looking for a child care center, visit Child Care Aware for advice, calculators, and a link to your local resource & referral agency—where a helpful staff person can tell you about options in your area. Another good source is NAEYC; go there to find out if there is an accredited center near you (that’s how I found our center).


Nancy said...

Thanks for the link. I had a lovely moment today when the teacher I spoke up for came and gave me a big hug and said I was like her sister. She was so grateful that I stepped in and also that I told the Center Director what I'd witnessed so she would not believe the abusive mother. I am amazed by how easy it is to care for the people who take care of your children every day -- I expected to like them, but never thought I'd love them like I do (and have them return the feelings for me and my girls.)

My husband and I had a moment of recognition yesterday as he was putting sunscreen on our 2 girls. "Mimi, does Ms. J put lotion on ALL the kids in your class like this?" "Yes," she replied, "and it takes a long time." Wow. I can't imagine going through the process of potty, lunchtime, and dressing for outdoors with a room full of kids when TWO often seems like too many! :-)

mothergoosemouse said...

Yes yes yes yes yes. Just this past weekend, completely unprompted, Tacy drew a picture for Miss Maria. My little girl remembers and cares for the woman who cared for her more than a year ago.

I loved our old center, but I love the new one even more. Having had the opportunity to sub there, I have a deeper appreciation for what the teachers do on a daily basis. I echo everything that you wrote here (and that Nancy wrote on her post).

Magpie said...

That's a great post. I feel much the same way about my daughter's daycare - it's a wonderful environment, for her and the other kiddies. And the food! I would slit my wrists if I had to send food for her - and besides, I think it's easier on the daycare center to feed everyone the same thing.