Category Archives: General

The Trend of Comparing Daycare & Preschool Costs to College Tuition

day care costs

As I walked closer to the door of the childcare facility on campus, my two-year-old daughter’s arms tightened around my neck. As a single mom attending the University of Montana, I had to take my toddler to daycare daily in order to attend class. Every day she screamed in protest when the staff pried her out of my arms, and I would walk away with tears in my eyes. Daycare was a costly necessity, and the choices overwhelming, but nothing ever felt quite right.

Fast forward to Seattle two years later: my daughter is four. I dropped her off at 7am in order to make it to work by 8 am. I left work at 5pm, made my way through traffic to pick her up by 6pm. My young daughter spent 11 hours in daycare. Home by 6:20pm, I threw dinner on, fed and bathed her, and tucked her in. I had only 90 minutes on work days with my child. The rest of the time she was being raised by random staff members at a huge daycare center.

One day I had an epiphany. I could make money and have her with me at the same time if I opened my own school. I could offer a level of care that would reassure parents that their child was more than just safe and content. I could create a program that fulfilled children’s basic needs but also nurtured them in a way that was as close to parental love as possible. I could fill their little tummies with nutritious organic food, and provide a curriculum that would provide a true advantage as they entered grade school. I could provide a family away from home, using an eco-conscious curriculum that incorporated principles of sustainability and ecology.

And I did it. I returned home to St. Ignatius, located on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, and opened Advantage Academic Academy. I developed the curriculum by interviewing kindergarten and first grade teachers from several school districts to find out what they felt the main gaps were and the most important learning skills. I also researched dropout rates and statistics to learn the most common factors contributing to academic failure.

I cared for well over 100 children over the next eight years, graduating more than sixty into kindergarten. I then opened two more centers in the nearby city of Missoula, an Infant and Toddler Center and a Preschool Center. I’ve been running my own programs for over twelve years.

It’s been satisfying and challenging, expensive and rewarding. Recently I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend, however. There are conversations making the rounds on social media about how daycare/preschool is almost, as or even more expensive, than in-state college tuition. These posts are followed by many comments from people who agree. They talk about how “insanely” expensive it is; how its “ridiculous” and “something needs to be done”; how hard-working families are getting ripped off; how it’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed.

Here is my response:

First of all, very few people are getting wealthy running daycare centers or preschools. Maybe some CEO’s of huge chain centers with multiple locations, but certainly not many independent owners like myself.

And yes, it IS a significant expense for parents. Multiply the tuition for a year by the number of kids being cared for and you see something well into the six figures. Seems like we’re making out fine, right?

Well, let’s remember a few things:

Most college professors teach classes with anywhere from 50-100 students. One teacher, with possibly a TA, teaching all those students. I, however, have to have a staff member on the floor at all times for every four children in my infant center and one staff member at all times for every six children in my preschool.

In other words, every day, between my two centers I have to have five or six staff on the floor at all times, 50 hours a week. It takes all income from two children to pay the salary of one staff member, so 10-12 children’s tuitions go directly into teacher salaries.

That doesn’t cover any of other many expenses. Colleges don’t need to pay the huge liability insurance fees required by caretakers of small children, for example. In addition, I serve all-organic food to my precious people four times a day. For 25 munchkins, that’s 100 organic meals every day, and 2000 organic meals a month. If you know what even small bag of organic groceries costs, do THAT math!

College students are adults who can take care of themselves. They don’t have university staff wiping their poopy butts and runny noses; putting them to bed, getting them up and cleaning up after them all day; making sure they are happy, healthy, and safe; AND teaching them colors, numbers, letters, and phonics; teaching them to read; and instilling in them awesome social skills: how to share, be polite, use their big child voices instead of whining; how to cough in a way that keeps toys and playmates unsprayed. It’s a significant expense, but shouldn’t it be? The care & education of what means most to you in LIFE?

My staff and I do one of the hardest and most important jobs on the planet. We’re lucky when we get to work with parents who appreciate that and understand what a HUGE undertaking it is. The liability of taking care of people’s precious children and their INFANTS–often keeps me up at night. Ten employees and over thirty families rely on me every day for their lives to run smoothly. If my doors aren’t open, none of them can go to work.

In spite of all the money involved in running these programs, I never made enough to afford my own heath insurance until recently, thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act.

One of the grand ironies is that thanks to what I do, a lot more children will MAKE it to college. Look at the stats about how important early childhood education is to children’s academic futures!

I want people to consider these details before concluding that childcare providers are somehow making more money than university professors. Wouldn’t that be great!? The cost of childcare and education should be right up there with rent/mortgage, transportation and food as a priority. And which of those categories means the most to you and for which is the most at stake?

Overall this trend of comparing daycare and college tuition costs is ridiculous because the only thing they have in common is the fact that education/learning is happening in both places. The care of young children is a completely separate service to educating, and early childhood professionals do both. So you are actually getting twice the service for your money as opposed to when you send your young adult children to college.

As I reflect on this, I see that it’s not just about early childhood education. It’s about the skyrocketing costs of running any small business. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, as Seattle has just done, would put me out of business, unless I were to raise my rates again significantly. If I pay teenage aides and PT entry-level employees $15, what do I pay my more qualified FT employees? $18? $20? Keep in mind whatever base rate I pay an employee I have to add roughly another $3+ dollars an hour to pay on every employee’s taxes (FICA, unemployment, workers compensation, Social Security etc.,) which means that each individual staff member would absorb the tuition of 4 children. I would have to close the infant center, which has a 1:4 teacher/student ratio, or start charging $10 per hour for tuition. That would make full-time tuition almost $2000 per month!

But people are already up in arms about paying $6 per hour. Maybe this conversation really needs to be about tax breaks for small businesses. That, and more subsidies for not just low-income, but middle income families, like myself, who are always the ones who slip through the cracks.

It’s time we take child care seriously, and treat child care providers with the respect—and salary—we deserve.


How to transition Toddlers & Preschoolers to a Paleo diet

kids paleo


Have you decided to transition your toddler or preschooler to paleolithic nutrition and are wondering where to start?  Making any diet changes at this age has some special challenges.  Aversion to unfamiliar food is hardwired into a child’s brains at this age.  And when you add refusing to eat for days, temper tantrums until they puke or pass out, and/or restless sleep because they didn’t eat well at dinner into the mix, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge.  I can speak from personal experience here:  sometimes it feels like it just isn’t worth it.

But it is worth it.  Children who follow paleolithic diets (or lacto-paleo diets with grass-fed dairy) tend to sleep better, tend to get sick less often, tend to pay attention in school better, tend to have more energy to play, and tend to have more even moods.  So, where do you start?

Start with familiar foods:  Focus on what foods your child already likes that are paleo or lacto-paleo.  Does your child like raisins?  bananas? While transitioning your child, offer these foods freely.

Next, look at “almost paleo” foods:  What foods does your child love that can be easily made paleo with a simple ingredients switch can make a food paleo.  Maybe it’s switching out almond butter for peanut butter.  Maybe it’s switching to grass-fed meat and dairy.  Maybe it’s using arrowroot starch/flour as a thickener instead of corn starch.  Maybe it’s buying grass-fed no filler hot dogs (US Wellness Meats has 3 different kinds to choose from!).  Does your child love meatballschicken fingers, or fish sticks?  The paleo versions are easy and taste great.  My paleo muffins and cookies also tend to be a hit because they just aren’t that different tasting from a wheat-flour based muffin.  Whatever paleo versions of these foods you find that your child likes, offer them often.

Then, look at sorta familiar and new foods:  By “sorta familiar” foods, I mean things that might be a bit harder to present as an old favorite, like paleo bread (see all my bread recipes) or paleo crackers (see all my cracker recipes).  They’re yummy but they also look a little different and taste different than the conventional version of these foods.  Try them, don’t force them, and you might get lucky.  Don’t make a battle out of the food, but try and encourage your child to taste it more than once.  And as you are trying new paleo recipes for the family, offer them to your child (rather than relying on things you know they will eat).  However you normally present meals, keep your rules the same (if you normally enforce a “eat what the rest of us are eating” rule or if you normally cook a different meal for your kids that you know they like), and don’t make a battle out of food.

Allow some wiggle room for gluten-free treats:  Just like adults are allowed an occasional gluten-free cheat, so are kids.  Maybe you want to buy some gluten-free waffles (my toddler loves the Trader Joe’s ones) or allow some mashed potatoes from time to time.  This might increase the variety your child is eating and help you get through the transition.

Give kids choice:  Children this age thrive on simple choices.  Offer them 2 or 3 different things (but only foods you’re willing to give them).  Depending on your child’s age and personality, you may need to offer foods right at meal time, meaning you’ll have to prepare food that might go into your fridge as leftovers.  Or, you may be able to offer a choice before you start cooking (which is simpler from a food prep standpoint, but then your child may be choosing dinner for the whole family).

Don’t have foods you don’t want them to eat in the house:  Purge your fridge, freezer and pantry of anything you don’t want your kids to eat.  You decide where the line is.  In my house, we have some gluten-free foods just for the kids (like Chex cereal and gluten-free waffles).  It makes it a lot easier to refuse giving a specific food to your child if you just don’t have any.

Involve them at the grocery store and in the kitchen:  This is similar to giving a child a choice of meals, but goes one step farther.  Let your child put food into your shopping cart (maybe let them pick which apples to put in a bag, etc.).  Maybe let your child pick out some new (paleo) foods that aren’t part of your family’s normal meals (maybe your child is attracted to the color of a melon you’ve never tried or thinks that the word halibut sounds funny).  Let your child flip through (paleo) recipe books and suggest new recipes to try.  Get your child to help you cook.  Children generally show more interest in trying new foods when they’ve had a hand in choosing and preparing them.

Talk to them about food in simple, general terms:  Depending on the age of your child, having some dialogue about family food choices can be very helpful.  Keep it simple and undramatic.  Please don’t say things like “gluten will kill you!” or “peanut butter will make you sick!”.  You don’t need to scare them into eating this way!  And a sensitive child may make leaps of logic that you aren’t anticipating (“Grampa eats bread so he’s going to die soon”).  I try and focus on the positives “we eat these foods because they help make us grow up big, strong and healthy” or “we choose these foods because they’re better for our tummies” or “we choose these foods because they give us lots of energy and help our brains get extra smart”.  Sometimes I just say “I learned to eat this way because it makes me feel so good and I want you to feel this good too!”.

Don’t make a big deal of Neolithic foods when you’re out of the house:  Okay, let’s be specific here.  I don’t mean that fast food is okay just because you are pressed for time.  I mean that if your child wants a piece of birthday cake at a friend’s party or gets offered a piece of pizza at a playdate, don’t make a big deal of it (especially if you have no control over the food choices).  As long as they don’t have allergies or strong food sensitivities, a little won’t hurt.  When you can, keep it gluten-free.  When you can’t, just do your best.


Safe & Non Toxic Ways to Clean Your Home

Put These Five Nontoxic Essential Ingredients In Your Cupboard!



Conventional cleaning products may seem like a great convenience, but here’s a little secret: cleaning with common nontoxic household staples is cheaper, simpler, and a whole lot safer. Here are five natural housekeeping necessities that can clean almost anything:

  1. White distilled vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaner that disinfects, deodorizes, pulls dirt from wood, and dissolves hard water scale, gummy residues, and tarnish. It also works wonders on windows. Put 1/4 cup in your laundry rinse cycle to remove detergent completely from clothes and to eliminate that scratchy feel. What can’t it do?
  2. Lemon juice can be used as a cleaner to cut grease, polish metal, and lighten stains. For a laundry brightener, add 1/2 cup of strained juice to the rinse cycle. To remove tarnish, rub sliced lemons sprinkled with baking soda on brass, copper, bronze and aluminum.
  3. Baking soda neutralizes odors and makes a good sink, tub, oven and countertop scourer. Sprinkle it on carpets before vacuuming. Line litter boxes with a cup before adding litter. To de-grease and deodorize drains, pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda followed by 1 cup of vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes and rinse with hot water. For a “soft scrub,” mix together baking soda and liquid soap in single-use amounts. As a cleaner, baking soda is a work horse and no home is complete with out a box.
  4. Washing soda is baking soda’s stronger cousin. It requires the use of gloves and more rinsing, so save this cleaner for extra-stubborn stains. To clean ovens, apply a paste of 1 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup of washing soda, plus water, and soak overnight. Add 1/2 cup washing soda to laundry as a detergent booster.
  5. Borax is a good mold and mildew solution. This alkaline mineral is found in the laundry aisle and can also be used in place of washing soda as a cleaner. For an extra-strength toilet bowl cleaner, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed and scrub and flush next morning. One note: borax can be toxic when swallowed, so take extra care when using and storing it.