Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Truth About Daycare Ratios for Infants and Toddlers

Any good checklist for seeking a quality daycare center will mention inquiring about daycare ratios.  How many children to how many adults in the room?  Each state has its own minimum requirement.

In Massachusetts (one of the better regulated states) where I was a lead teacher in an infant room, the ratio was three infants to one adult or a maximum of seven infants to two adults.  Of course most daycare centers will opt for the maximum because they are, after all, a business.

Did you ever watch Jon and Kate cope with their eight infants?  Between feeding, diapering, and holding, they needed a team of volunteers to keep their household running.  Maybe seven infants to two adults is easier?  Think again.

The truth is that there is often just one adult per six children for a majority of the time.

Why?  In daycare centers, infants/toddlers are required to have a diaper change every two hours. Diapering in a daycare center is much more complicated than at home:

  • Diapering area is often separated from main play/floor area by a gate or door
  • Caregiver notes time of diaper change and puts on rubber gloves 
  • Each child has their own personal supply of diapering items to be retrieved from cabinets or drawers
  • Daycare children usually have on footwear, which needs to be removed and reassembled if the child is wearing jeans or fitted clothing, especially if there is a BM involved
  •  After child has been diapered and brought back to the others, the caregiver must return to area to dispose of diaper/gloves and changing sheet paper, wash area with disinfectant, and lay down a new paper before retrieving the next child to be diapered. 

This process takes at least 8 minutes per child in even the most efficient operations, unless clothing is wet or soiled and the child must be changed into a new outfit.

Let's do the math:  8 minutes x 7 children = 56 minutes that one caregiver is alone with the other 6 children.

One hour later, the whole process begins again with the first child that was diapered!  In between diaper changes, there are bottles, highchair feedings, naps, and playtime.  This is an amazing feat considering state regulations require caregivers to individually hold babies when they drink from bottles and many infants need to be rocked or held before napping.  Trust me when I tell you that two sets of hands are not enough for seven infants in a childcare room following these state regulations and ratios.

You might have thought it was okay that your child was receiving 1/3 of an adult's daily attention, but what if they are actually getting by with only 1/6 of an adult's daily attention a majority of the time?

How to Find out the True Teacher to Child Ratio of a Prospective Daycare?

--Rather than being content with knowing the center's ratio, you might want to ask about the diapering process:

How often are children diapered?

Who does the diapering?

(If it is one person or the team rotates, how many adults are left with the other six children?)

--Make More than One Visit to Observe the Infant Room Before Deciding:

Most centers arrange times to talk to teachers during children's nap times, so the teacher will have time to devote to your questions.  However, this is often misleading, because this is the most calm part of the day.  With lullabies playing softly on the stereo, it might appear to be the perfect environment.

If you like the center after talking with the staff, ask if you can stop in another time or two to observe only.  Ask to come between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM when lunch time is in full force or 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM when children are up and about, just to get an idea of what it is truly like at different times.  Only arrange these observations with the understanding that teachers will NOT have time to talk to you during these peak care hours.       

Nanny's Note:  I have worked and interned in a variety of daycare centers.  I believe this ratio issue is one contributing factor to daycare staff burn out and turnover.  I found many center environments unsafe and chaotic due to ratio issues. 

I'd be very interested to hear from other caregivers with similar or very different experiences.  Parents - what do you think?
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Homemade Carrot Chips

Carrot Chips is only one of many tasty and nutritious recipes you'll find at Weelicious, a blog featuring fresh and wholesome baby, toddler, and family meals.  I can't believe the Food Network has not snapped up this talented Mom and given her a show yet! 

Found Weelicious thanks to a post by fellow New England blogger Angelika at her Playground Hunting blog.  Angelika reviews and maps out tons of playgrounds in the Boston, MA area in addition to blogging about fun activities and family life.  Here's her adorable son, Alex, helping to make carrot chips in the kitchen:

Hope you run over and check out both of these great blogs!
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Easy Bead/Pasta Stringing with Toddlers

Bead stringing is a classic activity for young children that helps strengthen their fine motor skills and allows them to perfect their hand-eye coordination.  Three year olds are just about the right age for bead stringing and card lacing activities without frustration.

For beginners and younger children (two and up), bead stringing can be introduced by using large, wooden beads and pipe cleaners.  The firm but flexible pipe cleaners allow small hands to point the tip accurately through the bead's opening.  Once the pipe cleaner is through the bead, help young children learn how to grasp the top of the pipe cleaner to slide the bead down.

Caution:  This is a good time to introduce words like sharp or "pokey" as M and I call the cut ends of the pipe cleaner. Also, just bend the bottom of pipe cleaner to make a little loop so the beads don't slide off the end.
Bead Stringing with Pipe Cleaners

Where to Find Beads?

I was very excited to find these large wooden beads at the Dollar Tree. Although painted, they meet safety standards and do not contain lead paint.  Usually these types of beads can be found at a much higher price in school supply catalogs or online educational sites. Another frugal option is the large plain wooden beads or blocks found at craft stores.

Substitute: Dried pasta shapes like rigatoni for beginners and penne for more of a challenge.

I bought two sets (6 beads each).  For $2, I can get a lot of play mileage out of these toys:

More Bead Activities:

These chunky beads are a good stand-in for a first set of blocks for little hands.  M likes to stack them up to make towers (to knock down again and again).

M also likes to fill and dump objects with these beads (ie. containers with twist tops, empty wipe containers, his dump trucks, etc.)

Sorting and Classifying:  Beads can be grouped by color and shape.  This is a beginning math skill. 

Patterning:  Whether stringing them or stacking them, you can introduce beginning patterns by alternating colors and pointing out the pattern to your child, "look, this one has red, yellow, red, yellow, red.  Let's make another one that matches."  This is another important math skill.

Math Vocabulary to Introduce:  different, same, matches, pattern, more, less
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blog Trotting - Tour of Rhode Island

Blogtrotting is a virtual travel blog hosted by Cara that offers bloggers around the world the chance to share a tour of their state or country with others.  What a fun way to learn about other places and people!  Although I was born and raised in nearby Massachusetts, I'm happy to bring you on a tour of my current state, Rhode Island:

RI is known for being the smallest state in the U.S.  In fact, on a non-traffic day, you could travel by car from one end of the state to the other in about 2 hours! 

We have many beautiful beaches and coastal areas in RI and our state is known for everything from the weird and tacky to the traditional and sophisticated:

The Big Blue Bug aka Nibbles Woodaway (Mascot of New England Pest Control ) perches high on a building overlooking Interstate 95 going through our capitol of Providence. He is often decorated for various holidays and has "starred" in movies shot here, such as Dumb and Dumber.

Del's Frozen Lemonade -- a cross between an Italian ice and a Slushie -- just lemon, sugar, and bits of lemon peel make it something to look forward to during the warmer months.  Flavors and state locations have expanded over the years.

Coffee Syrup -- Autocrat makes this popular syrup along with the Eclipse brand.   Here in RI/Southeastern MA locals enjoy their coffee milk and coffee cabinets (like a milkshake).  I have to ship my mother huge bottles of this treat since she has retired to Florida. 

Distinct Accent -- like our neighbors in Boston, MA; depending on where in RI you are from there can be a distinct accent -- sounds like we live in "Vo Dylan."

Foster/Glocester --two rural, woodsy towns who share a school district and are infamous to locals for always being the first to cancel schools when it snows.  They often get the most white stuff and their tricky rural roads aren't easy to plow and get buses through.

Seafood -- we take it for granted here, but those who move away, like my Mom to Florida, really miss the local seafood -- fish and chips, scallops, lobster, and clam boils. Though nowadays we might not eat as much  fried foods as we once did here, summer isn't complete without New England clam cakes and chowder. There are popular little "clam shacks" throughout the state only open during the summer season, such as Evelyn's in Tiverton (featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and Flo's in Newport.

New England Clam Chowder and Clam Cakes

Some Notable Locations and Residents:

Providence -- the capitol city where many commute from nearby suburbs, including MA to work.  Large concerts and sporting events like those involving the Providence College Friars (basketball) are held at the original Providence Civic Center, now called the "Dunk" because it was renamed the Dunkin Donuts Center in 2001. Not all Rhode Islanders were pleased about this change.  Although there are over 150 Dunkin Donuts locations in our small state, this sponsorship seems to be a bit much.

Brown University is one of our shining stars on the historic east side of Providence, where there are many beautiful tudor and victorian homes.  The lovely Swan Point Cemetery is where RI born writer H.P. Lovecraft  is buried along with other RI notables.

Brown University

H.P. Lovecraft

Trinity Repertory Company in Providence is the main venue for plays and local theatre -- every year they produce a different version of A Christmas Carol there.

The Providence Performing Arts Center, affectionately known as PPAC, is the place to see traveling broadway shows -- just a few months ago I finally saw Wicked on its second journey to Providence.

Providence Performing Arts Center
 The city of Pawtucket, RI is home to HASBRO toy company's corporate headquarters, where I once worked years ago as a secretary. Hasbro is well-known for Mr. Potato Head (there he is standing outside of Corporate headquarters), My Little Pony, G.I. Joe, Playskool Brands, and the Milton-Bradley family of games.

Mr. Potato Head - Mascot of Hasbro Headquarters


Besides the Providence College Friars basketball team, Providence is also home to the Providence Bruins -- minor league team to the Boston Bruins.

Providence Bruins Hockey
 The city of Pawtucket is home to McCoy Stadium, where the Pawtucket Red Sox play, the minor league team to the Boston Red Sox.

Pawtucket Red Sox play at McCoy Stadium

I have saved my very favorite area in Rhode Island for last --- Newport, RI, famous for its dozen or so Newport Mansions built along the Atlantic Ocean around the turn of the 20th century. Wealthy socialites and ship traders from New York (the Vanderbuilts for instance) built these outrageously extravagant mansions to serve as their "summer cottages" and were only used 2-3 months during the summer social season.  It's a beautiful place to visit, especially decorated during the holiday season or in the summer when you can walk along the property and "pretend" you are looking back at your own home.  At least that's what I like to do! 

A Newport Mansion

Boating and sailing are also a popular past time in Rhode Island, and Newport has hosted the America's Cup race several times.

As with all locations, there is always so much more!  Check out:  Visit Rhode Island

Thanks for joining me!
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Four Tips for Finding the Perfect Nanny

Whether it be in the newspaper or an online service, most parents begin their nanny search by posting an advertisement.   As an experienced Sittercity nanny and recipient of their daily job postings for over three years, I'd like to offer four important tips on advertising for your perfect caregiver to help increase your response rates:
1.  Be as Detailed as Possible

Include ages and number of children; days and hours needed; and specify a range of pay you are willing to pay for the right person.  More and more I have seen ads that are easy to skip over because they contain no actual information.  Fight the urge to think aloud as you write, "we might need this or we might need that, or it could change in the future."

Not all jobs are set in stone, but in order to apply for one, prospective babysitters need to at least have days and times in mind that they can count on.  Many ads state the need for the nanny to be "flexible" as days and hours can change.   If on-call is what you need, then it would be okay to specify this as you will attract the type of person who wants that arrangement.  It is rare that any serious caregiver or nanny would be available at any time of day or night.  Without any specific details, most will overlook or skip over your ad.
2.  Be Careful Not to Come Across Overly Demanding

Must like animals, must be flexible, must be willing to do housework -- this ad is a giant red flag and is a turn-off to prospective caregivers.  If parents are willing to be so demanding in an ad, how will they treat the caregiver once they are hired?   First impressions are lasting impressions.

3.  Be Clear About What You are Seeking

Before writing your ad, think about your goal.  Do you want childcare or a housekeeper?

While it is usually expected that a nanny or babysitter will clean up after the children; make their meals; do their laundry; and other agreed upon chores, I see ads that really blur the lines.  Many sound like they are looking for a domestic servant who will also be asked to care for the children.  Professionally trained and educated caregivers are attracted to the field because they enjoy teaching and taking care of young children -- they are in it for the kids. They do not want to clean your toilets.

4.  Do Not Omit the Pay Rate

State a pay rate that you are willing to pay for the right person, whether you have a single figure in mind or it varies a few dollars.  If you are ambivalent about how much you will pay for childcare, it will be broadcast loud and clear by omitting this important detail.  This omission tells prospective nannies or sitters that you are not willing to pay for quality childcare. Most sitters are willing to negotiate, but will skip over any ad that does not at least state a range.

It might be helpful to think of a caregiver ad in the same way you would advertise for a potential mate. You are trying to attract the right candidate for your family.  Tell them about yourself and your needs, what qualities you are seeking, and you will find the perfect caregiver!

For more information about Sittercity and my experience using their service, check out my other post:

Sittercity Nanny?  That's Me!

Use promo code TAKE15 to receive 15% off a monthly or annual membership to Sittercity.com until October 31, 2010.

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Sittercity Nanny? That's Me!


People are often surprised to find out that I am a Sittercity nanny and that I joined the service back in the company's early days, long before I started blogging. 

Four years ago, when I was a home visitor/parent educator for a Parents as Teachers program, a mom told about a new service that one of her friends started in Boston, MA -- Sittercity!  Mostly out of curiosity, but also because I had enjoyed my previous stint as a nanny, I set up a caregiver profile and signed up for their daily job postings.

I received Sittercity daily e-mails for a full year before before finding my perfect position -- three 10-hour days taking care of a 2-month-old boy.  I was able maintain my income level while working three long days instead of five, allowing me to take full-time classes to finish my B.A. in early childhood education.

That single nanny job was the only one I applied for and Little M and I  have been together for a little over two years! 

Sittercity Details:

Search for a Sitter or Post an Ad?

Parents can search through  profiles of available sitters in a zip code range or post a specific ad.  I always suggest posting a specific ad because many potential sitters can opt to keep their profile invisible (like I did) and only apply to ads that match their own criteria.

For example, in my small zip code, there are 75 visible profiles.  Parents can contact visible sitters directly.  However, when parents place an add, they are able to view the full profile of all responding sitters (even invisible), their pictures, reviews, and background check results (if the sitter has paid for one*). 


Sittercity offers reviews of sitters by parents who have used them and also reviews of parents by sitters.  So far I have seen only positive reviews, as it seems no one wants to leave bad feedback.  The reviews are most commonly placed on profiles of occasional babysitters rather than long-term caregivers.  I suppose no one want to advertise how great their nanny is, lest someone else wants to lure her away!  

No Freebies:

One weird glitch I've noticed is parents trying to post an ad without paying for the service or trying to take advantage during a free trial.  Parents will try to include their personal information, such as an e-mail or phone number, but Sittercity thwarts their plans -- the email or phone number appears incomplete in the job posting, so no one is able to contact them.

All paid Sittercity users and registered Sittercity babysitters and nannies correspond through a "user@sittercity" address that includes their registration sign-in name.

Terms and Payment:

As of this writing, Sittercity has two paid options:

Option One:  one year worth of service for a $119.98 one-time billing charge

Option Two:  monthly billing of $9.99 after paying an initial billing charge of $49.98

I think the one-year option is the best value, as the monthly option costs $60 for only two months of use.  However, if you are looking for a long-term nanny and have only a couple of months before she starts, the monthly option would probably work well for you.

For help with posting your nanny ad, check out my other post:  4 Tips for Finding the Perfect Nanny

Use promo code TAKE15 to receive 15% off a monthly or annual membership to Sittercity.com until October 31, 2010.

*It currently appears that families can now opt to pay for a background check on a caregiver they are interested in.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Playground Review - Westport, Massachusetts

Little M and Nanny Rating:   * * * * (out of 4)

Each playground is special in its own way, but the Westport Community Center Playground is one of our favorites because of its many features (see photos below):

  • 2 large sandbox areas complete with large trucks of every type plus pails and shovels
  • A cool sand pulley contraption that really seems to capture the interests of older children as they work together to lift, hoist, and pour sand
  • 4 slides - one small, two larger, and one covered tube slide
  •  Swings - including two bucket seats for babies/toddlers
  • Climbing steps, platforms, ropes, twists, and wobbly bridge to cross
  •  Riding toys -- large dinosaur, small stationary elephant, a bouncing two-seater (like a teeter totter/seesaw, but stationary)
  • Little Tykes equipment:  for younger children, there are several of these scattered around allowing them to climb and slide at their own pace.


  • Completely fenced in with a chain link fence and latched gate.  Children can run around and have fun, but they can't run away faster than you can catch them.

  • Porta-potty -- we haven't used this feature, however, I often see parents and children (including potty trainers) going in there, so it must be pretty well maintained. 

  • Picnic tables and benches

M could stay at this playground for hours due to his love of cement trucks, excavators, and bulldozers!  Our first hour or so is usually spent in one or both of the two sand areas.  Once he notices the actual playground, there's so much more to do - slides, swings, climbing, and running from one end to the other.

All ages will enjoy this playground as there is something for toddlers to grade schoolers.

Location/Map:  nearby 856 Main Road, Westport, MA

Diagonally across the street from Partners Village Store

entrance side of playground -- slides, swings, riding toys, stairs, ramps & bridge
opposite side with climbing options and tube slide
one of several smaller play structures for toddlers
sandbox with trucks and sand toys

another sand area with a platformed pulley station
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Beach Memories

Not only is this an inventive idea for a vacation keepsake, but these little sandy handprints would be the perfect addition to the beachy cottage style decor found in coastal New England.  It takes a little planning and prep time, but I think it is worth it:

Beach Craft:  Make a Sandy Hand Print Keepsake

Thanks to Crafting a Green World for this and other fun projects.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Toddler-Sized Beach and Playground - Grinnell's in Tiverton, RI

We're running out of places to escape the higher than normal temperatures here in Southeastern MA/RI! Little M (26 months)  loves to run and climb, but our usual playground stomping grounds are nothing but burning hot slides this time of year.

Grinnell's, a tiny beach with attached playground in Tiverton, RI was the perfect spot on a recent 88 degree day!  As soon as M and I stepped out of the car, we were greeted with the most amazing breeze that cooled us right down.  The parking lot is only a few yards from the playground/beach so there was none of the usual hassle accompanied with "going to the beach."

The simple playground contained a single climbing structure with slide, a set of swings; a purple riding dinosaur; and some gymnastic-type parallel bars and other bars to hang from -- all with that wonderful breeze and beautiful water view.  Afternoon naps dictate our time table, so this playground was perfect for the two hours we were there.  M didn't want to leave -- he never does -- but it was easy enough to persuade him by agreeing to carry him the few yards to our car.

Some Pros:

Toddler-sized; easy in and out; playground; beach; public restrooms; picnic tables; parking lot close by; lifeguard on duty; not crowded; no traffic; easily accessible off a main road; and a lovely view when facing the water.

Some Cons:

Not the most picturesque or pristine beach you'll find as it's right off the road with a gas station and Cumberland Farms across the street on one side.  There was some litter and occasional cigarette butt edging the playground near the beach grass.   One of the pros for a quick and easy trip also make it a con for some -- parking lot right near beach and visible.

Overall, this beach with attached playground is just the right size for a spontaneous trip.  It has a very laid-back, small town vibe.  It didn't require any planning, packing, or major trek to get there.  We will definitely go back to Grinnell's and plan to enjoy the beach and water next time.

Location/MapMain Road, Tiverton, RI

Parking Fee:  $5 weekdays and $10 weekends (for non-Tiverton residents)

Nearby Food and Fun:

Eveylyn's Drive-In - about one mile from Grinnell's.  Evelyn's has been featured on the Food Network's show, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Great place for clam cakes, chowder, and other assorted seafood.  Better to take out or eat outside on patio/picnic tables.

Gray's Ice Cream - about four miles from Grinnell's. Gray's has yummy homemade ice-cream and delicious hot-fudge sundaes and is located in the historic Tiverton Four Corners district (home to little shops and art galleries).  The smallest one-scoop dish or cone is $3.50, which can be a negative when visiting with small children.  It would be wonderful if Gray's offered a kiddie-size, as this destination is popular place due to strategically placed park benches facing the adjacent cow pasture:

 Above:  one of the very large and very loud cows at Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton, RI
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