Child care in the scientific workpalce
Slechta at biology.utah.edu
Thu Mar 9 02:48:54 EST 2000
I thought that several of you talking about child care availibility would
be interested in this article. It is from the University of Utah school
newspaper, and it describes the bioKIDS program, started by a faculty
member within the past year here at the U of U. I don't know its hours,
One of the problems with it is the expense, the ccost is prohibitive for
some staff and especially grad students (so I am told by people with kids,
I have none, so I haven't looked into it myself). The other problem is the
constant "help us buy a playgtround/books/toys etc. by purchasing
overpriced ice cream and pizza!" Why should I, a single, poor, childless
grad student buy a $3 piece of pizza for their kids to get a swingset?
Anyway, the only point I am tyring to make is that there are probably ways
to encourage your place of work to start a child care program, but you may
have to take a more active role in it, like Denise did, instead of waiting
for someone else to do all of the work setting it up.
Chronicle Feature Writer
Many visitors to the University of Utah are a bit perplexed when they
visit the campustah and instead of seeing
students everywhere, they see a playground nestled on the lawn of
Children under the age of five play in the playground, an aspect of
college life never mentioned in ³Higher
Learning² or ³Animal House.²
The playground is one of the newest additions to BioKIDs.
No, BioKIDs isn¹t something out of ³The Million Dollar Man.² It is the
U¹s only (and according to its director,
Taryn Estenson, Utah¹s only) on-campus day care sponsored by a department.
BioKIDs was devised out of ³desperation,² according to Denise Dearing,
the biology professor who
spearheaded the program. Since the biology department sponsored the day
care and provided the building for
it, it bears the department¹s name.
Dearing moved to Utah from Wisconsin to teach at the U and had a hard
time finding day care for her infant
son. She looked everywhere. KinderCare told her they were so full they
weren¹t even keeping a waiting list any
Same story at the day care at the V.A. Hospital and Research Park, and
on down the line of day cares located
near the U. Finally, she found a day care on 4500 Southnot nearly the
convenient location she had hoped for. (note, the U of U is on 200-400
So in April 1998, Dearing approached the chair of the biology department
with an idea.
³I thought we might hire a nanny and get a small space with some of the
other parents in the biology
department,² Dearing said. She notes that she had no idea how naive she
was at the time.
The idea passed the department chair, so Dearing took her plan to U
President J. Bernard Machen. ³He was
enthused about the initiative,² Dearing said.
Machen requested that an advisory committee be established to help steer
the day care in the right direction.
Kris Hale was, and still is, a member of the advisory board for BioKIDs.
As the child-care coordinator on
campus, Hale is very aware of the need for day cares on campus.
³Child care is a critical need for the faculty, staff and students at
the university,² she said.
The advisory board made suggestions and gave encouragement to the
biology department as Dearing¹s idea
became more and more of a reality.
A survey was conducted in the biology department to see what the
child-care needs were exactly. It was then
determined that BioKIDs would need to support about 20 children.
The space was set aside for the day care in Building 44, nestled between
the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology
Research Building and the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance.
The small area in the building that BioKIDs uses was partitioned for
offices before its new tenants came along.
Thanks to the new Skaggs Building, the occupants of the offices were
The parents of the BioKIDs helped to speed the remodeling process along
by volunteering to demolish the
office walls, according to Estenson.
By July 1999, where there were once desks, art tables and floor mats now
sit. Where there was once the
musty smell of old buildings, the sweet smell of cookies now lingers in
the air. Day-care teachers stand where
members of the biology staff once sat.
Now, instead of driving all the way to 4500 South to see her son, it
takes Dearing less than five minutes to get
to his day care. And, according to Dearing, he is at ³one of the best
programs in the state.²
Other parents feel the same way. Marissa Diener, an associate professor
in the department of family and
consumer studies, whose daughter is a BioKID, echoes Dearing¹s sentiment.
³It is reassuring to have her so close byI can pop in whenever I want
by just walking over,² Diener said. ³It
enables me to see my daughter much more frequently during the work day
than I would be able to do if she
were further away.²
Hale feels that the close proximity makes the faculty more productive
because they know their children are
close by and are being well cared for.
The children in BioKIDs mainly hail from staff members in the biology
department. ³About 20 percent of the kids
are non-biology,² Estenson said.
Right now, there are four infants (children under the age of 2) and 12
children between 2 and 5 years-old.
BioKIDs gives preference to staff members in the biology department,
then to staff members in general on
campus, and then to the general student body.
The reason is that KinderCare does it just the opposite, according to
Dearing. They give preference to
students before faculty, so BioKIDs wanted to give an opportunity to the
staff members first.
BioKIDs is different from other day-care centers in a lot of other ways.
For one thing, it is a non-profit
organization. All of the money that goes into the day-care stays there.
That way, BioKIDs can offer better
wages than other day-cares do, and in turn, keep its employees longer.
In a business that can pay less than McDonald¹s, that is a very good
selling point for employees, according to
Estenson. BioKIDs also offers benefits to its full-time employees, a
notion largely unheard of in most of the
BioKIDs is also a parent cooperative, which means the parents are
required to contribute four hours to the
center per month. There are a number of ways this can be done.
Parents can help out in the classroom or volunteer during playground
time, which helps the teachers take a
break, said Estenson.
They can also do things outside of the class such as laundry or going to
the library to pick up books.
If parents cannot help at all in or out of the classroom, they can pay a
fee instead. But Estenson can only
recall one parent who has paid the fee. Most others have logged far more
hours than they are required.
Parents helped install both of the playgrounds for BioKIDsthe large one
on the south side of the building as
well as the small one on the east side of the building that is set aside
for the infants.
Mountain States Fence donated the fencing materials and the parents dug
the trenches to install the fence
during the unseasonably mild weather this December.
The playground didn¹t come a minute too soon for the day-care teachers.
Up to that point, they had to walk
the children down to the Alfred Emery Building¹s playground. The
teachers would use harnesses to keep the
kids in check as they made their way to the playground.
³That doesn¹t look very far for an adult,² said Dearing, ³but it is
quite a distance for a child.²
She took the kids down to the playground once and said she had five kids
wrapped around her by the time
she got to the playground. It took longer to get them therewith all of
the kids trying to run in different
directionsthan they actually spent at the playground.
Estenson said they slate three outside times a day for the children,
which makes it even better now that they
have their own playground facility. It is still difficult to find places
for the kids to go when the weather is bad,
They were going to an auditorium, where the children loved running up
and down the aisles. But there was a
concern they would break the electronics in the room, so the BioKIDs
The children have plenty of other things to do during the day, though.
Each week, the day-care follows a different theme. This week it is
mountains. Most everything the kids do
revolves around the theme. For example, for one of their snacks (they
get three each day), they might have
trail mix. Depending on the theme, their lunch (which is included in the
price of the day-care, along with the
snacks) also reflects the theme.
They also occasionally have field trips that coincide with the theme.
They have been to the planetarium and
are planning a trip to the zoo. They have also been to many of the labs
of the biology parents.
Sometimes their field trips come to them. They had a man from a dairy
farmdressed in a cow suit, no
lesscome and talk to them about cows and dairies.
President Machen also made an appearance to BioKIDs as a guest speaker.
He sat on the floor and talked
with the children during the week of Presidents¹ Day, according to Estenson.
The children also have time to play with toys and have quite a
selection. The teachers rotate the toys every
two weeks so they constantly have new and different toys to play with.
Many of the children¹s activities are self-selected, which means a
number of choices are laid out for the
children, but they get to choose just what they want to do.
There are times of the day when the children are broken down into age
groups for different activities, such as
reading and singing.
While having a wide range of ages can be problematic at times, Estenson
is very happy about the mix.
³Having mixed ages is an advantage because there isn¹t a lot of
competition between the kids,² she said,
adding that would like to see a more even mix of ages one day, though.
Hopefully, that day won¹t be too far away since at only nine months old,
BioKIDs has grown up quite quickly
Slechta at biology.utah.edu
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