Starting a family childcare in our home has been a wonderful journey and absolute gift to our family at this time in our life. As a new parent and career educator, we were faced with a tough decision that many families face when they have their first child. Who and how do we want to raise our child? Can we find it? Can we get in? And can we afford it? Ideally we wanted to be able to afford to live off of one income and have me stay home to raise our child and future children. But with the high cost of living in SF, that just didn’t really seem truly feasible. Also, being someone who always loved working, I was worried it might leave me wanting “more” somehow.
Our family got creative. We wanted to have it all – the ability for me to stay home with our kids WITH a source of income, a community of likeminded families, and a fulfilling career for me. With the help of the wonderful resources at CCSF and a very supportive husband, we embarked down the road less traveled and started our own family childcare.
Here are some things that I’ve discovered along the way.
Anyone (who doesn’t have a criminal record) can open a small family childcare in any home or apartment. Small family childcares serving less than 6 children at a time, don’t require you to re-zone your home, get your neighbors or even landlord’s permission, and are a protected class of business. Other than two one-day long classes (Infant/Pediatric CPR / First Aid and Preventative Health Care Practices), there is no required educational path needed to start your own family childcare. Of course that means that it’s a little bit of the Wild West out there in terms of providers/program quality, the good news is that anyone with a passion for children can start one. So if you’re an artist or engineer or landscaper (or anything else) and you want to develop a wonderful program for children, you can do it! Your childcare is personal, develop a program that shares your skills and talents with children and embodies your personal values and philosophy.
Although anyone with little training in child development, can open their own childcare, I really really recommend that people take some time to invest in themselves and learn more about what is best for the age of children they hope to work with and how to design a program and environment of high quality. There are inexpensive ($50 at CCSF), convenient phenomenal classes locally offered by CCSF and the local R&Rs (resource and referral agencies Wu Yee and Children’s Council) specifically designed for family childcare providers. Some of the titles offered at CCSF in the CDEV 41 series (one night a week courses) are Issues in Child Dev-Starting a Childcare Center or Large Family Childcare Home In SF, Environments in Family Childcare, Music and Movement in FCC, and more. The professors are high quality veterans in the field (special shout out to Kathy Zetes in particular), and assignments are all practical and will get you set up. In these classes, I designed and got feedback on my business plan, my classroom layout inside and out, my handbook, and website. If you can’t schedule in these night classes, I recommend buying the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale and Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale on Amazon, and reading Magda Gerber’s Your Self-Confident Baby
if you’ll be caring for infants and toddlers. I also wrote a short piece for parents about how to identify quality group care, which could be helpful for providers also.
I was sort of surprised to discover that your own children do count in your family childcare until they are 10 years old. A large family childcare is unlikely to get granted in SF since you have to pass a fire marshall clearance, which is HARD due to SF architecture! So let’s focus on the small family childcare numbers. You can have 4 infants (0-24 months) only OR 6 children under 6 or in kindergarten of which no more than 3 can be infants (0-24months), or 8 children if two are enrolled in Kindergarten (no more than 2 infants 0-24 months). This can be severally limiting from a financial perspective depending on how many of your own children you have under 10 years old, but hey, you get to stay home with them and make an income. In our case, it seemed worth it given that I could make my dream childcare for my children and all the children in our program and I get “free childcare.”
Make sure you can make the commitment and that everyone who lives in your home is supportive. It’s ideal for children to have the same carer for 2-3 years if possible. Be sure to ask everyone in your home if they are ok with you having children there 40-50 hours a week (or whatever times you decide) and have you to redesign some parts of your home for the childcare. One challenge I find, is our schedule for vacations is now very limited. We can only take vacations when our childcare is closed, so that’s something to consider too. Becoming a childcare provider is a big responsibility and it should not be entered into lightly.
There are roughly 5 infant openings at licensed childcare centers or FCCs in San Francisco per every 100 infants (0-24 months) needing care. Families with infants are easiest to recruit, but make sure no matter what children you decide to work with and serve, you love being around them! Running a family childcare, while rewarding, is a lot of work with long hours. So be sure that you like to be around babies or toddlers, or a mixed-age group for about 40-50 hours a week. As a family childcare provider, you must be present at your home for 80% of operating hours, and ideally you are the primary caregiver even if you have assistant teachers.
Recruiting via word of mouth or becoming a parent of parent communities online seems to work best. Being a mom myself has been my best recruiting technique. Before I started our FCC, I was already a member of yahoo parent groups near me, and apps like parenthoods, bernalhoods, and some facebook groups. Like any social media marketing strategy, it’s best to give as much as you get, meaning become a true member of your social media or real life communities, don’t just use the platforms for advertising.
Develop a philosophy and make a handbook. It takes some soul searching and time, but the more upfront and clear you are with yourself, your families, and your assistant teachers – the easier your life will be in the long run. It’s always better to have a conversation about the kind of care children receive and why you do things that way, or how sick is too sick to come to school before you enroll a family rather than after. Parents and childcare providers should work together in partnership and it’s important to see eye to eye from the start. To develop mine, I looked at published handbooks of school’s I admired and also checked out samples on http://www.childcarelounge.com/child-care-lounge.php
Make the administrative side of things as simple as possible! Nurturelist.com is a great listing site so you don't need to develop your own website to advertise. DayBear hopes to help FCC for free to manage the administrative side of things. For now I use Gusto for my payroll, Google Forms for my wait list, Google Wallet to get payments, and Google Voice for my phone service. I’m looking into better accounting tools, so in 2016 I’ll probably try out Xero (for accounting) or something like it because you can write off a significant part of your household expenses (including some parts of your rent or mortgage) since you really do run it out of your home. Most of us educators, don’t love paperwork, and you won’t have much time to devote to it. So keep it simple. That’s one reason my tuition is the same from month to month, it’s too hard to calculate days or hours per child each month.
Network with other providers if possible. I met some in my CCSF classes and introduce myself to people if I see them at the playground or see them post to a yahoo group about an opening at their childcare. It’s so nice to share and learn from each other. In some neighborhoods the Family Child Care Association of San Francisco is pretty active too, so it might be worth joining them too.
Good luck and if you live in SF keep in touch!
Community Care Licensing Division
CCSF Child Development
SF SEED - for financial support for CDEV courses
Facebook SF Childcare Providers Community
I couldn't agree more with this quote: “Babies thrive out-of-doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air both soothes and stimulates. I always tell parents how much more easily they could raise healthy, “happy” children if they would make outdoor living a regular habit for their babies.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
I just read an article by one of my favorite child development thought leaders, Janet Lansbury, and I thought I should share about our outdoor classroom. You can totally make an awesome outdoor play space in a small (San Francisco-sized) yard.
Since our program is inspired by Reggio and RIE, we integrated the ideas of Reggio's loose parts and a safe "yes" space from RIE.
My goal is to have a "yes space" where the kids can really do what they want in the yard with few limits other than hurting each other. I wanted it be changeable, safe yet challenging, and allow for experimentation and dramatic play. We recreated some of the elements that they love from inside such as a mud kitchen, our magnetic wall, and also use outside friendly inside toys and materials.
Set it up so you can say "yes"
Our yard has two parts. One side is a cement patio and the other side is a grassy open space yard. We divided the two spaces with a low 3 foot fence which essentially turns them into "kiddie corrals" that Janet wrote about. Since we have mixed ages, we can keep the bigger toddlers away from the little babies when we need to.
We covered the cement patio with rubber tiles so soften falls from our early walkers which gives the kids a sense of security to explore their bodies more on the ride on toys and the slide.
On the grassy side, we put some small hills in, because it adds a little challenge. The hills alone are hours of endless fun and confidence building for an early crawler or walker. We love our "me do it" toddlers. They can move everything (ladders, tubs, crates, etc.) around to change the landscape and put on their own shoes and smocks.
A few of our inexpensive (or free) favorites of the children are: 1) the teeter totter which invites social play, as well as can serve as a great balance board, 2) yoga balls, 3) the milk crates which make create obstacle course steps or can be easily turned into train cars with the spark of a toddler's imagination, 4) our easy DIY ladders and balance beam, and 5) plastic kiddie pools.
The plastic kiddie pools are really my favorite. They are fun to climb in and out of, make large water/sand/sensory "table" and can be a wonderful protective "space bubble" for a very young infant to spend time outside.
We also have lots of the same things (a ride on toy for each for example) because we have younger toddlers who don't share and like to do parallel play. It really reduces conflict if you develop the space and have appropriate expectations of how they will play.
Bring the inside, outdoors
Who said baby dolls, dinos, kitchen dramatic play, lunch, and pretty much any other inside type of activity can't be done outside.
Baby Dolls and Dinos - The kids love washing their baby dolls, doing car washes, and having elaborate dramatic play worlds with the dinos. They are easy to wash up and bring back inside when we're done, so why not!
Playing house outside - We bring real pots, pans, and cooking utensils out when the kids are into making "soup" and cooking. We set out out kid sized picnic tables, and bring out plates and utensils if they want to cook and serve meals. And we have a mud kitchen that has lots of utensils, pots, pans and containers to "cook" with. The kids gather twigs, gravel, lemons, pinecones, flowers and whatever else they want to cook with.
Magnet STEM wall - Using a oil pan, we made a really easy magnet wall and used PVC pike and gutters to have loose parts for the kids to do experiments with. They can run water, ping pong balls, rocks or whatever else they want down it. All the parts live in a crate near the wall so they can choose how they want to set it up. We don't show them what to do, but it's amazing how fast they figure out what they can do with all the components.
Change it up without spending $ - Art, Sensory Play & Loose Parts
Loose Parts Theory quotes
‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect
‘Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.’ - Malaguzzi
To create this loose parts, creativity laboratory we have to look no further than the ground, in the trees/bushes and our own recycling bins.
Loose parts may be manufactured or natural materials (Frost 1997) or recycled objects (Drew and Rankin 2004).
Manufactured items could include the following: ■ boxes ■ buckets ■ blocks ■ trucks ■ cloth ■ baskets ■ tools ■ dramatic play props ■ balls
Natural items could include such items as: ■ bark ■ sand ■ seeds ■ mud ■ stones ■ vines ■ leaves ■ tree stumps ■ twigs ■ straw bales
Recycled items could include: ■ cardboard boxes ■ building materials ■ packing pellets ■ old pots and pans ■ tires ■ milk crates ■ ribbon, rope, string ■ polystyrene ■ plastic bottles and ■ felt containers
Since children learn so much through their senses and by doing, we set up sensory and art materials on a daily basis that often hold their interest for long stretches of time and lead to many fascinating discoveries.