Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Childcare: A review

My daughter Mel (I feel she's old enough to have graduated from Melly) has experienced pretty much every kind of daycare environment. We've done it all and here are the fruits of my wisdom:


We found ours on craigslist (I know!) about 2-3 weeks before I had to go back to work after having Mel. I loved her. She cleaned, she was loving, and she didn't charge an arm and a leg (although some do.... the first nanny we interviewed, who had no references, wanted to charge $22/hour). Since we didn't have any other kids in daycare, we were able to shield Mel from germs for most of her first year of life. The nanny prepared all the bottles, and washed them after using them. She cleaned our house, which probably saved our marriage.

The big con is that when you have a nanny, you're at the mercy of her life. Our nanny couldn't work later than 5. Some nannies call in sick a lot. If she suddenly quit, we would have been screwed.

Family Home:

We switched to a family home when Mel was a year old because we needed longer hours than our nanny could provide. A family home is a very small daycare in someone's house, which is (should be) certified. Unlike larger daycares, there are much fewer kids (obviously), they are cheaper, and all the ones I called had no waiting list.

The family home we used had six kids aged two and under, and two adults. Mostly the kids played in a small room and there was a little playground in their backyard. I felt Mel was safe there and although she didn't get as much individual attention, she was older now and the socialization was more important, I thought. Kids who don't start daycare till three years or older seem to adjust poorly, in my experience.

I thought this was an absolutely perfect environment for a one year old baby, aside from the fact that she was sick almost continuously the first three months at the daycare. And so was I. The other con was that the hours were shorter than a large daycare (8:30AM to 6PM) and they closed for two weeks over the winter holidays. If my husband's hours weren't so flexible, we couldn't have managed it.

Small daycare:

After Mel outgrew the family home (and we moved), she went to a small local daycare with about 16 kids ranging from babies to age 4. I liked the closer-knit environment and the fact that I knew the name of every single child in the daycare.

There were several cons to the small daycare. First, the hours were again fairly short (8 to 5:30). Second, we had to prepare all of Mel's lunches (mostly mac and cheese). Third, we were at the mercy of the owner's personal life.... she closed down for three weeks every summer to take a vacation, leaving me to scramble for alternate childcare.

I had mixed feelings about the environment of babies along with older kids. It was nice for Mel, who likes babies. But for the babies, I worried about their safety when exposed to toddlers. And of course, there's tremendous potential for germs.

Large daycare for an older kid:

A year ago, Mel started a large daycare, run by a faceless company. OK, something about the fact that the teachers are constantly holding a large checklist of all the kids doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy, but there are definitely benefits to the large daycare. The hours are fantastic... occasionally, I've felt a bit of time pressure, but honestly, it would be pretty bad if I couldn't get to my kids by 6:30 every evening. They pretty much never close, even for blizzards. They provide lunches devised by a nutritionist. And Mel seems to really love it there. For an older kid, it's not even that expensive.

A few months ago, they started her in a kindergarten-type class of ten kids and one teacher, and it's been great for her. Yesterday, she recited The Pledge of Alloogin for me:

"I pledge alloogin to the flag, and to the 'public, al Obama and Erica."

(Sorry, I had to, it was too cute.)

Large daycare for a baby:

A month ago, we started Baby Lem in the same daycare that Mel attends. It's expensive for a baby, and I had my reservations, to be honest. I wanted her to have the same individual attention that Mel had as a baby. Also, I have to label and prepare all her bottles every morning at home and must bring home anything that is unused at the end of the day, which makes me feel like I'm running some kind of chemistry lab.

So far, I have not been unhappy though. Lem is kind of chill in personality, so she's tolerating the environment well. Also, because it's such a large daycare, they have a "baby room" with seven infants and two teachers, and she has her own assigned crib. They're very careful about hygiene: they use plastic gloves when they change diapers, and they don't allow shoes (or toddlers) in the baby room. Every time I come to pick her up, Lem is being held, and there have been only a few times that I've found her crying unattended. And now that we have two kids, I know it's impossible to shield her from germs. I'm not sure if I would have chosen them if Mel wasn't already going there, but I don't feel like it's a bad choice.

So that, in a nutshell, is our experience with childcare. Questions, comments?


  1. Fizzy you are so lucky with all in one child care center. Its so huge when you can take two kids in one place every morning. Congratulate yourself. And second kids are much calmer and seem to tolerate more than firstborns. I loved your comment on nany saving your marirage. So true, I hade live-ins for 7 years. Though you truly are at their mercy ( I don't mean just their own schedule, but personality!), they are a wonderful backup for when your job goes to hell, or husband is out of town. Kudos, you are doing it. Do not regret being a working mom. I hear it is worth it in the end. Many SAHM's I hear loose sense of purporse when the nest is empty. Plus, we get fabulous vacations, and can afford out kids great educational opportunities.

  2. Thanks for this run down! I'm pregnant with #2 right now and just thinking about how expensive it will be to have a 2yo and a baby in childcare makes me sick!

  3. Jen: I just wrote a $3000 check for "Daycare October" and it made me kind of ill.

  4. Just to add to the list, I know of families who have to be at work especially early or late, and so have hired additional childcare for morning pick ups and evening drop offs. One family has to schlep two kids to two different facilities because they are different ages, and they hired a live in au pair to do that for them.

    But boy you're right, it does get very expensive very quickly! Especially when there's more than one kid.

  5. OMDG: I never hired someone for that purpose, but my mom did for me when I was a kid.

    As painful as the expense is, the convenience is worth it. Next year, Mel will be old enough for public school, but we may stick with the daycare's kindergarten class.

  6. I'm both grateful and appalled that my older son is aging out of formal daycare (before and after school supervision -- he's almost 13) this next year. I'm grateful because I will feel like I'm getting a raise. Whatever supervision I'm able to find for him will be way, way less than the weekly hit I currently take. I'm appalled because I know my child, and leaving that boy unsupervised until I get home from work? Ain't happening. So I have to get a move on and find something new... arrrgh!

  7. To Amanda,
    Some middle schools have "critical hours" programs where in addition to homework (with help!) they do sports (football!). My then 13 year old loved it.

  8. I LOVE my son's daycare centre so much - but it comes with a price tag. Currently his monthly date care is more than our monthly mortgage. Ok, so they have yoga, french and organic lunches. But when I looked around its MAYBE $100 more per month then other places, plus it was the first one I had a call from the wait list from.

    Honestly I don't know how we'll be able to afford another one. Especially if I get into med school and we lose my income (which is currently more than what my husband makes)...

  9. I think I wrote a post earlier about how a daycare in my area was charging $2400 per month for a preschooler. That was crazy.

  10. Thanks for your rundown - it's really helpful! Did you mainly use Craigslist to find the family home too?

  11. Thank you, that's so helpful!! Do you or anyone else have any suggestions on how to find a *good* day care or family home? Our nanny is moving away in a few months, so we need to find something for our daughter; she'll be around 9 months then. I'm really nervous!!

  12. Both Anons: There was some website I found that provided a list of family homes and daycares in the area, but it was too long ago. Google maps and typing "daycare" with your area code might work too.

  13. Thanks for posting this! I am moving cities in a couple of weeks to start a new job and I've been struggling emotionally with the idea of finding childcare for my 7-month old son (this is the first time we're having to find child care for him since I've been on maternity leave). I think we're going to go the nanny route since I work ER shifts and my schedule is a bit all over the place. I'm glad to hear that you've had success with craigslist as I was thinking of starting there for my nanny search too. The problem, though, is that I keep having awful anxiety about leaving him with a stranger; part of my brain keeps telling me that I have no way of really knowing that my child is going to safe or happy with them. Does that feeling ever go away? :(


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