As you may recall from reading my post, So and So’s Mom, my little one is now 15 months old and I am feeling ready for the next thing. Naturally, this led me to thoughts of returning to the workforce. Now that we live in Howard County, Maryland, away from our families, returning to work would mean daycare for my little guy.
In-home daycares tend to be a less expensive option (roughly $150 per week), but to me, this feels more like glorified babysitting. This option would require me to trust a complete stranger to prepare my child for preschool by managing their daily schedule, nutrition, physical development, and education with absolutely no formal oversight or support. Some of these in-home daycares have 4, 5, or even 6 children at a time, while the Maryland state licensing standards require a ratio of no more than 3 children under the age of two per teacher.
A licensed daycare also has minimum education requirements for their teachers, which includes a 90-hour training in early childhood education, often in addition to a college degree in early childhood education or related field. The teachers in a licensed daycare also have the support and oversight of other teachers and directors. There are schedules, meal plans, recess and sports programs, and a curriculum. I like this option because the children flow seamlessly from the daycare classroom into the preschool classroom since they remain in the same building and on a similar schedule. However, the security and benefits of a formal school setting come at a cost. A cost that rendered me and my husband speechless.
Now, I will say, a lot of these schools do not publicize their costs and some were even reluctant to inform me over the phone, insisting on a tour. I think they worry that parents will shy away from the formal school setting, not fully realizing the benefits, until they have seen it for themselves. My intention with posting the information here is not to upset the schools, but rather, to help inform other parents who may be considering returning to work. Therefore, I must present all of the pros and cons as I see them.
We have toured five childcare centers at this point (Columbia Academy preschool at Maple Lawn, MKD Kids Learning Center, Cradlerock Children’s Center, Eco Tots, and Childtime Learning Centers) and we have three more scheduled (Child’s Garden, The Young School, and The Goddard School). There are several things that have really surprised us.
- The price. Just considering that three children need to cover the cost of an infant/toddler teacher’s salary prepares you for the thought that a preschool setting will not come cheap. However, you only need to spend a few minutes on a job site such as indeed.com to realize that these teachers are only being paid $8-12 per hour. So if you take the average, $10, that teacher is making only $400 per 40 hour work week. The most expensive of the daycares mentioned above cost $457 per week ($1,828 per month or $21,936 per year) for an infant/toddler (under the age of two). The cheapest daycare was $368 per week ($1,472 per month or $17,664 per year) for an infant/toddler. Sure, this cost goes down as your child gets older and the requirement for a 3:1 child to teacher ratio grows to 6:1 then 10:1, but what if you have a second child? Many of these childcare centers offer a 5% or 10% discount for a sibling, but still, our calculations told us we would then be paying just under $3,200 per month ($38,400 per year) at the most expensive daycare and $2,444 per month ($29, 328 per year) at the least expensive. To give you a comparison, current in-state tuition at the University of Maryland is $10,180 per year ($1,131 per month for 9 months or $282 per week).
- The waitlist. I realized that there may be a waitlist for some of the really nice schools and started calling around three months before I was hoping to return to work. I was quite surprised when our current top pick told us that they would not have space for us until June 2017 when my little guy turns two (in nine months). One of the other schools, which we have yet to see, told us they would not have any openings until August 2017 (almost a year from now). So we had to ask ourselves, if I wait until my son is two years old to return to work, how far apart in age do we want our children to be? Is it worth returning to work only to have another baby six months or so later and have to leave the workforce again? Could we guarantee a spot or the income for our second child to join the daycare?
- The benefits. I knew that our child would be well cared for in a formal daycare setting, but I was still surprised by the way these schools are preparing children for their formal education. The directors told us about sports programs, Spanish programs, and writing programs the children are offered as young as age two. We watched the children working quietly and cooperatively around a table and learning to follow direction at just two and three years old. I watched all this as my little boy ran around the room, pulled puzzles off the shelf, and talked loudly about the clock, puzzle, and other children. I honestly don’t know how the teacher had all six children playing so quietly so I must conclude it was some form of witchcraft. Nonetheless, I am feeling as though I need to do even more to prepare my son for preschool, to be able to sit still, and to begin learning a second language.
Through this exploration of daycare options, my husband and I have started to feel as though my returning to work now would make it difficult for us to have a second child and then would result in my working to pay someone else to raise our kids, with very little financial benefit for our family.
I know that there are other options out there. Many families find in-home daycare options that are a perfect fit for their family. Some families are very lucky to have relatives or friends available to provide childcare while they work. Other families are able to hold work schedules that can be accommodated by a nanny. Some stay-at-home parents are able to work from home while providing care for their child. It really boils down to finding the best option for your own family.
Obviously, the decision to return to work does not begin and end with numbers. We see our son thriving with the individualized attention I provide and wonder whether he would continue to thrive in a daycare setting. We see the close and loving relationship he has with us and wonder if that would change if given much more time apart. We see his joy and excitement each day as he spends hours just exploring the world around him and wonder if that joy would fade with so much time spent inside the same building day after day. In some ways, after giving it some more thought, leaving him to go back to work when I have the option of staying home with him seems crazy.
And then other options don’t seem so crazy after giving them some thought. I laughed out loud when a fellow blogger suggested having another baby after my post So and So’s Mom, but interestingly enough, the more we talk about it the less crazy it seems.
- Eco Tots had the healthiest meal plan out of all of the schools. I was very impressed by their meal plan. Not all childcare centers provide lunch and snacks, and if they do, its not always nutritious.
- Some of the childcare centers are now providing parents with real-time updates using tablets to upload photos and even videos of the children during the day!
- Many of the childcare centers cited low pay as the reason for high turnover rates among daycare and preschool teachers, who make roughly $20,000 per year. One director stated she just cannot compete with an elementary school’s salary and these teachers are qualified or on their way to becoming qualified for elementary education.
Photo Credit: Laura’s Left Hook