It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Why it’s called “home” daycare

“What is that baby doing in here?” Her middle-aged brows draw into a scowl of puzzled disapproval as she eyes the lone 16-month-old amongst the dozen 4-year-olds. She is an Inspector, and this is my first post-baby job. The baby is my daughter. My boss steps in adroitly.

“That’s the teacher’s daughter. Sometimes she comes in for a visit.”

Ooo, slick. In fact, she didn’t ‘visit’; she just stayed with me. (This only happened after my boss had assured herself of my ability to care for them appropriately. This was her policy with all staff with children; and no, not all staff were permitted to have their child with them.)

Fast-forward twenty years or so, to an interview in my home with prospective clients. The mom is a daycare-centre worker.

“How do you keep the toddlers and the babies separated?” she wants to know.

Short answer: I don’t.

Fast-forward to today. Composition of the household on this particular day: Emily, age 4; Tyler, 2.5; Noah, 2.75; Lily, 18 months, and New Baby Boy, 13 months.

“It’s okay,” Emily reassures a frustrated Noah. “Baby Lily can’t help it. She’s just a baaaaybee.” She pats Noah’s back, her voice rich and soothing. “She doesn’t know that hurts. I will kiss it better, okay?”

Noah beams. “Okay!”

“When you’re cleaning up the blocks, let the baby have one. That way he won’t take them out of the bin as soon as you put them away. When you are all done, then you take that last one away.”

Noah and Tyler carry the block bin together over the baby gate and into the kitchen.

“We are coming in here to play so baby Lily won’t keep smashing our building. But we left some blocks for her to play with.”

Emily carries the bin of playdough and playdough toys to the table. Baby Lily clutches one end and staggers with the bin. It looks a little awkward for poor Emily.

“Do you need help, Emily? Is Baby Lily being a problem?”

“No. She thinks she’s helping me.” She leans closer and stage-whispers to me. “She isn’t really helping, but I’m letting her think she is.” She nods wisely and smiles.

“I need that! Here, baby Lily, you can play with THIS!”

“Mary! Mary! Mary! Baby Lily said ‘DOWN!!!”” Noah’s small face radiates delight. “Did you hear? Her said ‘DOWN!!!’ ” He claps his hands. Baby Lily claps, too, and they laugh together.

Noah scoops a spoonful of stew into his spoon. New Baby Boy watches carefully, then picks up his discarded spoon and starts poking it around in his bowl. He doesn’t quite manage to capture anything on the spoon, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do… and equally clear what encouraged him to try.

“If you shout at the baby, you will frighten him. Tell him in a calm voice, ‘Those are my socks’, and then take them gently away from him… Good. Now you give him something else to play with… That’s it! Good for you! Now you are both happy!”

And THAT, Madame Inspector, is what that baby is doing in here…

May 11, 2010 - Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. HURRAH!

    Your enthusiasm is adorable. Thank you.

    Comment by daysgoby | May 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Daysgoby is ALWAYS adorable – I know, I’ve met her. 😉

      Comment by kittenpie | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. LOVE this! This is exactly why (until recently) I took the baby with me every time I volunteered at the “big kids” school. (Now the “baby” is two so he no longer comes along, every time!)
    He and I joined the kids for lunch at school, yesterday. I loved listening to the 6th grade girls comparing their siblings and cousins with my son–who can open lockers, who knows their letters, who can sit and say “please,”…

    It’s lovely. So nice when kids get to be nurturing.

    Comment by LoryKC | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  3. As a long time center director I was skeptical about family day care. When I retired and started working with providers, many of them from family programs, I saw just how good family day care can be. I became completely sold when my grandson started in family day care at 6 months and I watched how much he learned and how he interacted with the “big kids”. When his baby brother joined him a few years later it meant a lot to him to be ably to keep an eye on Baby Ro. I’ve seen some great homes and some terrible ones, but I’ve also seen some great centers and some terrible ones. Now I tell parents who ask me to visit both kinds of programs and see what meets their needs.

    I value this comment tremendously. Thank you so much. I agree: there are terrific examples and terrible ones of all styles of daycare. Find yourself one of the terrific ones in a style that suits your family and its needs, and you have the best daycare — for your family. Don’t find a terrible one of a certain style and then assume they’re all like that, because it just won’t be true.

    Comment by jwg | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  4. Adorable, isn’t it? Our daycare center actually has kids 4 months to 3 years together. My daughter is in the middle range right now. She’s both super proud when she gets a high five from a big kid and delighted to hug one of the babies. The teachers always explain this arrangement to new parents by telling them “We are like a very big family.” True enough.

    That’s great! I don’t know any daycare centres that do that, which is a pity. I’m sure it presents logistical challenges that same-age groupings don’t, but it has many advantages for the children. It may even be against the rules — it was when I worked in a daycare centre many years ago — but I’m not sure about that.

    Comment by Sarah | May 11, 2010 | Reply

    • It’s not against the rules in the US, but there are different teacher-child ratios required for different ages. That means it’s cheaper as the children get older and most daycares therefore separate by age. Our place is tiny and there are only two areas total, so one is 4 months to 3 years (with the ratio required for infants) and one is 4-5 years (with more children per teacher, but still below the legal limit). We are very lucky to have found a great place in the style we like. You are so right – there are great and terrible places of all kinds of child care and finding the right match is like striking it rich.

      Comment by Sarah | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  5. How awesome. It’s so wonderful to see them learning from each other. Plus I think it gave me some ideas for handling my two. 🙂 I’m glad that our center (while it does separate by age) frequently takes the younger kids down to visit with the “big kids” and show off the younger siblings. I love listening to the kids get excited to show off “their” baby.

    One of the parts of my job that I enjoy the most is encouraging this sort of nurturing in the children. It’s so fun to see them soooo proud to help a “little one”, and so adorable to see the “little” ones bask in the glow of the “big” kids’ attention. What a wholesome, loving, considerate way to boost self-esteem. 🙂

    Comment by Danielle | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  6. This gave me a big smile.

    Glad to hear it.

    Comment by Lisa | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  7. me too.

    Me, too!

    Comment by cartside | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  8. I’m nodding my head and smiling in agreement again. I would also add that this is one of the benefits of homeschooling as well. The mix of ages helps them all to learn and mature inn ways that aren’t available in age segregated groups.

    I agree. I loved the exercise of coming up with a unit (I rarely used purchased curriculum) that could include all three of my kids, with seven years’ difference between oldest and youngest. It’s not that difficult! My favourite was probably the “train trip” we took across Canada, stopping in each province to learn about it now and in the past (history), colouring its provincial flag in our “passports”, filling the ‘window’ of our train with pictures takes from travel magazines and provincial info brochures, finding out what plants grew there and its seasonal variations (science), calculating distances (math), marking our progress on a map (geography), etc., etc., etc. That one kept us happily occupied for the better part of five weeks! All four of us!

    Another thing about homeschooling I noted was that my homeschooled children were (and are, even now that they’re in ‘regular’ schools) much more natural with adults.

    Comment by carrien (she laughs at the days) | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  9. I loved this post. I have never understood just why it is so important to keep children apart based on their age.

    Me, neither. I can see where it’s logistically simpler, for the purposes of crowd control, to have children at the same general level of activity, skills, developmental interests, etc… but is that best for the kids?

    Kids can learn so much from each other. Well-supervised ones, anyway. While it’s true that rowdy two-year-olds can trample a crawling baby, it’s also true that they can learn to be solicitous of the baby, and take GREAT pride in their ability to be gentle with the baby and help care for it. And for their part, the younger children can observe, emulate, and learn from the older children. Yes, there are negatives that kids can pick up from each other, but I think they are less likely to treat each other negatively if they have been raised with the expectation that the older’s job is to nurture the younger’s, and are given lots and lots of exposure to each other. I believe they can all, older and younger, learn to be respectful of each other. Which is really, just a life-long expectation for all people in society! Why not start as you mean to go on?

    Comment by mamawork | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  10. Wonderful! I do love seeing now how The Bun learns from pumpkinpie, and how she is learning patience and understanding from having him around. They play together so nicely now most of the time, it’s just wonderful. I also love that our daycare centre lets siblings visit each other in their respective rooms.

    Comment by kittenpie | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  11. Love it! The trackback link also made me laugh a lot! I love watching my two interact together – there’s two years and a week between them, and they’re so sweet. The wee one worships the bigger one, and the bigger one just loves helping the wee one. (He also likes ‘parenting’ the wee one, which is funny, if a little scary to hear myself coming out of the mouth of a not-quite-4-year old!) They would miss out on so much if they were separated…

    Comment by Gillian | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  12. What great timing for this post! My soon-to-be 12 month old starts at our home daycare next week. I’m not nervous, but I am excited about going back to work. Your post is great reinforcement for why we chose home daycare for our kids. I know our youngest will love it, plus she’ll have her big sister and brother there for parts of each day.

    Comment by Tricia | May 13, 2010 | Reply

  13. The private nursery we use on a parttime basis separates the children by age: baby – 2 years; 2 – 3 years; 3 -5 years. But they ‘visit’ each others’ rooms at different times. The middle group loves to visit the ‘big’ room after lunch for 45 minutes or so while those that need to nap do so. And there is a door between the 2 youngest rooms that is sometimes open so the different ages can interact — or watch each other when it’s open with a gate between them for viewing only.

    It’s nice to have both approaches working… we’ve been quite happy with having our boys go through the program… and our daughter will go through it when she’s close to 2 years.

    Comment by ewe_are_here | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  14. Great read!

    Comment by Malina | May 17, 2010 | Reply

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