For Barbe Skiff, becoming a home daycare provider was, at first, more about practicality than passion. As a single parent and mother of three, most of her income would have been allocated to child care if she had not started her own family day care.
Originally from Saranac Lake, Barbe moved back to the area in 1984 with her three children. After living in California and Florida, Barbe missed the change of seasons and wanted her children to grow up in a small town.
"I really missed the fall colors and just the smell in air," she said. "You don't get that in California or Florida.
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"Jamie (her daughter) just turned five and was starting school. I knew this is where we should be. Plus as a single parent my family is all here and I knew that I had the support I needed here.
"I got into daycare because I had three children. I had just moved back home and my boys, Jason and Travis, were three and my daughter Jamie was five. The daycares back then, 25 years ago, weren't where I wanted to leave my children and as a single parent I had to make a living somehow. I started with one child and eventually got two and it just grew.
"I became certified in 1987. It didn't take long when I did it."
Barbe explained part of the certification process.
"The health inspector went through and made sure my house was clean and safe," she said. "There was paperwork that needed to be completed that gave my background and work history. Now, a provider has to be fingerprinted by the state and take a health and safety course. It looks intimidating but it is pretty simple. Thirty hours of training are required every two years in different domains such as 'shaken baby syndrome,' child development, nutrition and health. There are eight topics in all.
"I am in the process of renewing right now and I have more than 100 hours training. I go to conferences and keep up with things as they change. I like that constant renewal of information. I don't really count it as something I have to do and train for. I do a lot more training than is required. I can't help it. If I am interested in a course that is being offered, I take it."
Barbe had just returned from a conference run by the Family Childcare Association of New York State at Camp Sagamore. She talked about meeting new people, sharing ideas and being able to pass along those ideas within the network. There are four day cares in Lake Placid and three in Saranac Lake that make up the Child Care of the North Country Inc. Network.
Barbe wants people to know that in her opinion it isn't enough to just place children in a safe environment. The child needs to have interaction as well, not just sit in front of the television while the provider is in a different area.
"Children need interaction," Barbe said. "That is how they learn. I hope I am giving them a love of learning without them ever knowing it."
Her house is a rainbow of books, puzzles, paints and interactive toys. The outside deck shows traces of chalk drawing while the yard is an organized chaos of activity, swing set, climbing wall, trucks and sandbox. Barbe points out her new puzzle station where the children can sit at the table and work on puzzles, a flannel board and other activities.
Barbe contemplated her journey as a child care provider.
"I feel like I am so much better now as my knowledge has grown," she said. "I carry myself differently than when I first started out. I have so much more education on child development. I am focused on activities that get the children's senses going. I feel like I know what works and what keeps the children interested."
When her own three children grew up, Barbe brought more children into the household. Following the rules, she can have six full time children and two school-aged children. If any children are under the age of two, then the provider can only have five full time children.
"Right now I have a waiver with the New York State Office of Child and Family Services. New York state will give you a waiver if you can prove good reason that you can exceed that number. Because I am also watching my grandchildren I was given a waiver to have seven full time children.
"The children here become almost like siblings. They interact together and spend days together," she smiles. "They also have arguments like siblings."
Barbe said that the state keeps track of the numbers and is really cracking down on family day cares. She agrees that these rules are in place for a reason though some of the rules can be hard to follow. When other people really break the rules, it's the other day cares that pay the price. She understands that it's a safety issue.
For anyone wishing to become a family child care provider, Barbe encourages that person to reach out through the organization the Child Care of the North Country Inc. Network, a group formed by area providers from Essex and Franklin counties that provides networking, support and professionalism within the childcare community. Childcare Coordinating Council also hands out information. Both organizations work together to make sure new providers have a support group and provide mentors. In addition, the Child Care of the North Country Inc. Network has been the recipient of grants providing nutritional education and held public events providing alternatives to television.
A few years ago, Barbe decided to make a big change in her life by going back to school to complete an associate's degree. She is currently enrolled at Empire State College. She mentions that it was something she always regretted not doing. Empire is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) network, offering adults a continuing education option online or at 13 locations around the state. Barbe comments on how she has classmates in Korea, North Carolina, and even locally, where she is able to learn from each and every person, gaining knowledge and sharing experiences.
"When I first started taking classes, I enrolled at Clinton Community College," she said. "I was told that I was one of the oldest students taking online classes and that my experience, maturity and input was invaluable and was coming from a different place than the 20-year-old student. Online classes have opened up a door for people. I'll even be taking a course that will give me credit for my life experience. I like the challenge of it," she says. "I've been at it for two years now starting with just one class a semester. I am taking two courses a semester and I'm looking at finishing in two more years.
"Empire works really well with my schedule. Right now I am taking global warming and humanities through the arts. I will have an associate's degree in human development with a concentration in early childhood development. You make your own degree at Empire. I was always sorry I didn't do that but in my family it was always graduate from high school and go straight to work. College was not mentioned. There just wasn't a push on it.
"I love learning and challenging myself. At first, I was afraid to take it. I was afraid there would be tests. What if there is homework? I'm 56 right now and graduated from high school in 1972, so it has been awhile since I've done any class work. I thought I'd just take this one-day at a time because I don't like being afraid of something. I don't like thinking that I can't do something.
"I was able to get financial aid, and now I'm doing it and I really like it. I don't know that I'll continue past my associate's because it takes about 25 hours a week and I have to work that around my 55 hours of day care work. I really do enjoy what I am learning. I don't feel my age should stop me. I'm not thinking of retiring for 10 more years, and then who's to say what I'll be doing. I'm not sure I am someone who would just do nothing when I retire. It is usually when people retire that they get sick or don't have enough to do. I am very aware that we all have to challenge ourselves at every age."
Barbe took sign language and is teaching it to her day care students. She understands it's "use it or lose it" like any other situation so she implements it into her curriculum. She has been teaching the kids to sign a nursery rhyme each week.
"I don't have anyone to sign with," says Barbe. "I wish there was a larger community to practice with. The kids picked Itsy Bitsy Spider and did very well. We also did Humpty Dumpty and the next one they want to learn is the Wheels on the Bus. It is such a beautiful language."
She helped organize the recent Literary Fest held at Petrova Elementary School, which promotes reading through fun activities and music, with each child participating receiving a free book donated by Mountain Lake PBS.
"The big focus for me, and I think it should be for other day cares, is literacy," Barbe said. "It is so important for young children. That is why the Literary Fest is so great. May is the month of the young child and it promotes literacy. Each table at the festival promoted an activity based on a book. Books and reading help children develop language skills, to learn the rhythm of the language. Books help with social skills, hand-eye coordination. Literacy develops critical and participatory thinking. Reading to children every day is so important, and success in school depends on it. We read probably 20 books a week here.
"Terrie Perkins and I teach at conferences to promote literacy. We teach how to tell stories without books, by puppets, felt board or drawing. We have been doing an evening story time at the Saranac Lake Free Library, which will eventually move back to Berkeley Green for the summer. If people want to donate books they can just call me and we will give out what we have during the summer to any child that comes to listen. Literacy is at the core of everything we do. It is the basis of everything is a child's life.
"I always thought I was going to get out of day care when my children started school. Then I thought I would get out day care when my children graduated from school and here I am still running a daycare," Barbe laughs. "I can't image not doing it."