Childcare providers typically work for families and care for children when the parents or other family members are not available. They care for a child’s basic needs, like food and personal hygiene, and may help with homework for older children. The number one priority for many childcare workers is the safety of the children in their care. In addition to that, they might change diapers, cook, clean, and play with children.
Childcare providers can find work through three different avenues. First, they might work as a nanny or babysitter for individual families. Second, they can contract through a childcare agency. Third, they can work for preschools or daycare centers like Head Start. The role of a childcare provider in a preschool or daycare setting may be more focused on the academics whereas a childcare provider who is more a nanny or babysitter may focus more on caring for the basic needs of the children. Working with an agency can allow a childcare provider to ensure steady work by marketing to more families.
Many childcare workers organize each child’s schedule around a series of structured activities. This is to ensure each child gets enough play and rest. They might also be responsible for observing any emotional or developmental problems that arise with a child. Depending on how much time a childcare worker spends with the children, she might be the first one to spot a problem.
Babies and toddlers might stay with their childcare worker for most of the day. Part of that time might be spent preparing toddlers for preschool with activities like storytelling and building with blocks. For school-age children, the majority of a childcare provider’s duties will occur before and after school. This may change during the summer months when school ends but the parents still have to work.
A Day in the Life
- Morning: Mornings are usually a busy time for childcare providers. For school age children, this can mean pushing kids through a whirlwind of activities to get dressed, eat breakfast, and prepare for school. For younger children, mornings can be time for diaper changes, feedings, and play.
- Mid-morning: Every childcare worker will have a different routine for the children, but mid-morning activities might include a trip to the park, story time, playtime indoors, or a playdate with another child.
- Lunch: Childcare providers are responsible for providing meals while parents and other family members are away. This could mean preparing a bottle or cooking a lunch for older kids.
- Afternoon: For young children, part of the afternoon will be devoted to nap time. After nap time, the childcare provider will have other activities for the children to do from drawing to playing music. The children may need another snack and the provider might start cooking dinner before the parents return home.
- After Work: Childcare providers will usually not have work to take home with them, but depending on the needs of the family, a provider might have to stay and care for the children late into the night.
Some states require that childcare providers have a high school diploma, but many states don’t have any formal requirement at all.
For states that do have requirements, childcare providers may have to obtain a Child Development Associate certification from the Council for Professional Recognition. This certification process requires coursework, field experience, and a period of time when the provider is observed by a supervisor.
Areas of Specialization
Childcare providers can specialize based on the kind of children with whom they enjoy working. Some might prefer to work with babies and toddlers while others may find they are more suited for school-age children.
Childcare providers with a background in early childhood education and special education might want to consider working with children who have disabilities. This can be a very challenging but rewarding job and a big help to parents. These childcare providers may consider working in a preschool or daycare center rather than with an individual family, since a center or school is more likely to have an academic focus.
Previous and Next Steps
Because childcare provider work is considered an entry-level position, there are few formal requirements or typical work experiences current childcare providers can have. In order to become more hirable, potential childcare providers should have some experience working with children. This can be volunteering at a daycare or working as a camp counselor. Experience playing or working with children can help convince a family or childcare firm to take on someone new to the field.
Childcare providers may eventually decide to become teachers in public schools or daycare centers. Providers who start out working for an individual family may branch out to a childcare firm where they can work with multiple families.
For average salary information for childcare workers (and several other early childhood education-related positions), go to our Jobs page and select a state.