Monday, 24 September 2012

Modernizing Child Care

My responses to the Government of Ontario's discussion paper: Modernizing Child Care in Ontario: Sharing Conversations, Strengthening Partnerships, Working Together

To the Ministry of Education, Early Years Division:

As a working mother with three young children, child care issues have occupied a significant amount of my conscious thoughts for the last 5 years. While working full-time, our children have been cared for in several different settings: licensed home care, not-for-profit child care centre, and in our home by a live-out caregiver. Although I know I am not unique, I believe that our family experiences in these different child care settings give me some grounding from which to participate in your conversations about the modernization of child care. I welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions, with reference to your discussion paper Modernizing Child Care in Ontario: Sharing Conversations, Strengthening Partnerships, Working Together.

Although I am unable to specifically address each of the questions posed for discussion, I offer the following comments to several of the main issues presented.

I believe that child care options should be uniformly affordable to all parents who require such services. In order to accomplish this, funding must match the demand, and access to subsidies should be increased.

Because the current system does not meet the demand, what seems to exist is a mutli-tiered child care system: only families who can secure a spot within, and afford the high costs of child care centres are able to reap the benefits of fully regulated, high quality child care. Funding must be secure and stable, and flexible so that both child care centres, and home-based child care each receive adequate funding to provide high quality care adapted to their different needs.

All families who require full-time child care should have access to affordable, high quality early learning child care programs. While some families may choose home care, I believe that all children should be exposed to early education environments, such as Ontario Early Years Centres. Funding to Early Years Centres and Best Start programs should continue so that even home-based child care providers are able to benefit and provide quality early education to children.

Consideration should also be made so that funding can accommodate variations from the standard work-day requirements for child care. Families have many different child care needs such as part-time care, non-traditional working hours, and no requirement for child care during certain periods of the year (e.g. summers off for teachers, seasonal work).

There may be merit in considering improved and set-minimum wages for child care workers. When searching for child care for our daughters, I remember feeling confronted with the dilemma of wanting child care costs to be affordable and manageable to our budget, while realising that someone who is caring for my children should be well paid.

Schools-First Child Care Policy and Community Needs
It seems intuitive to me that child care should be available within the school environment. Regardless of the age of the child, child care is about more than child-minding or baby-sitting. Even for young children, child care should be provided in an environment which supports learning and development. To me, a school is the ideal place for this.

Although there may be a need for community-based child care in limited situations, from a parent’s perspective, having child care options available within the school is essential. Even though my 2.5 year old does not ‘need’ to be in a school-based child care centre, having her within the school is of immeasurable convenience since our family also includes a 4 and 6 year old who attend school. It also provides for an easier transition for the child when ‘graduating’ from full-day child care to school.

In addition, schools are often not only sites for education, but community hubs. In cases where space or facilities prevent the inclusion of child care in schools, child care options, including Early Years, should be made available in adjacent or associated recreation or community centres.

Program Quality
Currently endorsed programming frameworks (e.g. Early Learning for Every Child Today, (ELECT)) or curriculums should be supported by the Ministry. Child care providers should show evidence of following these frameworks as contingency to licensure in order to ensure that children are exposed to developmentally appropriate, play-based and inquiry-based learning.

Child care providers should be recognised as professionals. By providing child care workers with adequate pay, benefits, training opportunities, and positive, professional relationships, it is more likely that high quality employees will be attracted and retained to the child care discipline.

In order for the government to help parents make choices about care, it must first acknowledge that as the system currently stands, many families are unable to make any real choices about child care. When child care options are unavailable because of cost limitations or long wait lists, families feel pressured to take whatever child care option becomes available.

Having been placed on child care centre wait lists, I feel that it would be of benefit to many families if there were a standardised procedure/protocol for wait list management. Although I cannot imagine the complexity of figuring out wait list priority versus requested start dates, I don’t really have any idea how wait lists are managed or if there is even any consistency between institutions in their wait list policies. Parents should be made aware of how the child care centres wait list system works so that we can understand and feel like a part of the process.

Child Care Standards
There should be harmonization in requirements for health, safety and quality for all avenues of child care: whether it is in a child care centre, in an external home or within the family’s home. Having utilised each of these options for the care of my children, I have witnessed first-hand the vast differences in quality and health/safety standards between these different settings.

There should be a higher level of accountability for home-based care with minimum standards for safety, health and early learning. In-home licensed child care is one means of accomplishing this; I speak from experience to say that it makes parents feel safer to know that there is some body overseeing the care of children in a stranger’s home. But for families using in-home child care with a live-in or live-out nanny, there is no accountability, and parents are left to rely on their instinct or gut-feeling, and the extra stress of wondering how well their children are actually being cared for.

While it is impractical to have all home-care settings licensed, standards could be met by either requiring home-based child care to be affiliated with a licensed child care organisation (e.g. Wee Watch), or require that all (non-family) child care providers be individually licensed.

In an ideal world, professional development in early child learning, first aid, and child discipline should be required and standardised for all child care providers. This could be attained through licensing of individual child care workers. After all, plumbers and electricians are licensed; shouldn’t individuals caring for our children also be required to meet a standard?

Finally, for home-based child care programs to meet the same standards for safety and learning environments as licensed child care centres, home-based programs must be fully supported to do so.

Middle Childhood Strategy
I’m in full support of the Middle Childhood Strategy. After-school care for 6-12 year olds should be about more than homework and free play. It presents an opportunity for children to learn and develop additional skills.

In addition to hours, fees and wages, child care operators should be required to report of wait list statistics, such as number of families on the wait list and the time spent on the wait list.

Thank you for the chance to share my thoughts and feedback on the important issue of caring for our children. It’s recently occurred to me that parents with young children are the ones most affected by child care policies, but we are often feel too busy balancing our careers with raising our families to make the time to make our opinions known. I am grateful for this opportunity to help make a difference.

Kind regards,
Average Working Mom

Friday, 21 September 2012

Early Bird

Many life coaches and motivational speakers suggest that waking up early is the best way to start your day.  It's your chance to make time for yourself and own your day. 

I think we all know it, intuitively. And there's that expression about the early birds and the worms. So it must be true, right?

It's about more than catching worms though.  I first really came across the idea reading The Leader Who Had No Title, by Robin Sharma.  He, along with other inspiration leaders, suggest that waking up early each day can be the key to your success because it allows you to own your day, and devote your best energy to yourself.  Robin Sharma even demands that we should wake up at 5 am (!) in order to spend time in personal development: reconnecting with our values, renewing, regenerating and regrounding ourselves.  Life coaches acknowledge that its not easy, but stress that the discipline it takes to get up so early will permeate into other areas of your life.  They also suggest that to get yourself in the habit of waking up early you'll need to go to bed earlier, plan on an activity that you'll enjoy, and write out your worries so you can sleep better and awake refreshed.

Now, I always take motivational speakers with a grain of salt, but I love the idea of having some quiet time to myself before anyone is awake.  Before anyone is demanding milk, and toast, and opening the fridge grabbing random foods.  And so, I've been working on making it a habit. 

For a while in the summer, I got onto a really good roll.  The alarm was set for 5:36 am so that I could sneak out the door before, and without any of the children waking up.  (My wake-up time had already been pushed back by 10 minutes after my youngest kept waking up before I got out the door.  Then I even oiled the hinges on the bathroom and front doors, and figured out that changing into my running clothes downstairs and putting on my runners outside increased my chances of making my getaway.)

And I had some great early morning runs along the boardwalk.  Or on some mornings, I practiced some yoga.  The time to myself was wonderful.  It was so quiet.  And I could think clearly for myself.  Not to mention how virtuous I felt for getting exercise before I had even really started my day.   

My strategy included going to bed by 10:30, even if it meant leaving the lunch-making and tidying up until the morning.  After all, with an early start, I still had a bit of time in the morning to finish up some loose ends. 

Or did I?  At least one of the girls (usually the youngest) was almost always awake by the time I got back from my run, sometimes having snuggled with Daddy until she heard me unlocking the door.  Then the girls would 'help' me with my stretches and ab work out (Tip: plank can be made more challenging by adding a 35 lb daugther to your back, or by having a preschooler crawl underneath the tunnel.), or interrupt me with demands for milk and breakfast while I attempted some push-ups.  So in the end, my morning seemed just as rushed as always.

However, I did thoroughly enjoyed my quiet peaceful morning run.  It was a great to start the day with uninterrupted thoughts and time just for me.  And it's true, by extending my day, it seemed longer, but in a good way.

Unfortunately, I fell out of my routine in late August when I got a cold and nutured myself by sleeping in to the ripe old hour of 6:30, or earlier depending on how early one child or another crawled into my bed.

Then, it was the first week of September, and I decided to figure out how the new morning routine was going to work before I resumed my early mornings.

And then, the earth shifted, and it started being dark.  It is awfully dark at 5:30 in the morning.  So, I hit the snooze button too many mornings in a row.

And now, I'm fighting bronchitis.  But, I do plan to get back into the habit.  Perhaps I'd better check out Robin Sharma's video on how to train myself to get up early...

How do you carve out time for yourself?  Does waking early make a difference to your day?  How do you motivate yourself to do it?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Our Silly Weekend Craft

Like all kids, mine love to pick up and collect all manner of things they find: rocks, twigs, chestnuts, acorns, more rocks, pinecones... Alice, in particular, has an eagle eye for finding the smallest of tiny little beads and sequins.  And Sophie is really good at finding coins.  One day, I hope that these skills might bring us large monetary rewards.

In the meantime, we amass a large collection of junk. 

Mostly, I can convince them that nature should stay outdoors.  But even I can see the appeal of chestnuts and acorns.   Chestnuts in particular, with their odd shapes and glossy, shiny coats.  Sometimes finding a whole spiny green shell waiting to be cracked open to reveal the precious chestnut inside.

And for some reason, I immediately see them as little faces.  And so, I was inspired with this silly weekend craft:

Maybe it's the googly eyes.  Any craft looks great with googly eyes!

I'm sure there will be many more chestnuts over the next few weeks.  And more chestnut people will be made.

Question is, what do we do with all these crafts we make?  Just because it's been transformed from raw junk, isn't it still junk?  How do you manage all of the crafts and creations of your children? 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Homemade Nutella

Who doesn't love Nutella, right?  Lawsuit aside, based on the number of Nutella-based recipes on Pinterest, brand loyalty is pretty strong.  But after reading Michael Pollan's book "In Defence of Food", I started reading labels more.  And although there weren't many words that my grandmother wouldn't recognise on the ingredient list, Nutella seemed to contain too much sugar for me to purchase another jar.

So when I saw this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Butter in Chatelaine last winter, I clipped and filed the page (the old-fashioned way) for a weekend project one day.

It's a very simple recipe: hazelnuts, semi-sweet chocolate and honey.  Roast the hazelnuts, melt the chocolate, add the honey and chop, mix, blend it all together.

Except that it didn't really work.  It never got creamy.  Oh, and I didn't have semi-sweet chocolate squares on hand, so I used dark chocolate instead.   I thought it tasted good, but the consistency was wrong, and it wasn't sweet enough for my girls.

It stayed in the fridge for a couple of days, until (as suggested by my sister), I blended it again with some oil.  And I added some maple syrup to try to sweeten it some more.

Much better!  It tasted scrumptious and wholesome on my croissant this morning.  

But the girls still don't like it.  I'll try again.  But next time I'll use semi-sweet chocolate, more honey, and oil right from the start.  They're bound to like it eventually, right?  Maybe after 12 tries...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

If I had a million dollars...

Everyone must 'imagine the freedom' sometimes and wonder how their lives could be different if they won the lottery.  I'm no different.

Although I don't buy tickets (Alright, I'll come clean and confess that I did buy one "Cash for Life" card last week.  In case it wasn't already obvious to you, I didn't win.  Big surprise.  And a waste of $4, I might add.  Plus I got all that silver-y rub-off crap stuck in my nails.), I have been dreaming lately about how a lottery win would help us out.   We could pay off the line of credit, buy a fancy new dryer, have the giant dead tree removed from our yard, put in flagstone patio and a privacy fence, fix the dents in the car, waterproof the basement...

But I've also been wondering, what would I do differently in my life if money wasn't an issue?

I've been reading several motivational blogs and books over the past few months.  Some of their concepts and key phrases are so inspirational!  But I can never really buy-in completely.  Maybe I'm too pragmatic, but I can never really figure out how to follow my dreams.  It seems too easy for real life to get in the way. 

However, if I were independently wealthy, I would definitely be able to really focus on following my dreams and passions, right? Then there would be no excuses. 

But wait a minute.  I've got a another problem:  I don't really know what my passions are.

My life has always just pretty much followed the standard course.  I am an average mom, after all.  I've never done anything drastic or adventurous.  I've never felt a burning desire to do anything, really.  There's lots of things I'm interested in, but I don't tend to get crazy-excited about anything. Maybe it's just my personality.  Maybe I'm expecting too much of a bonk-me-on-the-head or thunderbolt moment, or keep-me-up-at-night-can't-stop-thinking-about-this issue/project/activity feeling.  Or maybe, I just haven't found my passion yet.

However, if I didn't have to work, I would be able to indulge myself with some time to find it...  So what would I do, if money wasn't an issue? 
  • I'd volunteer at the school nutrition programs. Maybe join the School Advisory Council. Go back to volunteering with a literacy program.
  • Maybe I'd write some, or do some editing. Piece meal, freelance, no pressure.
  • I'd get more involved with the local farmers' market and the local food movement.
  • I'd take courses: communications, public speaking, documentary film making, horticulture, landscape design, urban planning... ?
  • I'd do more yoga.
  • Maybe I'd train for a marathon.
  • I'd buy myself a fancy camera, study photography, take lots of beautiful photographs.
  • I'd get engaged in local politics and activism. I'd try to make changes to issues like transit and development and child care and social equity. 
  • And here's a contentious confession: I'd be selfish. I'd leave the girls in daycare. At least part-time. I could justify this by saying that I think they need more stimulation and ECE than I can provide them alone. But it's also at least partly true that I don't think I can handle them all day, everyday without losing my mind.

Maybe, if I could do all these things, I'd be able to find my passion.

Tell me, what is your passion, and how did you find it?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Feeling overwhelmed... thank goodness for wine!

It was the first day of school.  The first day of figuring out new routines and new schedules.  The first day of trying to figure out how to make our days run smoothly.  The first day of wondering how am I ever going to manage.

I worked from home today so that I could make multiple trips back and forth to the school:  The daycare drop-off and taking Madeleine to her first day of Grade 1. Returning again to get Sophie and meet her teacher for junior kindergarten. Going back to pick-up Madeleine at lunch time since I didn't have a lunch packed, and wanted to get a sense of how the lunch program worked anyway. Back again to take her for the afternoon. Then back again to take her to the first day of the after-school program run by the community centre. I even managed to fit in a quick trip to the grocery store to get some healthy foods for dinners, lunches and snacks.  

Granted, once we're into a normal school day, my work day will be much more relaxed.  As long as I can get out of the door on time.

Then it was time for the daycare and after-school care pick-up and the crazy dinner preparation hour.

In spite of a few tantrums, one sibling squabble and a pee in the front porch (not mine), a yummy and healthy dinner of baked salmon, bruschetta, brown rice and vegetables was on the table by 6:30.

Yes.  I was quite proud of our dinner.

Somehow, I even managed to get the dishes washed and start the dishwasher before the bedtime routine.  I'm wondering if this is a manageable long term strategy so that I can unpack the dishes and make lunches before I go to bed...

There is just always so much to do.

After getting then girls to bed, I wanted to collapse on the couch for a while, but then I saw a basket of laundry that needed folding and was reminded of the three baskets upstairs that need to be put away.  It also brought to mind that our clothes dryer is still broken and I haven't heard back from the repair man...

I'm exhausted, and there's still more to do: a dog to walk, clothes to fold, laundry to put away, snacks to pack, lunches to make.  I'm totally not even bothering to worry about putting the toys away. Or sweeping the floor. See? I am allowing myself to relax a little.

But what happens when there's homework to do, or extra curricular activities to attend...


Wine!  Oh yes, there's more white wine in the fridge.  That should help...