Anyone who has ever babysat or worked with a group of kids in a summer camp knows something about the demands of child care. Professional child care workers take on the responsibility of providing high quality care to young children. Child care workers also teach children basic skills and prepare them for their first years of school. They assist teachers and center directors in coming up with activities that build on children's abilities and curiosity. Child care workers must also pay attention to the individual needs of each child so that they can adapt activities to these specific needs. For example, a worker should plan activities based on the understanding that a three-year-old child has different motor skills and reasoning abilities than a five-year-old child. Because child care workers care for babies, toddlers, and kids of pre-kindergarten age, these workers need to provide 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, infants require less teaching and more individual attention from the child care workers—they ensure that the babies are fed, diapered, and held when awake.
When working with children, child care workers rely on a background in child development to create a flexible schedule allowing time for music, art, play time, academics, rest, and other activities. Depending on the size and structure of the center, workers may be assigned to deal with a particular age group, or they may work with many age groups. A typical day for child care works may begin with caring for infants—feeding and diapering them then working with preschoolers before returning to the infant room to feed them lunch and put them down for their naps. Afterward it may be time to assist the preschoolers with their lunch. When working with the preschoolers, child care workers often help them to develop skills for kindergarten, such as letter and number recognition and social skills. To help direct the children, a center may organize a different "theme" every few weeks. The theme may center around a holiday or a season, or a specific letter or number that the children should learn. A nursery rhyme or fairy tale may also be part of the theme.
Workers at a child care center have many responsibilities in addition to giving lessons and instruction. A major portion of a child care worker's day is spent helping children adjust to being away from home and encouraging them to play together. Children who become frightened or homesick need gentle reassurance. Child care workers often help kids with their coats and boots in the winter and also deal with the sniffles, colds, and generally cranky behavior that can occur in young children. These workers supervise snack time, teaching children how to eat properly, and clean up after themselves.
Child care workers also work with the parents of each child. It is not unusual for parents to come to a center 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.