In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age. Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older. I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.
Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting. Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children. Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones. Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.
I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children. I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*
I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care. I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers. So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.
Summer was the exception. I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule. It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.
Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew. So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces this summer – and I’m loving it.
The school-age table has been empty;
The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play. They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.
I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t. I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.
Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio. I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care. Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full - I would never do that. One more preschool space would help.