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Top Ten Things You Should Know When Starting an Early Learning Facility
By Alan Moon

1.       Establish a LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. It’s not just a cliché, location can make or break a business. Do your homework and conduct a thorough market analysis. A great source for information and help is your local Chamber of Commerce. The zoning and economic development departments are a great source for information on what land is zoned for your needs. The Chamber will also provide information on what future industrial, business, and residential development will occur in your area. It will also help find where your competition is located as well as what competition is working to enter your area.

 

2.       Build your business plan. Your business plan will establish the what, when, where, why and how’s of your center. There are many great sources available for assistance in establishing your business plan including your local book store and library. The U.S. Small Business Administration also provides help online with designing your business plan at http://www.sba.gov/starting/indexbusplans.html.

 

3.       Get set up legally. Visit your local city hall to legally establish the name for your center. The assumed names and records department will be able to assist you with this process. You will then need to pay a visit to your local comptroller to establish your center as a taxable, non-taxable, sole proprietor, partnership, or corporate institution. The comptroller will also provide information on how to obtain your federal identification number. After this process you are a legal business entity!

 

4.       Need money for your program? Apply for a grant. Keep in mind when applying for grants that they are usually given for ideas not needs. For example, a grant request to study planets and astrology and the equipment to do so may be a good “idea”. Needing additional storage units, is not. To learn how grants work and how they can work for you, visit The Foundation Center. This organization fosters public understanding of the foundation field by collecting, organizing, analyzing, and providing information on foundations, corporate giving, and other subjects. It provides free training seminars and weekly periodicals to assist in the location and the application process. You can access The Foundation Center at http://fdncenter.org/.

 

5.       Establish a legal and advisory team. When opening a new center, there is much to consider legally, financially, and strategically. It would be wise to surround oneself with an attorney, an accountant, a Small Business Administration consultant (free), and individuals with varying levels of expertise in the child care industry who have been exposed to different child care environments and situations. Creating this team will ease the entire process and provide quick and proven solutions to problems that may arise.

 

6.       Make sure your center meets all city codes. Most cities require an occupancy permit before allowing the center to be open for business. City inspectors from departments including health, building and fire must inspect the center to ensure it meets their respective codes before approving for occupancy. Pay a visit to these local departments and get to know their requirements before you begin work on your building. If you are utilizing a general contractor for the building of a center or the refurbishing of an existing space, she/he will work with the city and be responsible for meeting all requirements including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also, a call to the state child care licensing agency is needed to understand requirements such as staff qualifications, child/adult ratios, safety requirements and more.

 

7.       Design your center. Many considerations, both indoor and outdoor, need to be addressed when designing the facility. For outdoor equipment, think about the time of day you will have children outside and where the sun will be during this time. There should be at least 75 square feet of unencumbered space for each child in the play area. The gate and fence should be child proof and a water fountain should be readily accessible. Indoor space should be carefully planned as well, at least 35 square feet of unencumbered space per child. Consider access to restrooms. Are at least two exits unobstructed in every room and are the walls fire resistant? Your state licensing agency will be able to answer these questions and provide all guidelines for your new center.

 

8.       Hire your staff. This is a very important process for the child care facility and the business as a whole. The environment and the quality of your child care facility is dependent on the staff put in place. Regardless of the money spent on equipment and materials, the staff will dictate a quality, mediocre, or a poor child care program. Before hiring, decide on the qualifications each position must have. Understand the legal requirements and check with your local licensing agency if you are not sure. Lastly, establish your own standards. The state may require a high school education for a particular position but you may want at least two years of college. Remember, your center and its staff will be a big seller to parents looking for a safe, competent, facility with a well rounded curriculum. Make every effort to establish a competent, resourceful and motivated staff.

 

9.       Develop your curriculum. Your staff should make this step simple. The employment of competent teachers can design and implement age appropriate curriculum. When designing curriculum, many published periodicals, curriculum guides, and teacher handbooks are available to provide guidance.

 

10.   Equip your center. Deciding on what furniture and materials to use as well as how your classrooms will look aesthetically is the fun part of opening a child care facility. For furniture, think about matching tables and chairs as well as colors to maintain continuity. Make sure to have the appropriate storage for learning materials. If children will be eating in classrooms, smaller, more personal tables may be a better solution to the long, institutional types. Place learning segments in the classroom that promote literacy, problem solving and thinking. These learning segments should contain areas for art, dramatic play, reading/library, science and discovery, music and movement, sand and water play, manipulatives, and block play.

 

References

Cherry, C., Harkness, B., Kuzma, K. (1987). Nursery school & day care center management guide. Lake Publishing.

 

Norris, D. (1998). Get a grant: Yes, you can! New York, NY: Scholastic.