Do you use a parent handbook for your family child care program?
Whether you have taken the time to write a handbook for your program or not, this article will help you improve your handbook or will help you get started on creating this important document.
The purpose of a parent handbook
A parent handbook is a great way to expand upon the various policies and procedures that are included in your child care contract. In this document you have the opportunity to show your program’s personality by introducing yourself and your credentials as well as your mission in early childhood.
A child care handbook should be an approach to answering any Frequently Asked Questions your client may have before they are even asked. It should also serve as a way for a parent to understand what their role is helping make this program run smoothly.
Disclaimer: It is always best to consult your local license agency first to determine what topics must be covered in any documentation given to your clients. My list is not a comprehensive list of what should be included in the documentation for a licensed program.
What to include in your parent handbook
Your parent handbook will look different than another program’s handbook! Here are some ideas for what to include in your handy dandy informative packet of information that will help keep all of your clients on the same ‘page’.
A Welcome Page
Most of your clients who are reading this for the first time are brand new to your program. Create an opening paragraph that welcomes new families and tell them how grateful you are and that you look forward to creating lifelong relationships with them.
This is also a great place to post your contact information such as your phone number, email address, website, etc.
Print your front cover in a bright and cheery color! (Or tie it in with the colors you use in your other marketing materials). Consider including the following elements on your cover page:
- Business Name
- Logo (or image of your choice)
- Your Name
- Address (or city/state)
- Email Address
- Phone Number
Table of Contents
I know, I know…how fancy are you? Perhaps save this task for last but give great consideration to creating a table of contents for your reader. It can save your client a lot of time if they need to reference your handbook to freshen up on your payment policy.
Include a section in which you tell your new clients about who you are! Include information you think others would love to know about: where you’re from, how long you’ve been in the field of early childhood education, your hobbies, pets, fun facts hardly anyone knows about you, etc. Also include information about your family.
Your Teaching Philosophy
Be honest here. Share your WHY. Don’t say what you think your clients want to hear but rather share how you truly feel about early childhood experiences for kids and what you strive to do in your program. I loved reading through the following reasons why some teachers choose to teach for a living.
Orientation Information for New Families
This paragraph should include information on what the family is expected to provide (should they label these things?), what you will provide for their child as well as any information on a trial period (if you offer one).
Your Daily Schedule
Share a timeline of daily events in this section. If you don’t like to be confined to a schedule when caring for and teaching young children, be sure to mention that your schedule is highly flexible to meet the needs of each child. Try to share a rough outline if possible as parents will appreciate knowing approximately when lunch is being served, how many times you go outside to play, etc.
Here is a sample of how I explained my play-based program that was mostly child-lead.
Our daily schedule is structured but very flexible to allow for spontaneity and to meet the needs of each child. Our routine also varies from season to season. I use a child led play-based learning approach. This means children have large blocks of time to play and explore freely within the learning space which includes materials that are carefully selected by the child care provider. Through “guided play”, I construct and present activities & materials each day that are provoking and inviting as a way to encourage maximum exploration, learning and inquiry.
Daily Format Deep Dive
In my parent handbook, I called this section, “Why We Do What We Do”. Here you can share one or two sentences behind why you have included certain activities into their child’s daily schedule.
Here is an example of a few entries I included in my program guidebook in this deep dive section:
- GOOD MORNING GREETING – We welcome one another at the start of each new day. Parents: Please refrain from using your cell phone during this time as you help get your child settled and say good-bye for the day. I ask that all families arrive before 8am to allow us time to transition into our first meal time together. We gather together for a hearty breakfast before we transition into the rest of our day.
- EXPLORATION TIME – A wise preschool teacher once told me…”Play is a child’s work.” This enriching, self-guided time is offered throughout our day. Children are encouraged to select a favorite activity or try something new. My role, as provider, is to be there as a scaffold for their learning. Each day, I carefully prepare the space to allow for optimal exploration and experiences. We ask lots of questions and work hard at answering play requests with the answer, “Why not? Let’s try it and see what happens!” ***** Daycare & Early Learning is a child lead, teacher framed program.
Drop-Off and Pick-Up Procedures
Drop-off and pick-up can be very challenging for all parties involved (the child, the parent and the provider). Use this space in your handbook to outline best practices to help parents understand the complexities–what makes drop-off or pick-up time go smoothly and what does not? Be sure to include the following details in this section:
- Designated parking information for parents when they arrive at your home.
- The entrance and exit locations for families.
- Details on what a parent should do if their child will not be attending or will be late on a particular day.
- Instructions on whether or not outside food or drink is permitted.
- Direct them on whether or not they need to remove their shoes or where to put their child’s gear.
- Help parents know if they are allowed to enter into the learning space or if you would prefer they say good-bye to their child at the door or the gate, etc.
- Tell parents what time they should pick up their child and what to do if they are running late.
- Outline the procedure if someone else is picking up their child.
Meal Time and Nutrition
Share information about the food you serve to their child. Be sure to include whether or not you are enrolled in the Food Program. This is a great place to include a rough outline of your meal schedule. Here are some notes I included in my nutrition section:
- Please arrive by 8:00 a.m. to receive breakfast, and before 11:30 a.m. to receive lunch. Please feed your child the scheduled meal if he/she will be arriving after the times listed.
- Water is offered throughout the day as we work to keep each other hydrated!
- Most kids enjoy “treats” as much as I do! On occasion I serve special treats .
- I strive to find healthier alternatives for the following foods: chicken nuggets, fish sticks, corn dogs, french fries, and pizza. These foods are rarely served in this program.
- Most of the vegetables we serve are organic.
- We practice routine hand washing before and after all meals.
- Our lunch is served “Family Style”. This means the children pass around the components of our meal to one another and scoop their own helping.
- I sit and eat with the children at the table as much as I am able to promote healthy eating habits.
Clothing and Supply Information
You may have already shared these details in your orientation information but it doesn’t hurt to repeat the information here. You could also highlight what kinds of footwear works best (velcro?) or remind parents not to send their child in their Sunday best as kids tend to get messy in your program.
You can write about the logistics of all of the child’s belongings. Will it be stored in your home? Will parents be required to carry it back and forth each day? These are all things you get to decide as a business owner!
Outline ways in which you will be sharing information with parents about their child and how they should contact you if they have any questions or concerns.
If you write a monthly newsletter, talk about how and when it will delivered each month and what they can expect.
Here is where you can provide more information about your payment policy, whether or not you collect a deposit and if there are any other fees the parents should know about.
Holidays and Time Off
Let your clients know about your vacation policy. For the most part, a parent handbook should include information that doesn’t change based on the calendar. Consider passing out a document each year that outlines your time off based on the current year.
You can, however, include information about your time off and if payment is required in your absence. Consider whether or not your clients will still be required to pay when THEY choose to take a day off or keep their child home due to illness.
Include information on what a family can expect to happen on a day that you, the provider is ill.
Exclusion Policy Details
Most providers include this information in their contract, however in your handbook you have some room to explain, in detail, the ins and outs of when parents should keep their child home when they are sick.
This section may vary based on your licensing requirements, but I preferred to include information about my license and where parents can find information about a family child care license that is provided by my home state. Each year our licensing unit would send out a survey to my clients to rate the service they were receiving via my program. In this section of my handbook, I gave my clients a bit of a heads up so they knew what to expect; that they may be asked from time to time to provide information about me, my child care program/home to the licensing agency.
Provide your clients with a list of forms that they will be expected to fill out when they enroll your program. Some may be forms you create while others are required by other organizations such as the Food Program or the Licensing Department.
In my home state, I was required to share the following policies with each client:
- A GRIEVANCE POLICY: If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the services being provided in my licensed program, please bring the concern to my attention right away.
- INSURANCE POLICY: I have a liability policy in effect to the limits required by the State of _______.
- MANDATED REPORTING: [State] law requires all teachers, social workers and child care providers to report any suspected physical or sexual abuse or the neglect of any child, as written by MN Statutes.
- NON-DISCRIMINATION: I, [name] or any of the staff at ______ Daycare & Early Learning, shall not discriminate against any child. The children are placed here without regard to race, creed, color, gender, religion, disability, or national origin.
This may or may not be required in your county/state. Check with your licensing committee to determine what elements are required in your communications with clients.
Let your clients know what procedures are in place if/when there is a medical emergency with your or one of the children in your program.
Curriculum & Activities
Give your clients details on what type of curriculum or activities you offer. Will there be field trips? Will you invite outside services in such as a music therapist or a kid-yoga instructor?
This topic is better discussed face to face; however, it’s not a bad idea to include some general information about how you will handle “less than desirable” behaviors such as hitting or biting.
If you’re working with kids under the age of 5, you’ll want to include information on your approach to potty training.
It’s not fun to think you may have to terminate a family some day but you still need to include information on how the process works; if it should occur.
Sometimes the odds and ends bits of information just don’t belong in the other section. Good ahead! You’re the boss here…create a miscellaneous section. Here are some common notes included on this page that you may want to add to yours:
- SUBSTITUTE TEACHER/PROVIDER
- PETS IN YOUR HOME
- EMERGENCY PROCEDURES/DRILLS YOU PRACTICE
- BRINGING IN TOYS FROM HOME
- INCLEMENT WEATHER
- FIELD TRIPS/TRANSPORTATION
- TAX PREP
- EMPLOYER’S REIMBURSEMENT PROGRAM
- POLICY CHANGES & ENROLLMENT UPDATES
- RENEWAL CONTRACT PROCEDURE
Parent Handbook PDF or Printable
While your child care contract should be limited to 1-3 pages, your child care handbook can be longer. Consider it an expanded version of your contract.
Some providers prefer to hand their clients a paper copy of their handbook where others are comfortable emailing it out as a PDF.
Regardless of your delivery preference, it is important to write a clear and concise parent handbook to lay the foundation for how you want your program to run.