Tag Archives: Careers

Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

A Matter of Money – Centre or Home

I think one of the greatest things about childcare is that no two programs/facilities are exactly the same – and that is perfect because no two children are the same either. Some children thrive in a centre environment while others need the smaller, more familiar setting that a family childcare home can offer. The same is true for Early Childhood Educators. It is the variety of childcare environments that gives ECE’s the opportunity to choose the one that is the best fit for them to work in.

In my last post I described family childcare as my ‘calling’ – there is no other job I would rather have regardless of the income and this includes centre based childcare. Just because I think family childcare is the best place for me does not mean I think it is the best form of childcare for every ECE.

My daughter was 12 years old when I first opened my childcare home. She was actively involved in all our activities and couldn’t wait to turn 18 and be able to sub for me. After graduating high school she went on to earn her ECE II diploma and went to work in a centre. She made many financial sacrifices to save enough money from her limited income to buy her own home. Most people assumed she was planning to switch to family childcare. However, when asked about it she was adamant – “NO! She would never, EVER work in family childcare.”

She is now an ECE III working full time in a centre specializing in infant care. I am an ECE II operating a licensed family childcare home We’ve shared many stories and had many conversations about the similarities and differences between our respective careers. Our annual incomes before taxes are almost identical – when mine is calculated at its maximum. There are numerous factors that cause family childcare income to fluctuate – some I will mention later in this post. Family childcare expenses will be covered in a separate post.

We also cannot compare our after tax income because there are so many variables such as number of dependents and total family income that affect the amount we pay for taxes. So, for the moment I’m just going to say that our incomes are both about the same at $32,000 annually before taxes.

So, let’s compare hours next. My childcare home is open Mon-Fri from 6:30 am until 5:30 pm so I spend 55 hours per week with the children without any breaks. Working in a centre I wouldn’t work that many hours so, at the same annual income if you were to count only the hours we spend with the children my hourly wage as a family childcare would be much lower than my daughter working in a centre.

However, working in a centre also requires traveling time and expenses to get to and from work. If you count the time from when my daughter leaves her house to go to work until she arrives back home after then her work day is equal to mine too. I consider the ‘no commute time/expense’ a perk of working in family childcare that is an acceptable trade-off for spending more time with the children.

I also spend about 14 additional hours per week cleaning, doing paperwork, planning activities, and meeting with parents etc when the children are not here. Technically these are all unpaid hours and some of these duties would not be required by an ECE in a centre. Some of them are required and the centre ECE has to get them done sometime during their regular workday. There are a lot of things I could probably do when the children are here but I choose to do after hours because it is easier. To a certain extent how much time I spend ‘working’ is my choice and breaking down family childcare income to an hourly wage is impossible.

I feel the additional hours of work a family childcare puts in is an acceptable trade-off for the amount of control we over our program and environment. I’ve toured many childcare centres where just walking through the rooms makes me shudder and I can’t imagine having to work there. There are centres that I think are fabulous and they have philosophies and programming that I believe in – but they also have other staff members. Many family childcare providers quite willingly label ourselves as ‘Does not work well with others’. It is not that we don’t get along with other people but rather that we have difficulty sharing responsibility. We would prefer to just do it all, our way, by ourselves – that’s why we chose family childcare.

However, there are some definite downsides for an ECE working in family childcare – fluctuating income has to top the list. Remember, my maximum annual income was about the same as that of an ECE working in a centre – but not all providers have eight filled spaces all the time so there are many factors that make my income drop below maximum. If you have difficulty setting and sticking to a budget or are relying solely on one income family childcare may not be a good career option.

Many family childcare providers cannot or will not fill their school-age spaces – there is little financial incentive to do this. The additional expenses, supplies and work required for school-age care are so high that many providers find it is not practical even if they live in an area where there is a demand for school-age care. Considering only the five preschool spaces a family childcare provider has – if all the children in care are over two years old then the provider’s income is more than $600 per month lower than maximum. That puts a family childcare provider’s income significantly lower than that of an ECE working in a centre.

Becoming a licensed family childcare provider is often touted as being a great way to work AND stay at home with your own children but I might really disagree with that view. If your family childcare income is your family’s main or only income it definitely does not make sense to choose FCC over working in a centre. Your own children use up childcare spaces lowering your income from both parent fees and operating grant – essentially costing you more than if you worked outside your home and paid to put your children in childcare. An ECE working in a centre would still receive their full salary and if that was their only income they would probably qualify for a subsidy significantly lowering their costs for childcare.

So yes, there are some big differences between working in family childcare vs. working in a childcare centre but it is all about choices. There are pros and cons to both – you just have to decide which trade-offs you are willing to make. My next post is going to deal more specifically with the financial side of family childcare so, stay tuned….