Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Campus Childcare

I put off going to college for 2 years after graduating high school mainly because JAM was still a baby. Once we moved to Las Vegas, everything kind of fell into place where it allowed me to finally enroll in school. However, the only issue I had left was who was going to watch JAM? I had 3 family members that lived in Las Vegas as well, but they all worked or had kids of their own to juggle. I personally just didn't want to put him in a daycare or have a stranger babysit him where he'd just stay there and play all afternoon. That's when my cousin recommended a early childhood development center that her daughter was in. They offered a flexible schedule where I can pick him up and drop him off basically whenever I needed to, the kids learned through play but they had a structured curriculum and set of activities, which I loved, and the steps they took with security were great (cameras, locked doors with a pin code, etc.). JAM was so excited to go to school with his cousin so we signed him up and off to school the both of us went!

Initially this school was great. They had a window where I could peek into his classroom so once in awhile that's exactly what I'd do. There were quite a few kids in his class but they had 4 teachers in there to adjust to the ratio. If I didn't want to peek through the window I had the option to check out each classroom from the TV security screens they had in the lobby or I could just go into his class and join in on the fun. They helped with his potty training while he was there and they fed him lunch as well. Then after about a year of being there Mahal and I started to notice a few little things here and there. The main teacher would get a little too aggressive for my liking. She'd raised her voice or grab the kid's arm a little to tight if they were in trouble. Mahal noticed that the same teacher would use the same Kleenex to wipe all of the children's nose if it was runny (eww!). I popped in to have lunch with JAM one day so I was able to attend his "recess" and noticed that the play area was super small and the equipment they were playing on was not suitable for kids JAM's age. He'd sit on the slide and his feet were already on the bottom! I was told they provided snack and lunch. All they ate was fruit and those big bags of generic cereal! JAM even told me they wouldn't give him a drink unless he finished all of his snack as sometimes he didn't like the sour pineapple they fed him so he didn't get a drink. So, I asked if I could just pack him snack and lunch and opted to do that instead. I expressed my concerns to the staff up front, but I gradually started hunting for a new place to put JAM in.
Yea, he didn't like this snack very much (and he's not a picky eater).
I always saw the childcare at my college campus when I exited, but never gave it a second thought since #1 it said childcare (in my head childcare=daycare) and #2 it was a trailer looking establishment. Coming from Chicago, it's not as common to have classes in a portable trailer as it is in the West coast. I was desperate to find a new place for JAM so I went in to inquire about their program. The secretary up front was super nice, the prices were almost half of what I was paying at JAM's current developmental center, and the trailer was A LOT bigger than I thought inside. They had 2 classrooms: one for 2-3 year old and one for basically the 4-5 year olds until the 5 year olds transition into Kindergarten. I met the teacher that ran the class for 3 year olds and she explained the same thing as the last place: the kids learn through play, we have a very structured curriculum, blah blah blah. I expressed my concerns from the last location and she assured me that it wouldn't happen. It was really convenient to have JAM on campus and the childcare already looked better than his current location with what they had to offer so I signed him up.

Fast forward to when JAM had to finally leave the campus childcare for elementary school. Let me tell you, enrolling JAM in the campus childcare was probably the best decision I made for him.
  • They limit the number of kids they take in and have a waiting list for those who want to enroll but can't at the moment. This helped keep the class number sizes reasonable instead of chaotic.
  • The teachers are so kind and hands on and they truly care about the kids.
  • They do have structured activities so the kids are actually learning something and not just playing.
  • They're very big on sanitation.
  • They're play area is HUGE in the back and they give so many options for the kids to play.
  • When it was time for JAM to switch to the 4/5 classroom they informed me that he was ready and they let him visit the new room every day until it was time to fully switch to help make the transition less scary.
  • They communicated anything and everything. If it was a little scratch that they had to tend to they'd write a note for me to sign and verify that I was aware of what happened, and if he bumped his head while playing or something I'd get a phone call in addition to the note.
  • They made me feel so welcomed when I wanted to drop in. I even joined in on nap time between classes (whoops! haha).
  • They held many events where families could attend.
  • They had guest speaker come to introduce the kids to a variety of things (teeth brushing, careers, etc.)
  • They'd visit the campus garden to help plant things or take "field trips" to the library and fire station on campus (I even had tons of fun visiting the fire station hehe).
  • Most of the teachers had a teaching degree or were students from the college earning a teaching degree so they'd bring a lot of fresh, new ideas to do with the kids.
The list goes on and on but moral of the story, don't count your campus childcare out! They even accept the public at very reasonable prices. Anytime I had any questions or concerns, his teachers took the time to address it. They also held parent/teacher conferences to show JAM's progress. Basically, I was ALWAYS in the loop. The staff became family to us and we still make an effort to visit anytime we're on that side of town. Anything I did at home they reinforced at school. I told them what he was required to know to start Kindergarten and they worked that into his daily schedule so that he'd be ready. They also talked to him about what to expect when going to Kindergarten so again, it would be an easier transition. Granted that I was doing a lot with JAM at home, but by the time JAM "graduated" from the campus childcare he learned how to cope with his feelings and emotions instead of acting out, he learned how to share (which was hard for this only child of mine), he knew all his colors, he could count to 20, he knew the alphabet, he could write his own name, and when it came time to do his Kindergarten assessment he passed with flying colors.These guys were all around awesome and JAM made tons of friends that he continues to keep in contact with even though he's in 1st grade now. Now Mahal's sister is ready to take the same steps with her daughter. She's a college student like me and had the same concerns. I told her to definitely shop around. Look into local early childhood developmental centers, check out if the local elementary school has a preschool, don't count out your campus childcare, take tours, ask questions, observe, and choose which on is the best for you.

What is your criteria for choosing the right childcare for your children?