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Childcare workers look after young children when parents are at work or cannot be with their children for other reasons. They do many of the things parents do for their children. Those caring for infants and toddlers follow a routine of basic care--feeding, bathing, diapering, playing with, and comforting. Those working with older pre-school children, in addition to taking care of their basic needs, plan and carry out programs to stimulate the children's physical, emotional, and social growth.

Childcare workers' duties depend on the setting in which they work. Childcare workers in a large daycare center are in charge of groups of children under the supervision of a director who also handles administrative and program development responsibilities. Self-employed childcare workers taking care of a small number of children in their own homes, often referred to as family daycare, have sole responsibility for those children. In addition to caring for children, self-employed childcare workers are responsible for a safe and clean environment, good nutrition, games, and other activities. Many also handle administrative duties such as obtaining and renewing a license, hiring help, purchasing supplies, keeping records, mailing out bills, and recruiting children.

Regardless of the children's age or the setting, childcare workers make sure that the children's basic physical, psychological, social, and educational needs are met. Typical duties may include greeting children as they arrive, helping them remove outer garments, and teaching them how to dress and undress. They may organize and direct indoor and outdoor games and activities or take them on field trips. They may include painting and drawing, working with clay and wood, singing, and story reading and telling. They also organize play activities which not only provide physical exercise but teach the children how to get along with each other.

Childcare workers are also concerned with the children's health and nutrition. They serve nutritious meals and snacks and use these as an opportunity to teach the children good eating habits and responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. They also see to it that the children have proper rest periods. They spot children who may be getting sick or showing signs of emotional or developmental problems and bring these to the parents' attention.

Working conditions

Working conditions vary. Childcare facilities may range from a single poorly furnished room to a large, beautifully equipped building. Some facilities accommodate a few children, others a hundred or more. Childcare centers may be in private homes, churches, and on premises of universities, businesses, or other organizations that provide care for employees' children. Others are in new or remodeled buildings used exclusively for childcare.

Childcare centers are open year round. Many are open 12 hours a day. Full-time staff workers usually have 8-hour shifts. However, many work part time or have staggered hours. Self-employed childcare workers with young children can earn money without having to leave them. They have great flexibility in their hours of work and in daily routine. Since they work in their own home, they also are able to handle some housekeeping responsibilities while looking after children.

Childcare workers spend much of their time standing, walking, bending, stooping, and lifting. They must be constantly alert, anticipate and prevent trouble, deal with disruptive children, and provide fair but firm discipline. This can be physically and emotionally taxing. The work is demanding and sometimes hectic and requires a great deal of physical stamina. Rewards, on the other hand, come from seeing young children blossom and grow under their care. Many work part time.

About two-thirds of childcare workers are self-employed; most take care of children in their own homes. The rest work in daycare centers sponsored by a variety of organizations. Many centers are for-profit operations, affiliated in some instances with a local or national chain. Others are run by churches, synagogues, community agencies, school systems, and State or local governments. A small number are operated by business firms for the children of their employees.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Entry level positions for childcare workers require little or no experience, for the most part. Although their are no specific educational requirements, employers prefer individuals with a high school diploma. Some employers provide on-the-job training by an experienced worker.

High school students who plan to work with small children should take courses in psychology, sociology, home economics, nutrition, and family living. Courses in art, music, drama, and physical education also provide good preparation. Volunteer or paid babysitting is helpful.

Formal training or certification is recommended for individuals who wish to advance. Many 2-year and 4- year colleges offer certificate and associate degree programs in childcare and guidance. Subjects include childhood psychology, and play and educational activities.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential program offers an alternative way toward certification. It stresses on-the-job performance and experience. The program is open to anyone 18 years of age or older. A team of childcare professionals conducts the assessment and decides whether the individual qualifies for the CDA credential. The CDA assessment process may take several months or longer.

Childcare workers should like working with small children and should be kind and patient. They should be in excellent health since the work requires much energy and physical stamina. Skills in music, art, drama and storytelling are also important. Those who work for themselves must have good business sense and management abilities. As childcare workers gain experience, they may advance to supervisory or administrative positions in large childcare centers. Often, however, these positions require additional training. Some set up their own childcare business.

Employment of childcare workers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. This reflects anticipated growth in the number of young children who will need care, together with a shift in the type of childcare, who will need care, together with a shift in the type of childcare arrangements parents choose.

Although the number of children under the age of 5 is expected to decline, the number of youngsters in need of daycare will increase in the year 2000. Mothers of very young children are almost as likely to work as other women. Women are returning to work sooner after childbirth. A number of daycare centers now offer infant care in addition to care for toddlers and preschoolers.

Job openings will be plentiful through the year 2000. Increased demand for childcare workers plus the need to replace those who leave the occupation are expected to create numerous openings. persons who are interested in this work and suited for it should have little trouble finding and keeping jobs.

Childcare work requires a wide variety of aptitudes and skills, including patience, creativity, an ability to motivate, teach, and influence others, and, in some cases, leadership and organizational and administrative abilities. Other occupations that require these aptitudes include teacher aide, children's tutor, foster parent, recreational therapist, social worker, and early childhood program director.