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How you structure the program for your center is a very important component of your center. Many daycare centers, especially those set up in the home have no real program - the children "just play" all day. The same toys are always available, but never presented in any way. Planning is essential to avoid boredom and to increase learning opportunities.
Your program - what you and the children do day by day - will be the key to your professional success and pleasure. If children are bored, not only are they missing developmental opportunities, but also they have more discipline problems and are more difficult to get along with. All will be happier if you have interesting activities that you and they look forward to daily.
Planning and Scheduling
Some providers like to follow a daily schedule, doing the same activities at approximately the same time every day. Others like to be more spontaneous, responding to everyone's moods and the opportunities that come along. If you like tight schedules, you may need to be more flexible because young children are spontaneous; they have their best moments without any warning. A good provider observes the children for activity ideas. Sometimes these activities require planning, sometimes they don't. Put your planning energy into setting up a rich environment where the children to come up with their own ideas. Everyday living will provide many of the activities. Learning to put on a jacket, spreading peanut butter on a cracker, playing peek-a-boo with a baby - these are important activities of life for young children. Ideally you should have a variety of activities on hand. Keep a list of possibilities to choose from when something is needed.
Watch the children's natural tendencies to help you plan an effective sequence for the day. If they are creative during the morning, that is a good time for learning (i.e., alphabets, numbers, art activities). If they tend to get rowdy after a snack, that is the time to go outside. If they are sleepy and cuddly after waking from their naps, reading stories might be a successful activity. If school-aged children resist structured activities when they arrive, they should be allowed some free-play time.
You will need to adjust your routines as new children bring different needs and personalities to the group. Each group of children is different. You can plan activities, but make sure you flow with children's natural tendencies rather than oppose them.
A good policy for planning is to alternate:
- active and quiet times
- structured and unstructured activities
- together times and private times
Be sure to inform parents what has happened during the day. If you follow a schedule, post it on a bulletin board, or include it in your parents' handbook. If you don't follow a schedule, you can list the various activities you have done. Parents are usually eager to find out what their children do during the day. Sharing what you do builds communication and helps parents recognize your efforts and respect your perceptions.
Your choice of activities will be influenced by the developmental levels of the children in your center. The idea behind the concept that children learn and play in different ways depends on:
- their experience and interest
- their ages
- their special needs
For example, one 2-year old might climb better than another 4-year old, or a younger child who has played with a material frequently will use it in more complex ways than an older child who has not had any experience with that material.
Provide many chances for children to make real choices and explore ideas or objects on their own. Young children learn by handling real-life materials. Allow enough time for each activity, so children don't feel pressured, but have time to see each activity to completion. Help children do what they are interested in, and offer materials and assistance in a way that helps them learn to help themselves. Your biggest task is to encourage children, to give them a sense of self-respect and accomplishment. They need room to try out and use their abilities. You can support them by encouraging their efforts (rather than praising their results) and providing them the opportunity and materials they need to develop in the ways they choose.
A good child-care provider watches individual children for signs of what activities appeal to them. Your challenge is to help all of them grow; to learn about themselves, others and the world; and to feel good about what they can do and who they are in this world. Curious confident children will continue to be eager learners and cooperative children.
Present learning activities and toys in a way to stimulate the children's interest and play activities. Children need structured and unstructured time for learning and experimenting activities. How you present an activity will vary by the children's development levels and the mood of the moment. Suppose you want to set up an art activity with discarded magazines, scissors, paste and paper. Older children may be able to select the pictures they want to use, cut them out and paste them on their paper without any help. You may be needed only to set up the materials. A younger child may need a lot of help learning how to use scissors and, in fact, the cutting may turn out to be the whole activity. Depending on the ages of the children, you may want to do an activity all together, with a small group or individually. Let the children know you value all of their work. Avoid activities to impress parents. As a professional, you will want to keep your program child-centered at all times. Explain to parents why it is important for children to invest themselves in their work.
You should specify to parents the kinds of meals and snacks you plan to provide for the children. It may be a good idea to post weekly or daily menus outlining the kinds of food to be served and the time of each meal or snack. Inform them of anything special in your nutrition program - tell them if you serve real fruit juices, or do not serve sweets. Most parents will be thrilled to find a caregiver who is so concerned about children's nutrition. Sometimes parents request special nutritional considerations for their child, such as no sugar or no milk products. Decide what will work best for you. Perhaps the parents will need to supply special meals if you cannot accommodate the request (for example, a vegetarian diet).
If you are licensed or registered, you are eligible for a substantial reimbursement for your child care food expenses. Visit the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) for more information.
Children's development depends not only on you as the caregiver, but also on the parents' involvement. Children feel more secure and develop into confident, well-rounded individuals when they know their loved-ones support them. Get the parents involved in the children's educational and recreational activities. For instance, plan a field trip to a local museum, and if possible, get some parents to agree to go on the trip with you, the staff and the children. The children will be thrilled knowing that their parents are going with them. Since it isn't possible for each child's parent(s) to attend every activity, try to get parents to schedule the activity they can attend.
Arrange conferences with parents to discuss the child's progress. Provide them with a summary of the skills that you plan to cover and brief reports of the child's progress. Parents will be delighted knowing that you are as concerned and committed to the total development of their children as they are.