Since we are expecting #2, I am looking into some less expensive daycare options. In our area, home daycares are about half the price. I am sort of concerned about all of the ages being mixed together and the lack of structure. Also, would it be necessary to send my children to a separate preschool at a later time? Did anyone use a home daycare and love it? How are your kids in school now?
We had two experiences with home daycare:
When my son was 3 months old, I went back to work and he went to a lady who had no more than 4 kids at a time, including her own 7-year-old, and never took on more than one baby under 8 months at the same time. (8 months is the point where they can play more independently and need to be held less, is her thinking.) She was wonderful, very loving, held him a lot, rocked him to sleep for every nap. We moved him to a preschool/childcare center when he was 2 years old because this lady had had some new-immigrant relatives move in with her and the home had become chaotic and felt less safe. However, the relatives are out on their own now, and this same lady will be caring for our new baby.
For the first semester of kindergarten, my son needed after-school care. I found a home daycare half a block from the school that was willing to send someone over to meet him and walk him there. This place was a bit more like a childcare center than the above--although it was in a house, the workers did not live there; they had a staff of 4, with 2-3 working at any given time, and up to 10 kids mostly under 3 years old with max 4 infants under a year. It was a nice place and seemed to run very smoothly. We left because my son did not like being the only "big" kid there and because he seemed so much more tired after full-day kindergarten than full-day preschool (even though kindergarten was actually a shorter day, it was more academic and structured) so his dad who was now working from home agreed that he could come home after school.
I think having mixed ages is a good thing. When my son was in the first home care, he thrived on watching and imitating the older kids, and as he got older he was very interested in the babies. In the second home care, it was because he was the ONLY big one and >2 years older than everybody that it bothered him--but he did enjoy playing with the babies and trying to teach them new things. In his preschool, which kept the kids in classes with about an 8-month age range, he spent a lot of time talking with the teachers because they were the most interesting people, and we felt his development slowed down a little with no big kids to inspire him and no little kids to mentor.
Lack of structure was not a problem at either home care. They didn't have a super-strict schedule, but there were predictable routines. There were different toys and equipment (wading pool, etc.) that came out at different times to keep things fresh. There was no TV. The first lady took the kids to the park, library, etc. about once a week. It was kind of like staying home with a parent who has her act together.
I wouldn't say preschool was "necessary" but it was a good idea. Our baby-care lady typically cares for babies and toddlers, and has older kids only for after-school care. She is mostly about playing and loving, and the most "academic" it gets is reading stories to the kids. My son's preschool had plenty of free-play time but also had circle times where they learned about letters and numbers, lots of songs about days of the week and the steps of getting dressed and such, science experiments, craft projects, and a weekly curriculum theme. Being in the group environment and having certain times to sit still and listen to the teacher--although it was fairly relaxed and developmentally appropriate--helped to tame my son's tendency to believe he's the center of everything and try to dictate what happens. But I'm glad he was not in the baby room there when he was tiny. I think a small, homey environment is best for kids up to about 18 months-4 years old, and then it's good to transition to being in a bigger group and having a daily routine that's a sort of mix of school and play.
Mama to a boy EnviroKid 10 years old and a little girl EnviroBaby !
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I have only ever used home providers and have had exceptionally good experiences! Multi age is great in most situations as long as the provider is willing to address things that are problematic. For example if the older kids use bad language, the provider does need to address it. For the most part hte younger ' kids strive to do more things to 'keep up' with the big kids!
We have had very loving moms that have cared for our kids. They both started out doing home care because they wanted to be available for their own kids. They were willing to use slings, cloth diaper, work with expressed breast milk, rock to sleep, have never used cry it out, etc. As technology progressed our latter provider would txt/email pics of my child doing cool things during the day. We would celebrate milestones together. In short, the little community of children they are caring for becomes like an extended family for them, and they become a 'third parent' for us. It has been such a great experience for us as we have grown together. Our first provider eventually stopped when my middle child went to kindergarten, then we found our second provider when we had a 3rd baby later on. Our second provider has been just as good as the first.
We are lucky enough to have a community preschool in very short driving distance from the child care provider(s). They have both been willing to transport child(ren) to preschool. Sometimes we've had to work with preschool to get a morning slot, so as not to disrupt nap time for the provider. Whether preschool is a necessity depends on your own values, the child care provider's curriculum and routine and your child's needs.