MOUNT VERNON — Tondi King starts her days off early. She gets herself and her two young children ready for the day, then welcomes youngsters and their parents as they arrive at her front door, as early as 7:30 in the morning. The little ones shrug off their coats, shed their shoes and wander towards the toy box in the living room.
King is a Type B child care provider, which means she runs a licensed care center from inside her home. The children’s’ day starts with free playtime and breakfast at nine o’clock. If the weather is nice, they head outside to ride tricycles or play in the sandbox. After that, there’s educational activities, lunch, more playtime, snacks and a brief nap.
During these non-stop days, King’s goal is to teach children with the skills they’ll need to succeed later.
“Quality child care is important because it’s a foundation that equips kids for their whole life. It sets the foundation for their ability to learn in school and be able to implement that in their adult life, carry a job and be an upstanding citizen,” said King.
Whether it’s in a large, public entity or a small, private home, providing child care is demanding work. Child care workers put in long hours of physical and emotional labor, but that hard work doesn’t translate into large earnings. Even as the demand for child care has gone up, wages remain low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly median wage for child care workers in Ohio was $10.01 as of May 2018, the most recent figures available.
King currently cares for five children under the age of 6, including two of her own. She’s open for business 50 hours a week, but that doesn’t include the time she spends cleaning up afterward, shopping for food and supplies, lesson planning and keeping up with ongoing licensing paperwork and training requirements.
“Typically as a daycare provider, you’re working fifty to sixty hours a week on your lighter weeks,” she said.
Studies have shown that quality child care can make a difference in the lives and school performance of children, especially those from low-income families.
“What research tells us is that poor quality childcare really doesn’t hurt upper middle class kids, because they already have enough in their life that takes care of their needs,” said Peg Tazewell, the executive director of Knox County Head Start. “But for low-income kids, poor quality care makes their lives and development worse. It worsens what are often already challenging circumstances.”
Child care providers often incorporate age-appropriate learning throughout the day.
Kelly Filippi, the director of Lit’le Lambs Learning Center, talks regularly with educators at Centerburg Elementary School to find out what her students will need to know to do well in kindergarten. Lit’le Lamb’s preschoolers receive instruction on age-appropriate topics like alphabet recognition and sounds, counting to twenty, identifying patterns and rhyming.
“This is an area of work that is never going to go away,” said Filippi. “It takes skilled, heart-filled people with patience, perseverance and perspective.”
King works with her children on similar skills.
“Reading doesn’t start with setting them down with a book and saying ‘Read this word.’ You have to be able to say a sound first,’” said King. “I have four-year-olds that can’t say a ‘TH’ sound, so I work with them…All of that stuff builds up to them being able to learn to read.”
She also gives mini science lessons. Last spring, her kids planted sunflower seeds. Now they visit the flowers in the back yard and King explains how the sun, the rain and the soil work together to nurture the seeds into towering sunflowers.
“Zero through three is one of the most extreme points of brain-building that a person has through their entire life,” said King. “It’s really critical how you develop that brain. You’re building a foundation their entire life.”
Good child care workers can also boost a child’s social skills by modeling loving, respectful interactions and encouraging the children to communicate verbally.
“One of the skills that I try to teach the children I have in my care is how to use their voice, how to tell someone that they don’t like what’s going on,” said King. “When I have a preschooler, I won’t do it for them unless they’re willing to use their words first. And I’ll coach them and tell them what those words are.”
King said the most rewarding part of being a child care provider is watching the children develop. This happens best when parents are also willing to work with their children at home.
“If parents are willing to work with me…I can see a lot of results from the efforts I put in with the kids, I’ll see growth and that’s very encouraging to me,” she said.