Podcast discussion: “But I thought the school years would be easier from a childcare perspective!”

Episode 11 of Best of Both Worlds went live yesterday! This episode features the fabulous Prof. Siobhan Brady of UC Davis. We chose Siobhan as our first guest both because she is happily combining a big job at a major research institution and a family, and also because she is Sarah's former running buddy. Hence she was unlikely to get mad at us if we flubbed up our first attempt at a 3-way recording.

I am happy to report that it went well. I welcome any comments here on Siobhan's strategies -- which were great! -- but I thought I'd aim this podcast discussion thread more at our listener Q&A segment, which was from a mom of a son who'd recently started kindergarten.

This child had been in daycare for years, and as this mom pointed out, from a working parent perspective, day care is really great (of course! Because it's set up for working parents!) It was open 6:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. daily, and though they did not use it for anything close to 12 hours per day, it was nice to have that flexibility on either end if they needed it. And it was always open.

Then her son started kindergarten, and she had that realization that many parents have: the school schedule has nothing to do with normal work hours, especially when both parents are commuting.

His school did have an after-care program, but it only went to 5 p.m. There was also some question of whether he would be able to attend that school the next year, so they were looking into potential sitting options. But, realistically, this mother pointed out, who wants to work from, say, 2:30-5:30 p.m., reliably, five days per week? And what if the parents have to go to work early — what do they do about needing to cover time before the school day?

These are all good questions, and I hope that readers who have come up with good solutions for school-aged children will weigh in. Sarah and I had a few thoughts on what she could try.

A nanny share. Maybe another family in the neighborhood is employing a full time nanny during the day. If her son could get off the bus at that house, this would be seamless afternoon coverage. The mom who wrote in could pay some chunk of the nanny's salary, and ideally this would mean more for the nanny, and a little bit less of a cost for the nanny's original employer. I'm not quite sure how this would work from a legal perspective (who's employee is the nanny during that time?) but I assume people work this out.

Think 168 hours, not 24. Perhaps the mother doesn't need to hire a sitter for 3 hours every single day (which isn't that great a job in many cases — all the commuting hassles but for only a few hours). What about hiring someone 2:30-8:00 p.m. three days a week? Then each parent covers one of the other two days each week. The parents could work a little later the other days to make up the time… or go to the gym…or go out to eat together… This only works if both parties have flexibility in their jobs (which might not be the case) but from a manager's perspective, leaving one day per week early and having the ability to work late on other nights could come out in the wash.

Add on housekeeping. This family could sweeten/lengthen the job a bit by having the person come, say, 12:30-5:30 p.m., and do housekeeping, laundry, cooking, errands, etc. before the son got off the bus (or before the caregiver picked him up at school). This would be more expensive, of course, but if the family had been using a cleaning service, or eating a lot of take-out, there could be savings there.

Split the shift. If the family does need to be out early (before school) it's possible that there are people who'd like to work a few hours in the morning and then more in the afternoon. Such folks are probably rare, but maybe someone is trying to start a company, and needs during-the-day freedom for said entrepreneurial activity, and just wants another job to bankroll it. Or he/she is a student and takes classes during the day. Or he/she is writing the great American novel, or a screenplay or… whatever. Our guest, Siobhan, employed someone in the morning and the afternoon for a while, but then needed to split this into two jobs because of the specific people she wanted to hire.

Just pay more. The reason 2:30-5:30 p.m. M-F doesn't sound like a good job is because we are assuming that three hours wouldn't earn somebody a high enough chunk of cash to justify the transaction costs. But if you pay above-market wages, then that takes care of that problem. Again, we run into the issue that this family was probably hoping that their childcare costs would fall significantly once their child was in school, but this isn't always true.

Go the au pair route. I know some families of school aged children find au pairs (generally young people visiting the US on a 1-2 year visa) to be a great, cost-effective solution. The au pair can't work more than 45 hours per week, but if your child is in school for 30 hours of the 50 you're gone, then this works just fine. Of course, au pairs come with their own issues: you've got a young person living in your house, who might be away from home for the first time. You want to make sure you've got someone who's as mature as possible.

I'm curious what options people with school-aged children have chosen. Because I still have a 2-year-old, in addition to my school-aged children, it's made sense to still have a full time nanny. Since Sarah's having a new baby in December, she'll still have full-time childcare as well. But that doesn't make sense for everyone. What has made sense for you?

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28 Responses to Podcast discussion: “But I thought the school years would be easier from a childcare perspective!”


  1. Gillian says:

    I was listening to the latest episode driving home yesterday and yelling “au pair” in response to the listener question in the car. We have an au pair and we LOVE the au pair program. We need more than 45 hours per week so we also have a part time sitter, but I have dreams of the day when our youngest is in kindergarten (he is 21 months, so we a have bit to go) and we can go au pair only. Ours is 25. She is truly part of our family. She is an excellent driver and fluent in English. The best part is that we can change her schedule weekly. I make out schedule 2-3 weeks in advance (apparently I am in the minority on this though). I look at the calendar and assess our needs. The other aspect I love is the ability to reassess our childcare needs annually. We have definitely stuck with sitters who were no longer the best fit for too long. Now, each year I think about how our schedule and needs will change and how that affects what type of au pair would work best for us. Also, in an earlier episode you noted that au pairs cannot work overnight. This is agency dependent actually. It is important to look at different agencies and see which agency’s regulations fit your needs.

    • @Gillian – great points! I suspect the au pair solution would be a tougher transition for this family, since they only have one kid, and it’s been just the three of them for a while (it sounded like there wasn’t extended family around). Adding a fourth person would be a major deal! Whereas in my house it feels like people are in and out of here all the time 🙂

      • Gillian says:

        This is a good point. In a house of 6 (like yours and mine) adding one more is a breeze. In a house of 3 maybe not so much. There also aren’t the same economies of scale with only one child. Aftercare and daycare for 4 starts to get super expensive. While the au pair program is affordable compared with a nanny it may not see quite as affordable compare to aftercare (although it rivals a single daycare tuition).

      • Omdg says:

        We’re a family of three, and found the transition to having an au pair to be relatively seamless. I think the biggest problem most people have is the need for an additional bedroom. In some cities that can be cost prohibitive. Having the extra help from someone who can have a flexible schedule has been key for us.

        • Danielle says:

          Yes, exactly. The au pair solution is not cheaper if you have to upsize your home.

    • SHU says:

      And I did include it 🙂 I agree, for school age kids an au pair can be such a fantastic and flexible solution!!

  2. Natasha says:

    We have three kids, aged 9, 7, and 3. The youngest is in daycare. The older two are in 3rd and 2nd grade. Their school does have an after-care program, but we chose one at a different location that’s closer to our house (3-min drive and across the street from the youngest kid’s daycare; strategy in multiple kid pick-up matters!). The school bus drops the kids off at the after-care program and they can stay there until 6 pm. There is also before-school program at the same place that opens at 6:30 am that we are trying out (we may end up using it once a week ) – the school bus would pick them up there and take them to school. Their program is open full-day when their school closes for teacher in-service day.

    What they do at the after-care program: play outside (playground, bikes, sports), play with their friends, weekly science club, cooking, crafts, legos, board games, video games (not so keen on that one)… there is also an option to sign them up to do their homework.

    Some churches/synagogues run these types of before/after school programs. Also YMCA. They are usually very affordable (we pay $8 per hour per kid + sibling discounts). Some are within the school district boundaries and kids can be picked up/dropped off by school buses. Others have their own transportation. Some school districts work with multiple locations (local chess clubs, dance and art studios) and bus kids directly to those places, depending on the children’s interests.

    So to answer the reader’s question: check out other options in your neighborhood. Ask other parents – especially those who have older kids; they’ve already worked through these problems and came up with solutions. Most people are happy to share their favorite after-school options and warn you about places that are not great.

    • @Natasha – definitely a good idea to ask around. It’s hard to imagine that they are the first family to have encountered this issue and other parents probably have some good ideas.

  3. Bri says:

    I really enjoyed this episode! Another “out of the box” option for the parents looking for after school care is to hire a stay-at-home parent in their neighborhood. A friend of mine who is a SAHM provided after school care for a neighbor’s child, and it was a great situation for both families. She picked up the kid from the school bus stop, and she played at their house for a few hours after school. It gave my SAHM friend the ability to make a little money without needing to find childcare for her own kids, and it gave the working parents a flexible, reliable, and inexpensive childcare situation.

    • SHU says:

      WOW! Love that idea.

      • @SHU – I suspect a lot of families do something like this, either formally or informally. I know there was a time I went to a neighbor’s house often in the afternoon while my mom was working and my dad was working at home.

    • J says:

      I recommend this too. Due to the afterschool program at our school, we only need help 2x/week. Each of the days we need help, my son has to go to a lesson. We have a SAHM with a toddler who picks him up those days and takes him to his lesson and then they come to our house to play until we get home. His afterschool is only until 5.30, but on the helper days we have until 6, which gives a little extra breathing room for scheduling work stuff. ACTUALLY, to add to the complexity, we have a different SAHM each of the days. They are good friends and sub for each other seamlessly when there is a conflict. I think they each like a little extra money every week but don’t want as much of an obligation as Bri’s solution implies. My son, being the youngest in our family, finds the toddlers amusing and likes to play with them. I think he wouldn’t if he was with the toddlers 5x per week, but a different toddler each of only 2 afternoons for the hour after his lesson works well. They both live nearby and have bailed me out for an odd half-day or even a snow day.

  4. Barb says:

    A family in town where the parents leave for work at 7:00 have student from the nearby college come in about 6 or 6:30 to oversee getting the kids off to school. The kids do the afterschool care until 5, and one of the parents is home before then. I don’t know what they do during college breaks, but their kids are usually out of school as well for most of the break, so school and park districts have programming.

  5. We only have one child who just recently started kindergarten. Our costs did drop significantly, nearly in half, but my husband thought they’d drop even more.
    I had to explain that every day school is out and my husband isn’t off (he works shift work so has some workdays off) we have to pay an extra $40/day on top of the weekly rate. Add in summer camps, winter break camps, spring break camps, etc. if we need them and we’re still maxing out our dependent care FSA. BUT…on the bright side…that’s still an extra 4000-5000/yr we’re saving and using to pay off our house early. Once our house is paid off and our son probably has more extracurriculars we can re-visit hiring someone rather than after school care, though I don’t know that would be much fun for him as an only child.

    • @Carolyn – yep, the costs go down some, but not all the way. There are 180 days of school in many districts per year, vs. 235-240 or so days in a work year. And school is often for 6 to 6.5 hours/day, vs. 8 for a workday, plus commute time. School can’t really suffice as childcare for many people with full time jobs.

  6. Marie says:

    I have some flexibility in my work, so I leave the house a little after 5 a.m. and get home just before the school bus pulls up. My husband does the morning shift. This also leaves me free to drive to afterschool activities (though at this point, my kids are old enough that the activities tend to be after dinner). I won’t lie–it can be exhausting. However, we’ve never had to find or pay for childcare during the school year.

  7. Emily says:

    In our city, the high school students get out of school quite a bit earlier than the elementary school kids. This makes it possible for us to hire a teenager to watch our school age kids after they get off the bus. We only need about an hour of care each day, so we pay 50% more per hour than our typical rate in order to make it worth the sitter’s time. Our sitter lives in the neighborhood, so there isn’t much of a commute involved, and if transportation is an issue, she can always walk over. As an added bonus, our sitter serves as more of a “tutor” than a “babysitter,” as she helps with homework and drills math facts. I imagine that this is something she will list on her resume at some point, so it is a win-win for both of us.

  8. Ruth says:

    Our school had an AYS (At Your School) program, for before and after school care, 6 to 6. And the daycare also had before and after school care, and took the kids to school. The Boys and Girls Club also picked them up after school and was open until 8 or 9 pm. I don’t know what the AYS program did on holidays (we didn’t use them), but the Boys and Girls Club usually had programs during school vacations – like a day camp type thing. And the daycare was year round, for kids up to age 12.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Plenty of daycares on our area offer before and after-care programs, along with summer and break “camps.” During the year, the daycares have their own buses take kids to school. Lots of the martial arts programs around us do the same thing. It might not be cheap, but it’s probably less expensive than full time daycare.

  10. Jennie says:

    We currently use a nanny for the hours of 3:00-6:00. She is awesome and helps with snacks and homework. Best money spent!

  11. smh says:

    2-3 hours as an after-school nanny can be a great job for a college student who needs to work. It leaves plenty of time for study and a social life. From 1998-2001, I was paid a flat rate of $50/day for pick up and 2-3 hours after school. Was classified as an employee of the parents’ business.

  12. Lily says:

    It might also be worth seeing if other parents have the same problem and then petition the current after-school program to extend their hours – ending at 5pm instead of 530 or 6 sounds really inconvenient. Even if you assume people are working 9-5 and don’t have to commute far, it would still be impossible to make 5pm pick up!

    • @Lily- agreed. An after-care program that ends at 5 p.m. sounds like it was not designed by someone who’s thought about the reality of normal business hours. Unless for some strange reason almost every business in this community runs 8:30-4:30 or something…

  13. EB says:

    So this thought just occurred to me–it seems like the assumption for school-aged children means sending your kids to a free public school. For those debating between public and private–it isn’t as though you are swapping daycare/preschool costs for elementary school private school costs, but you must add afterschool childcare costs (assuming no family around). In other words, having school aged children for parents in private schools greatly increases their childcare costs. (And that is why we need good public school education everywhere!)

    • ARC says:

      It definitely depends on the school’s cost and probably where you live. For us, daycare/preschool was about the same cost as private school + aftercare so it was a wash. But in Seattle, daycare was quite pricey, and we did manage to find a private school on the lower end of the scale ($15K/year vs. the $25K other local schools were asking). Also some schools offer a significant sibling discount and others don’t offer any. My favorite was the school I researched in CT that offered a 50% reduction in tuition for the second kid (!!!).

    • Erika says:

      I had exactly the same thought! Public schools are unfortunately not a great option for us in the inner city (though we are still considering them), so our costs will go up when school starts (from nanny/preschool now) with private school + afterschool or a part-time sitter. It’s just the reality!

  14. Sarah says:

    I’m in suburban Houston and we have tons of after school options like the ones already mentioned here, where the kids go to another non-school facility and they are driven to/from school. I assumed this was common, but maybe it’s more of a regional thing than I realized? It’s about half the cost of full-time daycare in our area. In my case, the hours at the after school care for my kindergartener is actually more flexible than the daycare for my 2-year-old!

  15. ARC says:

    A smart friend of mine who had a fairly inflexible job and a 45 min+ commute hired a college student to pick up her son from school, then come home and work on homework, etc. AND start dinner, do light housekeeping etc. My friend would get home at 6 or 6:30 and things would be in great shape. It worked for her sitter because of her college schedule, so the limited hours weren’t an issue. I thought that was so smart to get her to start dinner!!

    We’re in a weird situation now where my 5yo is in public “transitional K” which is a two year program, and our district only offers half day. We love the school otherwise (moved here specifically for it!) but the “half day” is 7:45am – 11:15am, which is super inconvenient for working. 🙁 They do have aftercare at school and it’s ridiculously inexpensive ($2.50 per hour!) but there’s some not so great feedback on the quality. So I’m not sure yet what we’ll do – do I hang out and not work until she’s in full day school in fall 2019, or figure out some convoluted driving schedule to take her to another daycare for half the day, or … ? Hubby works from home so a nanny isn’t the best option. Listening to and reading this with interest.

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