Giving parents — and kids — what they want from your daycare

As a mom, I'm a little leery about leaving my daughter in a club's daycare. Why? Well, honestly, part of it is guilt. I work full-time, face a 50-minute commute, and only have about three hours at night with her until it's bedtime. I don't want to sacrifice any of that time so I can work out while she sits in a club's daycare watching a video.

As a club operator, how could you convince a mom like me to entrust a child to your daycare? Personally speaking, you'd need to show me that the daycare area and its toys are spic-and-span clean. Also, you must demonstrate that the daycare is as safe as my home. And, finally, if I'm doing something for myself instead of spending time with her, I'd want to know that she's having loads of fun and getting exercise at the same time.

I know that may sound like a tall demand, but I'm sure many parents feel the same way. So here are some suggestions on how to turn your daycare into a tons-of-fun center that make moms and dads comfortable.

  • Safety first. Steve Bowcutt, owner of Kidz Club Fitness, Sunrise, Fla., maintains a daily checklist for keeping his facility safe for children. He makes sure that the equipment and toys are in perfect condition, the hinges on the doors won't catch children's fingers, and the floors are dry.

    “We have gotten rid of anything that is sharp or pointed,” Bowcutt adds. “Everything in our facility is round, soft and colorful.”

    Facility maintenance and design aren't the only precautions. You also must make sure the children are safe from each other. For that reason, separate the youngsters into age-appropriate groups.

    “When you have a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl [playing] together, there could be trouble,” says Liz Price, owner of Energized by Exercise Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Don't forget cleanliness. Bowcutt washes everything in his facility with a mild detergent daily and an antibacterial detergent weekly.

    “The first thing people notice in our facility is all the different equipment,” Bowcutt says. “The second thing they notice is the overall cleanliness and clean smell that seems to be a missing factor in most daycare areas.”

  • Hiring the right person for the job. A daycare employee should bring creativity, an outgoing personality and experience with children, Bowcutt believes.

    “Creativity is extremely important,” he notes. “If you have different children every day and different ages, you have to keep them all doing something and keep them going.”

    In addition to hiring the right person for the job, you must hire the right number of people, emphasizes Price. For youngsters 2 and under, she suggests a ratio of one instructor per four children. A one-to-eight ratio is fine for older children.

  • Keep it simple. You don't need a ton of money to stock your daycare.

    “A ball, in my opinion, is the best toy ever developed,” states Bowcutt. “They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and textures.”

    And the possibilities are limitless. You can play a simple game of catch. Smaller children can roll the balls on the floor. You can hold a bouncing contest. The list goes on.

    Other inexpensive equipment that offers endless options includes beanbags, hula-hoops, tumbling mats, flash cards, jump ropes and carpet squares. (See Simply Fun: Activities for All Kids.)

    Whatever you chose, stick to equipment that allows physical activity, Price opines. While arts and crafts are fun, they are usually covered in school. Fitness isn't.

  • Spend (if you can). Simple is great, but if you have a budget, use it.

    “Most clubs don't invest enough in their daycare,” says Bowcutt. “Most just see it as babysitting. My thoughts are…parents typically pay for [daycare], so why not give them more than they expect, which will give more value to their membership and build loyalty because you care about their children and keeping them fit?”

    Possible investments for kids include strength machines and cardio equipment designed for children. Yes, this equipment does take a little more supervision, but kids enjoy it.

    “They see their mom and dad doing [these exercises] and want to try it,” explains Bowcutt.

  • Give a report. When your members come to pick up their children, fill them in on what you did. Explain that you played games that worked on balance and coordination. This shows parents that you care and are actively participating in the development of their child, notes Price.

    “This adds extra value to their membership,” she says.


Simply Fun: Activities for All Kids

Your daycare should offer members more than babysitting. If you just stick kids in front of a television, you are sending mixed signals to the parents, notes Liz Price, owner of Energized by Exercise Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo. You want your daycare to be a place that children want to come to.

Even if you don't offer children's programming, you can provide fun physical fitness in your daycare center. Here are some enjoyable activities that you can implement without breaking your bank account.

  • Dance. Turn on the radio or buy some tapes and just dance. Kids love to dance and be silly. You can also buy some self-directed music tapes where the kids sing and do songs like the “Hokey Pokey.”

  • Obstacle Course. Older children enjoy helping out the younger ones, notes Price. So team them up. Have the older kids set up an obstacle course for the younger children. While the older children are designing the course, they are moving around. Afterwards, they can help the younger ones go through the course while navigating it themselves, explains Price.

  • Flash-Card Charades. Create or buy flash cards that have animals on them. The children take turns pulling a card and, using their body movements, act out the animal that they selected. It's then up to the other kids to guess the animal.

  • Musical Carpet Squares. Carpet remnants are very inexpensive, if not free. Check with your members or staff to see if they have some lying around the house. The carpet squares can be used as stations. The children stand on the remnants while they are doing different balancing or fitness activities, such as standing on one foot and hopping, doing jumping jacks, etc.

    Musical cues alert the children when it is time to rotate to another station to start another activity.

    “The older kids love to do it, and the younger kids love to mimic them,” says Price.

  • Beanbag Toss. Use tape to make a bull's-eye on the wall and have the kids throw the beanbags at it. It's easy to set up and won't hurt anyone, notes Price. You can also bring in different-sized buckets, line them up (with the smallest being in the back) and have the children test their skill by tossing the beanbags in the buckets.