When prospective families tour Shine one of the most commonly asked questions is “Why are your hours so short?”
This year drop-off begins at 8:15am and pick-up extends to 4:20pm. More typical daycare centers hours are 7am – 6pm (or longer), so it’s a fair question – our shorter hours definitely reduce flexibility in parents’ work.
First though, we should consider what we’re calling a “short day.” 8:15am to 4:15pm is 8 hours – a full workday for most professionals – so should we really consider it a “short day” for an infant, toddler, or preschooler? Sometimes children wake up from nap in the afternoon and believe they’re beginning day 2 at Shine. Consider elementary school, where students are typically at school for about 6 hours per day – did that feel like a “short day” to you while you were in elementary school? Shine maintains a homey, cozy environment without excess stimulation, but 40 hours/week is still a long time for young children to be in a group setting & away from their primary caregivers. Recent research even suggests more than 40 hours/week in child care can be detrimental for young children.
The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development funded a longitudinal study on the effects of child care. Run by Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell, the study found long-term benefits of higher quality child care, center-type care, and lower child-care hours. Dr. Vandell’s research also showed behavior problems – including more “acting-out” and aggressiveness – tend to increase in hours in child care. Children who averaged 30 to 45 hours in child care a week scored just slightly above average in behavioral problems. However, at 45 hours a week, the increase in behavioral problems became noteworthy, with children in that much child care indicating more behavior problems than would be found in the population as a whole.
We weren’t aware of this research when we switched our hours from a typical daycare model to shorter days in 2018, but the switch became a field study of our own and we saw the same benefits. When we switched our hours we found that the children were happier & more well-adjusted. There was less acting, less fighting & biting, less crying at drop-off. Why? Well, because their general quality of life improved – they were less stimulated and less stressed, they were getting enough sleep and waking at a normal hour, their parents began to miss the rush hour traffic and they were getting home in the evenings while it was still light out, and there was enough time in the evenings to make dinner and have some quality family time before bath and bed.
Not only did the change in hours shift their home life, but it also fundamentally changed the way we worked at Shine (which was the original driver of the change in hours). By shortening our hours, we could now provide a consistency of care that we were previously unable to.
Let’s take an example, in a “chain” daycare center a typical toddler classroom will have 12 children. Over the course of a day, to maintain a 1:6 ratio, this toddler will see an opener or two, a lead teacher, her assistant, a floater for lunch breaks, and a closer or two. These teachers, especially the less permanent positions, may not be the same from day to day or week to week. In a given week, this toddler – who has a limited capacity of understanding what’s going on and communicating his needs – may float between a few classrooms to adjust for ratios and be cared for by 6-10 different teachers. Not only is this scary for the young child, but it also allows lots of room for error and miscommunication – not everyone knows what mom relayed at drop-off on Monday (e.g., he has a diaper rash), what’s been going on in the classroom (e.g., keep an eye on him when he’s playing with cars – there have been a few fighting incidents lately) or what he likes for snack. Among the teacher positions, there will likely be low wages, little job satisfaction, and high turnover, so this toddler will also see many teachers come and go over the course of the year.
At Shine as a toddler arrives in his classroom – either his permanent designated outdoor space or his permanent designated homeroom – he is greeted by his lead toddler teacher and her assistant. This toddler will be with these his 5 friends and 2 teachers all day long in a 1:3 ratio. These 2 teachers saw him when he arrived and noted what mood he was in and what he was wearing (e.g., make sure the red hat goes back home with him at the end of the day). They saw what he ate for snack (e.g., crackers only- not enough fruits and veggies) and supplemented what he ate for lunch. There will be no “foreign” intruders during nap time – the teachers will give each other lunch breaks while the children sleep – and they will each know how he likes to go to sleep. These two teachers will be the ones that communicate with mom and dad, share pictures of him throughout the day, and say goodbye to him at pick up.
Teachers are fundamental to the success of any program. It really doesn’t matter how updated the facilities are or how educated the administrative staff is if you have poor teachers and high turnover. Our teachers work an 8am-4:45pm shift and about 40 hours per week. We made the decision to eliminate the “floater”/ “opener”/ “closer” positions and instead invest that money directly into our full-time permanent teachers. This allows us to pay higher teacher wages and invest in their continued education. Shine teachers are happy with their job – you’ll find them smiling (under their masks) at drop-off and at pick-up. It’s an enjoyable place to work because of the low ratios, the cooperative team approach, and shorter hours (which also allow them to have a good work-life balance). Because of this, our teachers tend to stick around, limiting turnover, and enhancing our program each year.
If you visit Shine, you will find that the children feel secure here. Most children are happy to arrive each day and they know who and what to expect. They learn the routine quickly and wash hands, eat, play, work, and nap without much of a fuss. Consistency of care is the main reason why. We call ourselves a nurture center as opposed to a child care center because we are different than most child care centers – we prioritize nurturing care for children above all else and this is why our hours are so “short.”