Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Notes From A Daycare Provider

I realized after talking to friends about my experience as a daycare provider that I have yet to actually share any of my thoughts or feelings on this matter here. I share what we do during daycare, what we work on, read, and play, but I never share my frustrations and triumphs. I share my thoughts as mom, but rarely my personal thoughts as a daycare provider. I can only imagine how it feels to drop your child off to someone else to raise during the days. The entire reason I started my daycare was because I couldn't find anyone I felt comfortable enough with to leave my child with all day every day. We went poor while I stayed with our child (which became children during this time) because I couldn't find anyone I was comfortable with.

That is my biggest goal as a daycare provider. Creating an environment in which the kids and parents feel comfortable with. I have an open door policy: come right in and you'll be greeted (unless I'm pre-occupied changing diapers, helping with hand washing, or pouring cups of milk, then you'll get a shouted "hi"). I make my home their home during the day. Lounge on the couch, ask for a pillow, ask for a hug or a kiss at random. These are the needs I'm happy to oblige. At times it can be difficult to share our home with so many kids. Sometimes my kids just want their space, they get irritated that they have to share their toys. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to have an actual dining room table and not a permanent daycare activities holder. But the benefits far outweigh these difficulties.

My kids have built in playmates. Most kids get home from school and go in search of friends to play with. Mine get to open their front door to a playroom (literally, my living room is a playroom) full of kids. They never deal with boredom. There's always something to do and someone to play with. My kids are treated to new toys (okay, well new to them....I'm a big fan of craigslist and garage sales) constantly because they are expected to share them with all of the other kids. It sounds crazy but the more kids I have here, the easier it is on me. The fewer kids there are the more I have to take on the role of entertainer. The more kids I have I must play referee. Sometimes it sucks to be the referee, but most of the time it's waaayyy easier than being the entertainment for a day.

Not every day is rainbows and butterflies. There are MANY frustrating days, moments, weeks, and months. My job is to take a deep breath and find the best solution to these frustrating problems. The most frustrating part of these frustrations is trying to sort out what is typical kid behavior and what is something that needs to be worked on (ex: using words with other kids, following directions, clean up time, etc.) and/or addressed immediately.

I hate when I have to inform parents of a child's bad day. I know what it's like to get a bad report on my child and I, as a parent, feel horrible. I feel like their behavior is somehow all my fault, like I could have done something to prevent it. I can only imagine that's how my daycare parents feel as well. As a daycare provider, I also feel like I have failed when a child misbehaves. Am I doing something wrong? Did I handle a situation poorly? 9 times out of 10 it's just an off day or time for the child. It has absolutely nothing to do with the parents or myself, but it's easy to feel that way in those times.

I secretly love and hate when a child doesn't want to leave at pick up time. Being a parent myself, I know that stab of pain when your child doesn't want you. If my child were to cling to someone else and not want me, I'd be inclined to snatch my child away and send a slap that person's way. But as a daycare provider, it lets me know that the child does in fact like it here, likes me, and feels comfortable enough to stay here. I feel the love and then I hate it because I know how the parent must be feeling as well.

I've had to explain lots of bruises, head bumps, scrapes, scratches, bites, and more to parents.....and I feel horrible every time. Most of these happen when I'm just out of arms reach to stop the impending fall or fight or pile up. I still hate explaining to the parent(s) what happened because I always feel horrible I wasn't right there. That being said, I have two boys  and a rough and tumble girl of my own. I know how rough kids can be. I have seen the kids come inside from a morning running in the backyard and have bruises up and down their legs. I have seen a child sit on a Little People toy and get a bruise on their butt (through their diaper). Nothing alarms me anymore.

I hold my breath every time a child sneezes (not really, because hello! I have three kids. But for the sake of storytelling, I do in fact hold my breath). A single sneeze can mean a daycare wide epidemic of the latest virus or strep or croup......and it's always a blast telling parents when their child has been exposed to such crap. It also doubly sucks because I can expect to disinfect three times my normal amount since I'm inviting the germs into our house, onto our couches, toys, and surfaces.

I get beyond excited about the children's accomplishments. I love nothing more when the parent's and I have the same goal(s) for the child. I know that they're at home working on the same things I am during the day. I get close to tears when I see or hear a child put to use something we've been working on. It can be as simple as putting to use a lesson we've been reading about, remembering something simple that I've been teaching the kids about, or remembering the rules and routines all on their own. I've gotten tears in my eyes and hugged a child when they've finally gotten something (and they look at me as if I'm a nut). It's the best feeling of accomplishment I've ever experienced.

I end most of my days feeling like Hitler. I feel like I spend so much time "remember this rule, remember that rule, no that's not okay, let's talk about it, that is not how you behave" and so on. Sure, I do positive reinforcement as much as I can (ex: "good job for remembering your please and thank you!"), but I still feel like 80% of my day is spent enforcing the rules and routines. I've tried running things with fewer rules and more than chaos ensued. All of our rules and routines serve a purpose for each and every kid and I know it's my job to reinforce them. However, feeling like Hitler is so worth it when I hear the kids reminding each other of the rules. Again, that feeling of accomplishment hits me.

Baby-kids are the hardest to deal with. This is the term my daycare provider friends and I use to describe the four year old that's treated like a one year old. Those who have their parents full attention every hour of every day, who have no idea how to play on their own or must be shown how to play. They lack all creativity and imagination. They expect to be catered too and have no idea how to handle it when I inform them they "must wait their turn." They are also the furthest behind socially and behaviorally. They make it known that they need a lot of attention and help with things they could (and should) be doing on their own. I've had to work my way around to find suitable answers to "isn't my picture more special than everybody else's?!!?" without sounding like a b*tch. I can't begin to tell you what it's like to have one kid think they are far "more special" than the rest of the kids, how clearly terrible it makes the other kids feel, and what problems in causes with the group.

Yes, my patience is tested every day, but it's always my own kids that test my patience more than other people's children. Go figure, the kids I get to hand over at the end of the day are the easiest.

It's amazing how many brain cells I lose (my friends tell me poop consistency is not an okay dinner topic) and how I have lost the ability to dress up. I have a pang of jealousy when I see mom's drop off their children in actual clothes and wearing make up......I showered and threw back on my pj pants because they'll be covered in paint by 9 a.m. I find myself in a kid world everyday, not the real world. I can no longer talk world news and have very few opinions on any matters going on in the world because I'm ill informed. Not because I don't want to be, but because CNN is not an appropriate channel for toddlers.

There are many days when the last kid leaves and I crumple on my couch from exhaustion while my kids run circles around me. There are many days that I wonder what the kids will be telling their parents about our day (my favorite one: I once had a little girl tell her parents I took them to a bar after naps). There are some days I wish there was a re-do button. There are other days that I wish wouldn't end. There are days that I pray things will be better than the day before. There are days when I have a beer waiting at the front of my refrigerator for the moment my kids go to bed. My patience, creativity, negotiating skills, physical, and mental abilities are put to the test every single day. As I always say when I have people gasp at what I do for a living, the benefits are far greater than anything else. I just take the time to find the humor in everything I can, to cry when I need to, laugh when there's nothing else to do, take deep breaths when there's too much to do, and remember not to scream my head off.

Dealing with kids is the hardest yet most rewarding work there is. I wouldn't trade this crazy experience for anything.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day At The Pumpkin Patch

We took some time out this weekend to go to Howell's pumpkin patch and tree farm in Cumming, IA. I really like this pumpkin patch, friendly and helpful people working there, and the activities they have for kids of all ages. I found an awesome deal on Groupon (check it out, I believe it is still available) for admission for 4 people for only $19 (it's typically $8 a person). We more than got our money's worth after spending 3+ hours riding ponies, shooting corn, playing on hay bales, pedaling tractors, getting lost in a corn maze, and of course, picking out our pumpkins. Our day was full of fun, a few bug bites, and tired minis afterward!

We made apple cider donuts to go along with our Pumpkin Patch Family Fun Day. They were delicious!

The boys loved taking turns shooting corn!

The corn pool is always a hit. The boys took turns burying each other in the corn.
Playing in Kiddieland. There were things to ride, rubber duck races, Make Mud Pies area (complete with a wooden kitchen to "bake" the pies), hay bales to climb, a giant slide, and more.

Elizabeth loved the little pedal tractors. Max was too big and used the tractor track to run laps instead.

Despite looking from above to check out the corn maze before we entered, we still got lost for a bit.

I had planned on not getting any pumpkins from the pumpkin patch because I didn't want them to rot before we could carve them for Halloween. Naturally, the minis talked me into not one, but three pumpkins.
At the pumpkin wash.
My favorite part of the day happened as we were leaving. Notice Harrison is holding a small pumpkin and a nearly empty water bottle. Meanwhile, Max carried the cameras and a water bottle. I was holding Elizabeth and 2 water bottles and the Hubs was carrying 30 lbs. of pumpkins. Harrison asked me to carry his water too and I said no. He then turned to us, angry, and said "you can't expect me to carry everything for you guys!"
Hubs being a pumpkin carrying trooper.

Last year we had a not so great experience at another local pumpkin patch, so I was thrilled to go back to this trustworthy pumpkin patch. The last time we were at Howell's (which was three years ago) I didn't think there were a lot of younger kid/toddler aged activities, however (I believe) they have added a number of things that made me change my mind. This pumpkin patch is great for kids of all ages and has just the right amount of activities that those with young kids don't feel overwhelmed (which was a big issue for us at the pumpkin patch we went to last year). I was also happy that all of the activities were decently spaced out and there weren't long lines for anything. There's also several tractors running out to the pumpkin patch, making it so there's very little to no wait times for pumpkin picking.

We do plan on visiting another traditional pumpkin patch later in October without all of the money sucking activities. Last year's bad pumpkin patch experience left me not wanting to go to another pumpkin patch again. However, Howell's excellent Groupon deal and great visit made me change my tune on pumpkin patches. Not only were we pleased as paying parents, the kids loved our visit to Howell's as well. If I get another great deal in the future, we will definitely be going back.

Have you visited a pumpkin patch yet? Which one is your favorite? Please do share so I can put it on my list to try out on of these years!
Proud to be an Iowa girl!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Week In Review: September - September 26

We got started on our Halloween themes and activities this week, worked on using our words with our friends (there were LOTS of talks about what to do and what not to do when playing with friends), and continued working on inside and outside voices. Take a look at our daycare week:

I made these mandarin orange cups into a Halloween snack. I saw this idea on Pinterest, but instead of drawing the pumpkin face on the top, I drew it on the sides so the kids could see it while they ate their oranges. They loved their "pumpkin oranges!"
Music Monday! The kids experimented with all of the instruments we have in the house and were taught how to use them properly (many times they attempt to play the maracas on the drum, bang the guitar on the floor, etc.). They did a great job and explored all of the instruments for nearly an hour before we moved on to singing Halloween songs.
Egg shakers.
Their favorite Halloween song we sang: "One little two little three little pumpkins..." We also sang this song with witches and ghosts.
We added our Fall and Halloween books into our reading mix. To see what we've been reading lately, check here: http://ashlen-kidspert.blogspot.com/2014/09/what-were-reading.html
The kids decorated a puppet theater. This was quite the messy activity as they not only painted the box, but the walls, floors, table, and each other as well.
First sick days of the school year for Mr. Harrison. He spent a couple of days at home and with mom and the daycare kids, resting, reading books, watching movies, and drinking orange juice. He was ready to get back to school by the middle of the week!
His first sick day, he took such a long nap that bedtime was a challenge (that's putting it lightly). Little sister didn't help things when she refused to go to bed "cuz H isn't!" Instead, they took apart a doll pack n play and pretended they were in a marching band. I sat on the couch in an exhausted daze while they did this.
Leaf prints. The little kids had a hard time figuring out how to hold the crayon, so I had to help them quite a bit with this activity. The kids were really excited when they saw the leaves appear on their papers.
Apple slime (1 bottle of school glue, 1 cup of liquid starch, red food coloring, and apple pie spice). Our Baskin Robbins containers from this summer are getting some use as storage for the fall slime.
Of course my kids had to get utensils involved in their slime playing.
The kids made ghosts from toilet paper rolls. Find out how to make them here: http://ashlen-kidspert.blogspot.com/2014/09/toilet-paper-roll-ghosts.html
The Duplos got their own corner with the boy's Lego table. The Lego table was in their bedroom (away from the daycare kids) but it had become a place for their Ninja Turtle figurines to hangout and their Lego's all over the floor. I asked the boys to clean up, they didn't listen, so the Lego table became daycare property. Despite lots of Lego use and some misuse, the Lego table is still in good shape after six months. Find out how to make your own Lego table here: http://ashlen-kidspert.blogspot.com/2014/03/make-your-own-lego-table.html
This is the state I find my role of toilet paper in after my two year old uses the toilet during the day. We're working on how much toilet paper is appropriate to use.
A fall snack: apples and Apple Jacks.
The kids decorated cut out fall leaves with Dot markers. The kids all love using these markers, especially the new glitter ones.

Decorating their ghost puppets. After they colored on their bags, they had me draw faces for the ghosts. I asked them how their ghosts were feeling: happy, scary, sad, or mad. All of the kids said their ghosts were feeling happy.
The puppet theater finally dried from the gobs of paint put on and the kids performed a puppet show. There was some issues about what was happening with the puppets: were they going to the store? To school? The kids couldn't agree on a scenario so the "show" didn't last long.

The kids made party hats for their pizza party lunch.
I picked up scented markers by Crayola from Michael's (on clearance for only .15 cents a piece) and the kids used them to color more leaves (they cannot wait for our nature walk around the neighborhood to collect colorful leaves). Scented markers are the only kind of markers the kids will now use.

The kids decorated Halloween cupcakes.

There is a cupcake somewhere under all of that frosting and all of those sprinkles. The cupcake was actually frosted to the table.
Beautifully decorated!
The first day with the new Duplo corner, the kids weren't sure about it. They tried to take the glued on Lego plates off of the Lego table top (and became upset that they couldn't remove them), tried to attach the extra Lego plates to the other Lego plates (and became upset that they wouldn't stick together), and dumped all of the Lego's into one huge pile....and then walked away without building anything.
It took a few days to establish "Lego rules and procedures" (yes, this is a real thing I had to come up with) but the kiddos are getting the hang of playing with the Duplo's in the Duplo corner and the appropriate way to play. This is another one of those things I never thought I'd have to make rules for!
The kids LOVED playing with Pumpkin Snow. Learn how to make yours here: http://ashlen-kidspert.blogspot.com/2014/09/pumpkin-snow.html
Stickers make all of the kids happy.
The new Halloween sensory bin.
Finally some outside time in the muddy backyard! The boys had quite the fun, messy time digging in the dirt.
Fizzy pumpkins are always a hit. Mix baking soda, water, and orange food coloring (also how you make the pumpkin snow). Use cookie cutters to shape into pumpkin shapes. I dyed vinegar orange and then had the kids use small medicine cups to pour it onto their pumpkin.

Of course they had to play with the mess afterwards.

Next week we'll continue with our Fall and Halloween crafts, more apple painting, reading our new books, and we'll be learning how pumpkins grow, which will lead us into the following week's activities: all things pumpkin!