When I first went back to work as an educator running a registered child care service from home I knew it was going to be a tough transition after I had been fortunate enough to spend the first few years at home after their birth with just my twins. And I was right. It has been. It still is and I continue to try new strategies every day to ensure I'm not going to regret my decision!
Here's how a typical day in the life of educator & Mum looks like for me….
Up for a cuppa before everyone else in the family descends upon me. Get dressed.
6.00 -6.30 Put the dog down in his fenced ‘day yard' away from the day care kids which is actually still a huge area don't worry!
6.30-7.00 Greet first day care child.
Outside Play, greet parents.
Main lounge play area and verandah play area now closed.
Children leave, Service closes doors. Empty rubbish bins, finish packing up outside.
Quick vacumn of play areas and bathroom. Mop if needed. Final tidy of toys and sign in area.
If my girls are at preschool that day I go now to pick them up.5.00-6.00
Get dinner on for my family (if I didn't start it at rest time)
Bring in washing and dump in bedroom out of sight to fold and put away later
Bath and dress my twins ready for bed.
Feed dog – ideally also walk but doesn't happen everyday in reality.6.00-6.30Dinner with the girls, Daddy often not home yet so I often wait until later, we eat as a family on weekends though.
Bedtime routine…cup milk, clean teeth, stories
Get girls into bed and lights out….and in a perfect world all would now be silent although it doesn't happen often!
Wash any mouthed toys, quick wipe over of others.
Think about your service setup
Think carefully about setting up the entry/sign in area for your service before you begin. Can you find a space that doesn't mean parents will be walking through your whole house every morning and afternoon? If not can you work on making something more suitable.
I have been able to use my side gate which enters into my backyard and then up to the back verandah where I have my sign in area. It involved a little extra expense and outlay this way but it saves me so much time and allows my own family more privacy when they are here so it was well worth it.
I know It is extra effort to start with but it will really pay off when you have people arriving morning and night. It doesn't need to be a desk or fancy space, something portable will work well too!
Remember It's Your Business
Learn to be assertive, you might love children but you also have to be confident to run your business the way you need to.
Be clear in your parent interviews and as issues arrive deal with them, don't let things fester and become a major stress for you or the parent.
Fees need to be paid on time, sick children need to be sent home, lunches provided need to be suitable and children need to be picked up and dropped off on time….not earlier or later.
Start as you mean to go on in your service. Clear written expectations and requirements of your service will go a long way toward ensuring you don't feel taken advantage off or powerless in your own business. Don't try to be everyone's friend.
You can be assertive without being rude, it can be scary at first but it is an essential part of being a home educator.
Rhythm and Routine
Just because you have a routine doesn't mean you can't be flexible….the key is being able to achieve the things you need to but also being able to incorporate something more or less according to how you and the children are feeling that day.
If you have a regular rest time explain to parents you would prefer children aren't dropped off or picked up during this timeframe unless absolutely necessary. I have a sign that goes on my front door to let visitors/couriers know that children are sleeping so to please be considerate and knock quietly. It works too!
If you do a school run or regular outing then make sure you are clear that children need to be dropped off before a certain time or the parent will have to wait or come find you.
Routine and rhythm….it's there for a reason, it will make your life easier so ensure you communicate it to your families in care as well as your own family. Make a visual chart to display or send details home in a newsletter for those parents who are too rushed to read things during drop off/pick up times.
Money v Sanity
Money is good (and necessary obviously) but not at the expense of your family or own health and sanity. Your children and loved ones are important too and remember that they are sharing your time and their house!
I have seen a lot of educators burn out quickly over the years because they try to offer to much….transport, food, early opening, late closing, night work, weekend work. Yes you can earn a lot this way and I know many are trying to maintain a flexible service for parents and also compete with long day care centres but I firmly believe you really need to consider whether long hours and the extra out of hours work is really going to be worth the money in the end.
Don't let yourself be taken advantage of or fall into the trap of thinking you can't cut back your hours or drop a day once you are open.You can say no to parents or advise you need to alter their hours due to family commitments.
Like all good businesses you need to constantly evaluate the service you can offer and what ultimately works for you as the service provider….not what you think everyone else needs.
Love your Zones
No not those zones people, I'm talking about the child friendly zones and spaces within your home!
I use my home for child care but have broken it up into 3 main ‘zones'. I have the lounge room which is the main play area, the dining/kitchen area and then the back verandah/sign in area.
At certain times of the day I close off particular zones to help me cut down on the amount of time I am tidying and cleaning when the children have left for the day. I have the door to the lounge area closed until around 7.30/8am otherwise the early kids have played with everything before the later children even arrive. In the afternoons I tidy this area with the children after rest time and then close it off as we head to nappy changes and afternoon tea.
As we finish afternoon tea we head to the verandah area to pack our bags, get shoes and hats on and then off for a play outside. As they play I pack away the verandah area and then pull a little gate across that signals this area is now closed for the day. I also close the door to the dining area (which comes off the verandah) so that just leaves my sign in area, toilet/nappy change area and the backyard for play until pickup time.
Obviously everyone will have a different setup and core hours so this may not work for you but if you can do something similar it is so worth it! I came up with this strategy about 6 months ago after getting down about how much time I was having to spend packing up after the kids left. It also works well for stopping siblings pulling everything back out at pick up time! When a door or gate is closed at my place….it's closed!
Even if you can just make one zone you are able to shut off in the afternoon that might save you some time. I must say this system works better on the days my own girls aren't in care with me 😉
If you would like some ideas on setting up areas in your home for day care or just play you might find the post below helpful….
There are things you will do each afternoon or morning before care starts but don't go overboard. I don't mop everyday, I live in a home not a sterile environment. I sweep after meal times and then give the carpets and floors a quick once over with the vacumn each afternoon if I think it needs it…not just because ‘I probably should'. I keep a spray bottle in the bathroom and give the surfaces a quick wipe over using spray with paper towel, takes 2 minutes and is all that is required. There is no need to disinfect the life out of everything.
One day out of the week I give the toilet/bathrooms a thorough clean. On another day I might dust, on another I do the windows, on another it's the shelves, on another its the blocks and large toys….you get the picture.
I don't wash bedding everyday. I have enough sheets, blankets and pillows forall the children in my care and I peg a name card to them so I can reuse if they come a few days in the week.
It's part of my routine to do a couple of cleaning jobs each afternoon or morning but by doing little often it doesn't seem so overwhelming!
I choose to have a large outdoor area so unfortunately weekends are often spent mowing, rearranging and gardening but I usually like this part…well mostly…well it's better than the cleaning inside anyway 😉
I do a lot of parent communication but I don't waste time printing and handing things out. I spend 10 minutes at the end of the day or night and email through to parents.
I also email invoices, receipts and other paperwork so that they can complete anything that needs signing before the next care day. Saves me organising it all when they arrive and the kids want my attention!
I also encourage communication after hours by email or at night I have my answering machine on and they always know to leave a message. I only call back if it is urgent or regarding care for the next day. I don't need to be on call at all times and neither do you!
If you want to see some of my ideas for parent communication you can click on the photo below for a post with more information.
Make Packing up Easy
Keep your house a home
If you use your house for home day care and don't have a separate space then I suggest trying to keep your house a home as much as you can even though you have lots of toys and other child related resources that have to take up space.
You can read some of my tips for doing this in the post below….just click on the photo.
Find a Programming & Paperwork Rhythm
Yes, you knew I was going to get to programming and paperwork…thought I would save this little heartache till last.
Please don't let your programming take over your nights and weekends, a little is inevitable but organisation and a clear system of a little each day will help.
If you don't have the time to do portfolios then don't. I don't. Just find other ways to display your ‘evidence' that work for you. You are in charge of your time management not your parents, the scheme or coordinators. Yes you have obligations and paperwork that needs to be completed but are you doing what you think you need to do or what you actually have to do?
If what you are doing now is causing you to be constantly in front of the computer or pen in hand then it isn't the right system for you. Try and combine a few of the paperwork ‘must haves'. My “What We Did Today” parent communication sheet summarises the activities and learning outcomes from the day as well as offering some space for the children's voice, daily reflection and future planning for this group. Although I email these to parents I print one as I finish and keep them in a folder for linking to when I program. Might be next week or next month, doesn't matter as long as I link to the date of that communication sheet. I have played around with it to make sure I can include as much as possible for the least amount of time. They take me around 15 minutes now at rest time or after the children leave.
I also take lots of photos through the day and load them into folders I keep on the computer for each child. They are ready for when I get a moment here or there to write up some observation collages or more formal running record type observations. I don't do big learning stories or portfolios. I don't find a need. I do what works for me and I still cover regulations and requirements. Find your own voice. I like to use the computer and take photos a lot so that's what I do.
My newsletters always include photos of our month and voices of the children as I include some funny moments. I talk about the programming focus for the next month and why we are working towards those outcomes.
In my brief observations, my parent communication and my daily and weekly reflections I incorporate the words and vision of the EYLF document so coordinators and assessors can easily see clear connections to EYLF outcomes through my planning and the language used but parents can also understand what I am talking about! I don't find a need to tick lots of little boxes that tell people I am incorporating the core principles of the EYLF….the people who need to see this should be skilled enough to see it from the activities planned, photos displayed and my environment and resources…not through boxes ticked and outcome numbers displayed. If they can't then I would ask why not?
I don't wander round with a pen and notebook in my hand to catch an observation because I need one that week…I'm too busy engaging and interacting with the children. I take a few photos as we play, store them in the child's computer folder and come back to them when I have a few minutes at rest time or on the weekend. I don't have a class of 30 children so I remember the special moments a few days or week later. I don't document everything….just those moments that stand out and show me how to support that child to continue to move forward. Some weeks I might do 3, other weeks I will do none. It all comes together in the end and I always have my daily reflection/parent communication sheets to use for program linking for the fortnight if I haven't yet completed a formal observation.
I could go on all day about this subject as I hate seeing educators burning themselves out with the paperwork involved! But for more tips and ideas about programming without stress you might like to visit the blog posts below.
In regards to all the inevitable paperwork that comes with running your own business the only thing I can say is embrace your computer and stay on top of things by being organised. If you let it slide it will all come crashing down on your shoulders!
I use Harmony for educators because I don't want to work out all the accounting and fees (and um, i am useless at maths frankly)…I highly recommend using some sort of accounting software or educator focused system.
I also use it for timesheets, invoices and receipts and I do these fortnightly then email out. It takes me around an hour on a weekend but it's only once a fortnight and then I know I am ready for the fortnight ahead. I also keep tabs on what the parents have paid (as mine all do direct deposit) and write it into their sign in folders (on a form glued to folder inside cover) so it isn't hard to keep track of when it comes time to confirm rebates and benefits with a payment advice and then write a receipt.
I have a folder with all administration forms used by my scheme ready to go with a few copies of each behind the template form. I also have folders set up on the computer with all forms so that I can quickly find and print when I need something. Saves a lot of time!
For new enquiries I always have a PDF of my parent information pack ready to email out. I also have a number of enrolment packs in folders ready for new parents as well.
Receipts for my resources purchased throughout the year are immediately scanned onto the computer and then entered into my accounting section in Harmony.
Oh no…sorry…that's what I wished was happening ! I planned to do this but it didn't happen and now I am spending a lot of time entering receipts from the entire year before tax time. Just wanted you to know I am definitely not a master at this paperwork thing!! My lesson has been learnt!
This has turned into another mammoth post so I hope at least some of it was helpful and gets you feeling a little less stressed…or at least knowing you are not alone out there!
Perhaps you need a laugh now after all that serious stuff …click on the picture below and tell me I'm not the only one!!!!