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Sustainable Routines: Understanding Daily Life in Family Child Care


Smiling Child


Organizing daily activity involves negotiating many competing demands. Families must find ways to do what needs to be done with the resources they have and within the circumstances of their lives.

People generally want to do things that have meaning and fit with their ideals of how life should be lived. Family child care providers face some of the same challenges that families face, but providers also face challenges unique to caring for other people's children, running a small business, or participating in licensing or government programs.

We have been talking with family child care providers to find out about what their daily life is like and how they make choices about the kinds of experiences they provide for children. Our goal is to find out what works and in which conditions. Ultimately, we seek to use this information to improve the services available to providers toward the goal of helping to promote children's health and well-being. With funding from the CSUN Research Infrastructure at Minority Institutions grant, we completed 30 interviews with family child care providers.

Our preliminary findings suggest that family child care providers vary in the sustainability of their daily routines. Some providers have sustainable daily routines (see also work by Thomas Weisner and his colleagues):

  • They create routines that provide predictability and stability for themselves, any helpers they may have, the children, and the children's families.
  • Their routines balance the competing needs and interests of the various stakeholders (i.e., themselves, their own families, children of different ages, children's families, and any helpers they may have).
  • They get a sense of personal meaning from their daily life; it's not just a job for them.
  • They organize daily routines that fit with their resources, including economic, material, human and resources.

However, not all providers are able to do so, either because they are facing many challenges or because they have fewer resources. Some providers have uncertain sustainability: they should be able to continue providing family child care so long as nothing gets worse, but their daily routines are not fully sustainable because either one one aspect of their daily routines is not sustainable or they face a temporary challenge across multiple components of sustainability. Still others have unsustainable daily routines For these providers, the challenges to sustainability are long-standing and multifaceted: something has to get better or they will likely have to close their family child care business.

This project has now shifted from active interviewing to analysis and writing. Any new publications or products from this project will be communicated via Holli Tonyan's CSUNhome page

Who We Are

Holli Tonyan is a professor of developmental psychology who studies how different ways of organizing children's lives child care impacts children's development. Her own children attended family child care and she is interested in documenting the many different ways that family child care providers organize daily activities.
Phone: (818) 677-4970 Email: holli.tonyan@csun.edu Web:http://www.csun.edu/~htonyan

Jennifer Romack is a professor of kinesiology who studies how children learn to move and become physically active. She works with child care providers to help them learn more about activities that promote physical activity.
Phone: (818) 677-3219 Email: jennifer.romack@csun.edu