What Happens All Day in Child Care?

Many people come to the internet looking for answers about day care. Is it the right thing for my child? Is it a necessary evil or a positive experience? Am I a bad parent for putting my child there? Will they ever forgive me? Will the provider do as good a job caring for them as I would? Is she abusing them all day? Are the other kids? Will they be scarred for life???

I’m here to reassure you that they will not be scarred for life. And that in fact, if the program is run by someone who is dedicated to caring for children, it is not only a safe place but it can be very good for your child’s development.


Far from scarring your children, in the long run they might not even remember that much of day care. I hate to say it – as a provider who likes to think that she looms large in the lives of the children she cares for – but my son doesn’t even remember his child care provider. Granted when he was with her he was only two, but still. If he doesn’t remember the experience then it probably doesn’t haunt him to this day. (And of course this isn’t true of all situations, my older kids do remember me. Fondly?)

I speak from experience as a mother who has had her own child in care, and who has cared for other people’s children. I’ve been on both sides – peeling a screaming child off my body at dropoff, and seeing his little blonde head staring out the door waiting for me to get there at the end of the day. Feeling the guilt and self-doubt that came along with those moments, and wondering if I was doing the right thing.

And now I’m on the other side, doing the peeling. And I’m happy to tell you that your child will be fine, I promise. Of course do your research, ask questions, and trust your instincts. Very rarely, bad things do happen in child care, but I’d venture to say that it’s at about the same rate as bad things that happen in the rest of the big bad world. If you are keeping a close eye on things, you’ll be able to tell if something is wrong with your child.

As a child care provider I am someone who firmly believes in what I do, but I do feel that in a perfect world we would have more parental leave, flexible work schedules, and job-sharing that would allow parents to spend more time with their children. Remember I said “in a perfect world.” I think right now this type of thing only happens in Sweden, so pack your bags if that’s what you want for your family.

Or, like me, do something totally insane and open a home day care.

So I’m going to let you peek behind the curtain and share the real truth of what goes on in a family home child care. I can’t speak for every program, but they’re all pretty similar. And in all the years I’ve been doing this I have rarely met a licensed provider who I wouldn’t trust my children with.

For the most part we are a really excellent group of people. You have to be pretty cool to spend all your time with a bunch of little children.

During the day a lot happens at Amy’s House. The kids arrive and the littles get to watch some TV or play with toys while I get the older kids ready for school. When we can walk to school it’s lovely, because we take lots of time to talk and look at things and socialize with our friends and neighbors. (“Who dat Amy? What dere name?” How many squirrels can we see? What is that yummy smell? STOP AT THE CORNER!!!)

When we have to drive it’s not as fun, but we still get lots of practice cooperating while I load everyone into the van. And yes, sometimes I get impatient and scold/nag them a little (usually my own, one in particular, who shall remain nameless but he knows who he is). But this in itself spurs lots of discussion. “Amy why you mad at him? What you say to him? Where’s his shoes?” Hey everyone, let’s help Amy find somebody’s left sneaker!! Another opportunity for coercion cooperation.

We get home from school and it’s snack time. This is when I have to let them fly free and trust that they will behave (I don’t let kids in the kitchen while I’m preparing food). But they know what I expect of them, and I can use my voice to touch base. “What happened, Miss D? Miss C can you tell me? I hear someone saying ‘Stop,’ listen to their words.” Mostly they’re just testing me because I’m not right there with them. Hm, what will Amy do if I do THIS? Can I get her to come rushing back into the room? CRASH!!

And Amy will remain in the kitchen and say, “Who just dumped out the blocks again?” and one of the twins will tell me while I’m still buttering the toast. Trust me, I know when someone is really hurt. You become a connoisseur of cries. (Whine connoisseur? Get it!?)

Then we eat, and this is a great time for conversation as well as learning table manners and personal hygiene. I spend a lot of time on these topics. They really don’t understand why I won’t allow them to share food or to run around with butterfingers all over my house. The funny thing is, they are more than happy to put their dirty dishes away, but they won’t willingly hang around to wash their hands.

Also on a side note, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that you can never teach something to a child and have them remember it the first time. We go over what is expected at the table EVERY DAY. And I talk about please and thank you ALL DAY EVERY DAY. In fact I have a song about it that I stole from my friend Patti B. (Hi Patti!)

(to the tune of Frere Jacques)

Please and thank you
Please and thank you
Sound so nice
Sound so nice
Manners are important
Manners are important
Be polite
Be polite

I don’t even have to say anything, I just sing that song and suddenly they’re all yelling “Please!!” at me.

Anyway. After snack it’s pottying, which requires a lot of patience on my part but is not difficult. Then circle time, and they all know where to find their mats and what the routine is for that. We read, sing, take turns, and fight over who’s touching someone’s mat and “Sit down!! I can’t seeeee!” When circle is over we dance, run, or go outside (weather permitting. I haven’t been outside since November so I’m kinda starting to forget what that whole experience is like).

And the rest of the day goes on like this. A project, lunch, nap, snack, play, cleanup, picking up the big kids at school, etc. Most programs have a good balance of active play, quiet time, arts and crafts, pretend, free play, all the things you want your child to be doing all day. Licensed providers are required to meet all these expectations. They often have a network of people they are working with to keep up with training and get support for any problems they may be experiencing.

At any point during the day your child may experience a little hurt – falling off a chair, fighting over a toy, not wanting to put their shoes on when it’s time to go outside. Providers are constantly assessing how to handle an outburst. We can usually tell if the child honestly needs help or is just being stubborn, is genuinely hurt or scared, or just needs a minute and some support to compose themself. And we respond accordingly. We have many many many tools developed over time to handle any situation. Trust me.

Sometimes your child gets pushed. Sometimes they do the pushing. Nobody is 100% innocent. But good providers know these are perfect teachable moments, and we seize them. Part of growing up is learning how to interact with other people. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this is a learned skill. If it takes them months and months to learn how to say “Please,” how long does it take to learn the complicated interaction needed to borrow someone’s toy? That is why I often tell people that social skills are the main focus of my program.

Sometimes I will stand back and let kids handle issues themselves to see what will happen. Child care is a safe environment for children to start learning peer-to-peer interactions. With the disappearance of open public spaces for kids to mingle (aka the mythical sandlot), day care can be one of the only places where they have a chance to learn from each other – a vital, required experience for anyone who needs to grow up human.

So I let them interact without sticking my big nose in it as much as possible. I am working on discipline all day, but in the sense of discipline as self-control. For kids, this includes learning how to wait, be patient, take turns, and realize that there are other people in the world who need a turn as well. I’ve heard people say, “My child deserves only the best.” I understand that concept, and I wish that all children had nothing but the best.

But if only one of them deserves it, then what’s left for the all the other kids?

That is why one of the biggest priorities in my work is treating all children fairly, and having the same high standards for all of them. No one gets away with bad behavior, and everyone gets loved. I teach respect by modeling it.

I should also let you know that there are moments in all child care programs when everyone starts to cry at once and everything just falls apart. So if you walk in and see this happening in your child care, don’t worry. It happens everywhere. We deal with a lot of feelings, and we talk about feelings A LOT. Providers do our best to make kids feel safe, comfortable, and happy, even in the midst of the chaos that is unavoidable in the world of children.

Sometimes I yell. But we all get over it quickly. I know I can’t let bad vibes hang in the air for too long or it’s just going to go all wrong. So I walk away, take a breath, and go back and touch base. And it’s OK for a child to learn a boundary: You’ve pushed me too far, I’m angry, but I’m going to take this chance to model how we handle anger. (And hopefully you won’t do that again, sweet angel child!)

Most of the time I am simply caring for children. I am feeding, changing, cleaning, supporting, teaching, and yes, honestly loving. Kids get so much out of the learning that goes on in child care, and I really wish that was recognized more often (instead of hearing only the negatives of having to put kids into bad, bad day care because there’s no better choice).

A provider is someone who can push your child, in a safe way, to reach a little further. We know what can be expected of a child at each age, in both directions – what they are capable of and also why they may be regressing and need a break.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. While no one is as important to your child as mom and dad, it is also very good for them to learn from other people. They get a little diversity, have different challenges and flex different muscles. They learn in new ways and get to celebrate successes that they wouldn’t neccessarily experience at home. They get love from another person and learn how to live with their peers.

Anyone who’s been a parent for any amount of time knows that you can say something to your child fifty times and they won’t respond, but then someone else says the same thing and it’s the greatest thing your child has ever heard. So your provider and child will have a unique relationship, and while they may not be blood, they’re the next best thing. They will know your child like family – that’s why they call it Family Child Care.

So find a provider you feel comfortable with and have confidence that your child is safe. If you’re curious, ask the provider for the numbers of other parents she’s worked with. People will be more than happy to tell you how they see it.

And now, go off to work with confidence. In that moment of goodbye when your child is crying and your heart is breaking, your provider might tell you, “He’ll be fine as soon as you’re out the door.” She’s telling you the truth. Trust me.

5 thoughts on “What Happens All Day in Child Care?

  1. Great job dispelling myths about the evils of child care! On behalf of caring, dedicated child care providers everywhere, thank you!

  2. What a fantastic post – you really captured a day in family childcare! And those days are soooo full and soooo busy, I couldn;t imagine how you were going to do it in one post, but you did! I enjoyed reading this so much. Make me feel “homesick” for my hippie family daycare. 🙂

    Working in preschool is wonderful, but it is different, not always for the better. Just one small example- the snow is about to melt, and I have to worry about keeping my class out of the mud. With my daycare, I could say, “C’mon guys, let’s go play in the mud!” and we’d all have a great time and then just head in to change.

    Thanks for posting, I loved reading this!! Oh, and I learned that song from another family daycare provider – I am blanking on her name right now. I love when great ideas get passed around!

  3. I don’t know where I’d be without you as my daycare provider. My girls have THRIVED under you. They’re better people for having someone other than me and their dad push them, love them, test them and play with them. It’s one of the biggest gifts of their lives to date. Thank you!

  4. Thanks to everyone who replied – Kate, I hope you know that your girls are equally a GIFT in my life. Patti, you are missed by the parents of this town, who still talk about you! Elaine, that’s why I’m here – to put a good face on us because we deserve it!

  5. Pingback: Should You Put Your Child in Day Care? | Sitting On The Baby

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