By Cindy Clark
If you would have told me three years ago that I would be staying home and running my own daycare, I would have said you were nuts. I had a great job, my career was on the climb, and I figured I'd be a "lifer" after already working for 16 years. But the job environment was on the decline and I was pregnant with my third child. Deciding to stay home and do daycare was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I knew I wanted to be home, but mostly I was worried about making enough money and what I would do all day. Plus everyone I knew "worked".
Daycare seemed the obvious choice for me because I wanted to be home with my kids and I figured what's a couple more? Plus I wasn't aware of many other things you could do from home. I teach piano lessons, but figured that wasn't a steady income.
But could I afford to quit? The answer was a surprising yes. I would be saving on commuting expenses, business clothes, lunches out, office donations, fast food for supper, and daycare expenses. Not to mention that we would be in a lower tax bracket. There are many tax benefits to doing daycare; things which you pay for already and can claim a percentage of for your business. Utilities, light bulbs, toys, cleaning supplies, mileage, and the list goes on.
Our other concern was insurance. Not only insurance for the daycare, but health insurance for the family. I have found that being a member of the Child Care Association in our state allows me to purchase insurance for daycare at much lower rates. It's well worth the $20/year membership fee (which is a tax write-off). Currently, I am not aware of any benefits that daycare providers receive, making it costly for some single people that do daycare to purchase their own health insurance. Our local legislator has some ideas in the works to provide benefits for home daycare providers, and I'm anxiously waiting to see what happens. Luckily, my family is covered under my husband's insurance.
By the time I put in my notice and was ready to quit, I was prepared. Knowing there was more to being a good daycare provider than "just babysitting some kids," I took evening classes at the Center for Childcare Resources. They offered help on setting up your daycare and thinking of it as your business, communicating effectively with parents, listing resources to turn to for craft ideas, ages and stages of children, how to be your own boss, and how to stay happy in a somewhat isolating business. I chose to be ChildNet certified, which meant that I voluntarily took a series of classes above and beyond what was expected so that I could feel that I had the best daycare I could provide.
With these things settled, the last decision was whether or not to be licensed. Our state does not require you to be licensed. Being licensed allows you to be on the Food Program, which reimburses you a certain amount for snacks and meals. But you have to follow their guidelines on what to feed the kids and are subject to announced and unannounced visits. Being licensed also allows you to take only a certain number of children at a time. Here again you are subject to a background check and visits from the Department of Human Services. The DHS also sends out a list of registered daycare providers, which is a great help in getting clients. Being licensed meant I could be a member of our Center for Child Care Resources, which had a lending library of toys and equipment.
Not being licensed still meant that you were supposed to take only a certain number of children, but if they didn't know you existed you could take as many children as you wanted. Not being licensed meant you could serve whatever you wanted for lunch without worrying about nutritional guidelines. Not being licensed meant no visits from the DHS or Food Program.
Not being licensed seemed like more freedom, but I chose to be licensed for the simple fact that there were more resources available and it seemed you had more credibility with parents. I don't mind the visits from the various programs. They all hand out new information, keep you up-to-date on daycare happenings, give you support by being a member of the various associations, and offer training.
Start-up costs were minimal because I already had three children of my own, so I already had a crib, high chair, pack-n-play, and toys. My home was already babyproofed. I just had to decide which rooms would be daycare areas and which would be off limits. I decided the kids' rooms would be off-limits so they could have a place of their own to be alone if they chose. Having extra kids to play with is fun at times, but sometimes they need their ownspace.
What would I do all day? Well, I knew that in addition to watching children, I had hoped to do laundry, have supper ready, have a cleaner house, etc. I also wanted to do things that I enjoyed. After all, I was quitting work to be my own boss and do my own thing. I love doing crafts so I decided to incorporate that into my daycare. We have a theme a week and do related crafts in the morning. I love to read, so I read to the kids and we go to the library once a week for storytime. I love being outdoors, so we spend lots of time gardening, raking, playing, and walking to the park in the nice weather. But realize that just like any other business, there will be good days and not so good days. The days I had planned to get a lot done around the house, I spent rocking a sick baby or breaking up quarrels. The days I had planned to just sit and do crafts with the kids, they'd rather watch tv or play a game. But most days we mesh, and with a pretty strict routine on my part (I don't have a set routine for the kids), we get to play and I get some work done around the house. It's a happy medium.
Be firm when you discuss your daycare with potential parents. Having a written contract is essential. Some parents will try to get you to change something - whether it's your rates or a policy. Having a clear idea of your business, and having it written in a contract takes away a lot of the negotiating of things you don't want to negotiate on. I've learned the hard way that if you let too many parents tell you how to run your daycare or what you should charge, you end up compromising a lot more than you bargained for. These may be the same parents that view daycare as a "babysitting service" rather than a home business. But there are parents out there who truly do understand the value of a quality childcare business and the services you can provide.
Doing daycare is the best career decision I've made to this point. I'm looking forward to many happy years of being home and enjoying what I do. You just may want to try it yourself.