Grandmas, friends, and the lady down the street: Important providers for early childhood care and education


Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria and his wife have three children, ages 8, 6 and 2, but they both work during the day, so for the past six years they have been doing what many young parents do: taking their children to their grandmother for caretaking.

Some 70 percent of households use Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) care, according to the 2009 Child Care Study, conducted by the Wilder Center and researcher Richard Chase, with about 52 percent of FFN providers being grandparents.

Part 1 of 2 articles on Family, Friends and Neighbors child care. Click to read Part 2: Support for most vulnerable children means helping grandmas, friends and the lady down the street

“It makes sense for us economically,” Sanchez-Chavarria said. “To put three kids in daycare is unaffordable for us.” His mother-in-law was willing, and she is someone they can trust to take care of the kids. It turns out, it wasn’t a bad decision. When the two older children went to Crossroads Montessori for pre-school, they were tested by the City of St. Paul, and both of the children got high test scores. 

Another benefit of having grandma take care of the kids is that she can speak Spanish, as well as English, to them. The two older girls are now at Adams Spanish Immersion school, so he’s glad they are getting extra time for speaking in Spanish.  

A typical day includes their grandma making them a good breakfast, entertaining them, reading them books, and taking them outside. “Things I like to do with my kids,” he said. For the most part, she only cares for his children, but has occasionally cared for other children too. 

According to the 2009 Child Care Study, of the households that use child care, 20 percent use FFN exclusively, 22 percent use it as their primary arrangement but use other types of care, and 29 percent use it as a secondary arrangement. In other words, 71 percent of households that use child care use some form of FFN care, and 42 percent use FFN exclusively or most of the time. 


One child’s-eye view

When I was really little my parents would drop me off everyday at the house of a woman named Miss Sylvia who lived just across the street.

She was tall, always well dressed and I found it interesting that she and my mother shared the same first name. Miss Sylvia’s daycare was run out of a house that she owned but didn’t live in and it was very neat and clean.

I know there were other children there as it was the first and only time I saw someone poop, but I don’t remember playing with anyone (I believe it was a daycare for only the neighborhood children). I watched her change a diaper once, I don’t know why but I did, and I remember having apple slices and juice for snack time.

My most hilarious memory of being at Miss Sylvia’s was when my father came to pick me up after shaving his mustache off. The second I saw him I started to cry and ran back to her (the realization that he had a face under all that hair was jarring). He hasn’t shaved it since.

Daycare can be a scary place when you’re young and you’re parents leave you for the first time to be around care givers and other children you don’t know. I remember feeling safe at Miss Sylvia’s, she was strict but loving and she way very good at caring for children.

– Amina Harper

Supplemental Child Care

April Fleck has always seen child care as supplemental. She works part time as a massage therapist, so she feels she has had plenty of time to do the educational part of child care herself. The main thing Fleck has looked for in care providers is flexibility. “I don’t need some super educational, super fancy daycare,” she said. “I have time to read them books, sound out letters, work on numbers, work on arts and crafts projects, take them to the park or a museum.” Fleck plays games with them, sings with them, plays drums with them around the house.

“How do I find people? That’s a good question. Luck,” said Fleck,  who lives in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood in Minneapolis. “I don’t know how I pulled it off.”

Fleck’s oldest daughter is now in school at Bryn Mawr Elementary, and her younger child is in the school’s High Five program. She has a neighbor who helps her out now. Fleck says she finds babysitters by chatting them up, finding out that they like kids and have done babysitting before, and “deciding that they won’t hurt my children too much.”

Luckily, her kids have survived. “Quality can really vary when you go with friends and family,” she said, though, “it is more affordable and can be more flexible.”

Once she tried a co-op, where she traded child-care with other parents. “It was very loosely structured,” she said. It was free, but it ended up being a lot of work, because you had to take care of so many kids, without pay. Fleck ended up deciding it wasn’t worth it, since she made more money doing massage. 

For Fleck, a good quality day care provider pays attention to the kids, feeds them reasonably nutritious meals and is mentally stable, but the most important thing is actually paying attention to the kids. The worst babysitter she had was a high school student who would fall asleep. Fleck would return home to find the girl using her curling iron and getting gussied up for a night on the town. Later she found out the girl went into treatment for drugs.

A more flexible option

Jean Wennerlyn Johnson works from home in Linden Hills, and each day her girls (aged three and a half and 20 months) go with what she calls a babysitter, who lives a few blocks away. Each day, from 9 a.m. until noon, they are cared for by the sitter, who picks them up and brings them home.

She found out about the woman from her postal carrier, when Johnson was pregnant with her first child. She was chatting with the postal carrier, who mentioned the woman has done a lot of babysitting, and gave the telephone number.

In the summer, their sitter takes the girls to the beach, the park, Como Zoo, or the Southdale play area. Sometimes she’ll take them to Bachmann’s to look at the fish. In the winter, they’ll do indoor activities, such as going to the mall, or sometimes do play dates with other people in the neighborhood. Otherwise they play with toys, or color, or occasionally watch Sesame Street, Johnson says. They also read a lot of books and play dress up. 

“I think they’re learning,” Johnson said. “Gail is coaching them when they’re not playing well. They’re reading books, they’re learning. I don’t think it is as much learning as playing.” 

For Johnson, cost was a big deciding factor. Because her sitter picks the kids up, she doesn’t have to drive them to a day care center. And she gets to choose the hours that are convenient for her. Often the girls nap after they get home, so that’s another couple of hours that she has to get some work in. “If I had to do daycare, it would cost me more.  I’d pay for more hours than I’d actually be needing.”

When she was first looking at options, she found many places, especially for really young children, didn’t want to waste a spot on a part time, because they only have so many spots that are licensed. “Even though hourly I spend more, in total I’m probably spending less,” she said. 

Related articles:

Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.