You can gain experience in this field by volunteering at a child care center or other preschool facility. Some high schools provide internships with local preschools for students interested in working as teacher's aides. Your school counselor can provide information on these opportunities. Summer day camps or religious schools with preschool classes also hire high school students as counselors or counselors-in-training. You also can take tours of child care centers of various sizes, and talk to the owners about how they started their businesses.
Child care service owners must make sure that the care the children receive is of the highest possible quality. Parents expect those working at care centers to help their children learn basic skills, such as using a spoon and playing together, and to prepare them for their first years of school by, for example, teaching colors and letters. Service owners create activities that build on children's abilities and curiosity. Attention to the individual needs of each child is important, so that activities can be adapted to specific needs. For example, a three-year-old child has different motor skills and reasoning abilities than a child of five years of age, and the younger child will need more help completing the same project. Child care centers typically provide care for babies, toddlers, and children of pre-kindergarten age, and because of this, they offer many different kinds of instruction. Some kids will just be learning how to tie their shoes and button their coats, while others will have begun to develop reading and computer skills. And, of course, the infants require much individual attention for things such as feedings, diaper changings, and being held when awake. Owners of small facilities are typically the primary care givers and do the majority of these activities in addition to the administrative activities involved in running a business—ordering supplies, paying the bills, keeping records, making sure the center meets licensing requirements, and so forth. Owners of large facilities hire aides, teachers, and assistant directors to help provide care.
When hiring teachers for their centers, owners often look for people with some background in child development, such as a college degree or some years of practical experience. A background in child development gives owners and teachers the knowledge of how to create a flexible and age-appropriate schedule that allows time for music, art, playtime, academics, rest, and other activities. Owners and child care staff work with the youngest children to teach them the days of the week and to recognize colors, seasons, and animal names and characteristics; older children are taught number and letter recognition and simple writing skills. Self-confidence and the development of communication skills are encouraged in day care centers. For example, children may be given simple art projects, such as finger painting, and after the paintings are completed everyone takes a turn showing and explaining the finished projects to the rest of the class. Show and tell gives students opportunities to speak and listen to others. Other skills children are taught may include picking up their toys after play time and washing their hands before snack time.
Owners of both small and large facilities have many other responsibilities aside from lessons and instruction. They may need to spend a large portion of a day comforting a child, helping him or her to adjust to being away from home, and finding ways to include the child in group activities. Children who become frightened or homesick need reassurance. Children also need help with tasks, such as putting on and taking off their coats and boots in the winter. If a child becomes sick, the owner must decide how to handle the situation and may contact the child's parents, a doctor, or even a hospital. Owners also order supplies for activities and supervise events, such as snack time, during which they teach children how to eat properly and clean up after themselves.
Child care center owners also work with the parents of each child. It is not unusual for parents to come to preschool and observe a child or go on a field trip with the class, and child care workers often take these opportunities to discuss the progress of each child as well as any specific problems or concerns. Child care service owners often make it a point to be frequently available for the parents when they're dropping off and picking up the children. Scheduled meetings are available for parents who cannot visit the school during the day or who want to have a more formal discussion than a quick conversation at dropoff or pickup allows.