WOODSTOCK – The black-and-white outline of a turkey sat in front of each child in Kelly Reinert’s kitchen.
While 2-year-old Kara Davis was gamely scrawling swooping lines of colors across the page, the boys weren’t as taken with the task, several wandering off to investigate what was behind a closed door.
The answer on what lay behind that door was Kelsey Hamang, who was busy napping and at nearly 4 months old was the youngest of the nine children Reinert watches on a regular basis.
“We read books,” Reinert said. “We play with toys. A lot of the day is spent on breakfast, snack, lunch, changing diapers, cleaning up. That takes a lot of the day. There’s never a dull moment in here.”
Reinert is one of 12,398 day care providers across Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The number of providers is down from 13,431 in 2007.
While more than 70 percent of day care capacity is provided by centers, home day care providers outnumber centers 4-1.
Reinert used to work at a day care center in Buffalo Grove before deciding to open Home on Hill Childcare out of her Woodstock home. She got her first children in June.
The smaller group allows for more one-on-one time, she said, and she has more connection with parents, who at a larger center, would communicate to the director.
A home day care also means that Reinert works with children ranging in age from about 4 months old to 10 years old instead of just one age group.
“One of the hardest things, I think, is entertaining from a 1-year-old to a 2-year-old to a 4-year-old to after school at 2 o’clock [when the older kids come],” Reinert said. “That’s really hard to plan activities for them, but watch the baby and feed the baby and take care of the baby.”
Reinert has a part-time assistant come three days a week – the days when she has the most number of kids – to help out.
Regardless of whether the provider operates out of a center or a home, its owner and their employees have to pass a background check and they are inspected at least once a year.
The department sets standards on safety, nutrition, discipline, transportation and the number of children per provider.
Inspection results are available on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ website at https://sunshine.dcfs.illinois.gov.
Under the nonprofit Child Care Aware of America’s grading system, Illinois was one of 10 states to receive a C for its day care program and oversight standards. Only the Department of Defense received a B, and no state or other entity received an A.
The nonprofit sets out a series of recommendations, including:
• Requiring child care center directors to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in early childhood education or a related field (Illinois requires them to have the Child Development Associate credential),
• Having centers to be inspected at least four times a year (Illinois sets a minimum of one inspection a year), and
• Requiring centers provide annual training in a variety of areas (Illinois does not require annual training on child abuse recognition, licensing requirements, safe sleep, shaken baby and emergency preparedness).
While child care on average has not been found to be better or worse than being cared for solely by a parent, high quality care regardless of the source can have positive impacts on cognitive, language and social development, according to the research center Child Trends.
Child Care Aware blames a lack of quality care for the percentage of kids who enter kindergarten unprepared, including not being able to follow directions and those who have trouble working independently.
“There’s a strong emphasis on preparing children to be successful in schools, and there are efforts to teach early care and education teachers / providers how to support children’s development and learning and be ready to manage their own emotions,” Kelly Maxwell, Child Trends’ co-director for early childhood development, said in an email.
Some providers focus on providing parents with the tools to be their child’s “first teachers,” by equipping them with the information to identify if their child is developing normally and on what to do if their child does experience delays, added Nicole Forry, a senior research scientist in early childhood development.
Kids learn how to share and take turns, Reinert said as she helped a little girl use a pair of scissors, reminding her to keep her thumb up.