Lynda John has two grandchildren, but as a UFT member and group family day care provider, she has up to 16 other kids — from infants to preschoolers, plus older children after school — at any given time. It’s an investment, she says, in herself and in the future.
How did you get started as a provider?
I worked in Manhattan full time, taking care of children in private homes. Then I got older and started to get tired of the long commutes. It’s a lot of work. I told myself if I can do this, I can open my own day care and do something for myself. I started Ms Johns Day Care Inc. out of my home in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn about 10 years ago. Over time it has built up. I love children. I help a lot of families in the community. My children are Chinese, Jewish, Indian, everything.
What is your day like?
I open at 7 and close at 6. Sometimes my first child arrives at 7:05, and I’m always ready. When they leave, I start prepping for tomorrow. I cook every day. Everything I feed the children is fresh.
What do you cook?
Every morning, religiously, we have fruit salad. This morning, it was strawberries, bananas, grapes. The children need a little sweetness to start the day. Breakfast can be a muffin, scrambled eggs, an omelet with toast. Lunch is roast chicken, fish, hamburgers, meatballs. I switch it up. Sometimes I cook with a little garlic or herbs. You won’t see any children with runny noses here. I put spinach in a blender and cook it with brown rice. They love it. It’s the same spinach they won’t eat plain.
Tell me about the day’s activities.
You have to keep the children busy; you can’t let them get bored. I have areas set up for drama, science, a library. Sometimes we start with puzzles or blocks or read a book. Sometimes we play alphabet bingo or numbers bingo. I want them to identify their letters and numbers. I have a rug with the alphabet on it. I’ll tell a child, “Sit on the letter E. What sound does that letter make? What word starts with E?” Sometimes they play in the backyard. Sometimes I ask them what they want to do. They like to dress up in costumes. They like artwork, too. We collected leaves one day, and I had them laminated. Then we traced the leaves with crayons. We’ll put them on the wall. Music time is crazy. We dance and play instruments, like drums and maracas and rain sticks. Then there’s toilet time. I wash them, do some potty training. Sometimes I have to wash their clothes, but we always have backup. I tell the parents I have everything; just bring the children.
Are there any special activities?
After a weekend, we get in a circle and talk about what they did. Maybe they had a play date or went to grandma’s. I let them express themselves. It teaches them how to communicate, how to socialize. It teaches them good manners. They are so eager to talk. But I teach them not to talk over their friends.
Do they ever fight?
Sometimes they fight over instruments, but I tell them, “You get four minutes and then someone else gets a turn.” At the end of the day, they get a reward for sharing. Sometimes it’s stickers or maybe an extra apple slice. You have to know how to work with them. No two children are the same. Don’t let anybody tell you they are because it’s not true.
Who works with you?
I have three assistants and my husband, who does a lot of the groundwork. He washes the floor, shampoos the rugs, goes to the bank. If I run out of bananas, he gets bananas.
How does the UFT help?
I appreciate everything the union does. It has Saturday classes for professional development where I can network with other UFT providers and learn by talking to them. And it helped me learn how to build a curriculum to support literacy development.
What’s most rewarding about your job?
When I see a child grow from a baby I did everything for to a child who knows the ABCs and numbers. Or when they are very young and they learn to let go of objects. You have to pay attention because at certain ages they should be doing certain things, reaching developmental milestones. I’ve had some children whose speech was slow and I told the mothers they should have the child assessed. The moms were afraid but I told them, “My dear, they only label bottles, they don’t label children.”
— As told to reporter Suzanne Popadin