Whether the Weather

Question: My director is always bugging me to take my kids outside, even when it’s cold or wet. I don’t mind that much myself, but as soon as they get out there they get wet and muddy, and half the time they don’t have clothes to change into, and their parents get upset. We have a pretty big multi-purpose room I can take them to for gross motor, so it’s not like they never get to run around. Is there actually a rule about this?

Answer: Licensing laws do require an hour outside every day for a full-day program, weather permitting. And going outside every day has huge benefits for children and teachers in terms of mood, physical health, and development. It can be tricky, though, if your outside space isn’t in great condition, or if the weather makes every change of scenery a major change of wardrobe as well. If you’ve got children who aren’t yet dressing themselves, or parents who don’t supply extra clothes, the challenges increase.

Indoors gross motor is a great option, but should ideally happen in addition to outside time, not as a replacement. Going outside helps strengthen children’s immune systems and prevent illness from spreading. It also stimulates curiosity about nature and science topics that children love to engage in: watching birds or clouds, finding leaves or pinecones, even investigating mud puddles, can all be great starting points for science learning. Many teachers and centers make outdoor learning a cornerstone of their curriculum, because there are so many possibilities for using materials in creative ways: painting with sticks, counting stones, building structures out of loose parts, etc. Bringing art outside minimizes the worry about messing up the classroom, and voices or music that would be too noisy inside are just fine on the playground.

A well-designed outdoor environment does minimize drainage problems, and provides a variety of surfaces for children to experience. If your playground has major water issues, or is just not meeting the needs of your children due to safety concerns or space constraints, it might be a good idea to talk to your director or board about what can be done. There are grants available to help centers improve their outdoor environments without too much financial strain.

It can help to include a statement in your parent information packet explaining your center’s policy: “The outdoors is a fundamental part of our learning environment here at the center, so we go outside almost every day, except in a case of severe weather. The space was carefully designed to provide opportunities for young children to strengthen their minds and bodies. Your children might get wet or dirty, so it’s important for their comfort and safety that they have at least one full set of extra clothes to change into, including shoes.” Enlist your director’s help in making sure parents understand that this is a requirement of the program.

You may need to talk through the importance of outside time with some parents, but it pays to be persistent. Due to safety concerns and lifestyle changes, children rarely get to play outside today the way they did in past generations. As adults, our fondest memories often center on running through our neighborhoods or local wild spaces with other children, playing freely with whatever we found. Even if that’s not possible for most of today’s children, we can still do our best to provide them with a chance to explore nature freely, building skills and confidence no matter what the season.

Family Child Care Homes

Question: Ever since I had my first child, I’ve been taking care of my kids and some friends’ kids while they are at work. I’m a stay-at-home mom with a big basement and fenced yard, and I love having babies around. I’ve actually had a number of other friends ask if I can take their kids too. I’ve thought about opening a real center in my home, but that seems like a huge undertaking. Is there something in the middle I can do?

Answer: The arrangement you’re describing is what we call family/friend/neighbor care – informal child care arrangements where an unlicensed caregiver takes in the children of people they know. It’s actually pretty common in Buncombe County, because, as you are undoubtedly aware, there is a critical shortage of child care spots available, especially for infants and toddlers.

Turning your informal arrangement into licensed family child care home can seem daunting at first, but there are many, many benefits to both you and the community. First of all, if you keep more than 2 children who are not related to you for more than 4 hours a day, you legally must be licensed under North Carolina law. This does mean some paperwork and regulations, depending on how many children you want to care for, their ages, and the current specifications of your house and yard. 

But, getting licensed allows you to care for more children, often at higher rates, leading to more income. You can also claim your house and property (as well as any renovations you may need to make) as business expenses on your taxes, giving you a higher profit margin. Enrolling in the federal lunch program can also save you lots of money if you want to provide meals. And creating more slots for quality child care is something that can help everyone in Buncombe County.

A good first step is to come to our Family Child Care Home Q&A on March 14th from 6:00-7:00. There will be experienced Family Child Care Home providers and licensing consultants to answer your questions and help get your process started. You can register at this link, or call 407.2058:   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/resources-for-informal-in-home-child-care-providers-tickets-32189528747