Childcare workers care for children when parents and other family members are unavailable. They care for children’s basic needs, such as bathing and feeding. In addition, some help children prepare for kindergarten or help older children with homework.

Duties

Childcare workers typically do the following:

  • Supervise and monitor the safety of children in their care
  • Prepare meals and organize mealtimes and snacks for children
  • Help children keep good hygiene
  • Change the diapers of infants and toddlers
  • Organize activities or implement a curriculum that allow children to learn about the world and explore interests
  • Develop schedules and routines to ensure that children have enough physical activity, rest, and playtime
  • Watch for signs of emotional or developmental problems in children and bring the problems to the attention of parents
  • Keep records of children’s progress, routines, and interest

Childcare workers introduce babies and toddlers to basic concepts, such as manners, by reading to them and playing with them. For example, they teach young children how to share and take turns by playing games with other children.

Childcare workers often help preschool-age children prepare for kindergarten. Young children learn from playing, solving problems, questioning, and experimenting. Childcare workers use play and other instructional techniques to help children’s development. For example, they use storytelling and rhyming games to teach language and vocabulary. They may help improve children’s social skills by having them work together to build something in a sandbox or teach math by having children count when building with blocks. They may involve the children in creative activities, such as art, dance, and music.

Childcare workers also often watch school-age children before and after school. They help these children with homework and take them to afterschool activities, such as sports practices and club meetings.

During the summer, when children are out of school, childcare workers may watch older children as well as younger ones for the entire day while the parents are at work.

The following are examples of types of childcare workers:

Childcare center workers work in teams in childcare centers, including Head Start and Early Head Start programs. They often work with preschool teachers and teacher assistants to teach children through a structured curriculum. They prepare daily and long-term schedules of activities to stimulate and educate the children in their care. They also monitor and keep records of children’s progress.

Family childcare providers care for children in the provider’s own home during traditional working hours. They need to ensure that their homes and all staff they employ meet the regulations for family childcare providers.

In addition, family childcare providers perform tasks related to running their business. For example, they write contracts that outline rates of pay, when payment can be expected, and the number of hours children can be in care. Furthermore, they establish policies about issues, such as if sick children can be in their care, who can pick children up, and how behavioral issues will be dealt with. Family childcare providers frequently spend some of their time marketing their services to prospective families.

Nannies work in the homes of the children they care for and the parents that employ them. Most often, they work full time for one family. They may be responsible for driving children to school, appointments, or afterschool activities. Some live in the homes of the families that employ them.

Babysitters, like nannies, work in the homes of the children in their care. However, they work for many families instead of just one. In addition, they generally do not work full time, but rather take care of the children on occasional nights and weekends when parents have other obligations.

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Work Environment

Childcare workers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2012. They are employed in childcare centers, preschools, public schools, and private homes.

The industries that employed the most childcare workers in 2012 were as follows:

Child day care services 24%
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 11
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 8

Family childcare workers work in their own homes. They may convert a portion of their living space into a dedicated space for the children. Nannies and babysitters usually work in their employers’ homes. About 29 percent of childcare workers were self-employed in 2012.

Many states limit the number of children that each staff member is responsible for by regulating the ratio of staff to children. The ratios vary with the age of the children. With babies and toddlers, childcare workers are responsible for relatively few children. As the children get older, workers can be responsible for more.

Work Schedules

Although many childcare workers work full time, more than a third worked part time in 2012.

Childcare workers’ schedules vary widely. Childcare centers usually are open year round, with long hours so that parents can drop off and pick up their children before and after work. Some centers employ full-time and part-time staff with staggered shifts to cover the entire day.

Family childcare providers may work long or unusual hours to fit parents’ work schedules. In some cases, these childcare providers may offer evening and overnight care to meet the needs of families. After the children go home, childcare providers often have more responsibilities, such as shopping for food or supplies, doing accounting, keeping records, and cleaning.

Nannies may work either full or part time. Full-time nannies may work more than 40 hours a week to give parents enough time to commute to and from work.

Education and Training

Education and training requirements vary by setting, state, and employer. They range from less than a high school diploma to a certification in early childhood education.

Education

Childcare workers must meet education and training requirements, which vary by state regulations. Some states require these workers to have a high school diploma, but many states do not have any education requirements for entry-level occupations. However, workers with postsecondary education or an early childhood education credential may be qualified for higher-level positions.

Employers often prefer to hire workers with at least a high school diploma and, in some cases, some postsecondary education in early childhood education.

Workers in Head Start programs must at least be enrolled in a program in which they will earn a postsecondary degree in early childhood education or a child development credential.

States do not regulate educational requirements for nannies. However, some employers may prefer to hire workers with at least some formal instruction in childhood education or a related field, particularly when they will be hired as full-time nannies.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require childcare centers, including those in private homes, to be licensed. To qualify for licensure, staff must pass a background check, have a complete record of immunizations, and meet a minimum training requirement. Some states require staff to have certifications in CPR and first aid.

Some states and employers require childcare workers to have a nationally recognized certification. Most often, states require the Child Development Associate (CDA) certification offered by the Council for Professional Recognition. Obtaining the CDA certification requires coursework, experience in the field, and a period during which the applicant is observed while working with children.

Some states recognize the Child Care Professional (CCP) designation offered by the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation. Candidates for the CCP must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma, have experience in the field, take courses in early childhood education, and pass an exam.

The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) offers a nationally recognized accreditation for family child care providers. This accreditation requires training and experience in the field as well as a period during which the applicant is observed while working with children.

Training

Many states and employers require providers to complete some training before beginning work. Also, many states require staff in childcare centers to complete a minimum number of hours of training annually. Training may include information about basic care of babies, such as how to warm a bottle, and customer-service skills.

Personality and Interests

Child care workers typically have an interest in the Helping and Creating interest areas according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. 

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a child care worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Child care workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Childcare workers must be able to talk with parents and colleagues about the progress of the children in their care. They need both good speaking skills to provide this information effectively and good listening skills to understand parents’ instructions.

Decision-making skills. Good judgment is necessary for childcare workers so they can respond to emergencies or difficult situations.

Instructional skills. Childcare workers need to be able to explain things in terms young children can understand.

Interpersonal skills. Childcare workers need to work well with people to develop good relationships with parents, children, and colleagues.

Patience. Working with children can be frustrating, so childcare workers need to be able to respond to overwhelming and difficult situations calmly.

Physical stamina. Working with children can be physically taxing, so childcare workers should have a lot of energy.

Pay

The median hourly wage for childcare workers was $9.38 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.85, and the top 10 percent earned more than $14.19.

Pay varies with the worker’s education and work setting. Those in formal childcare settings and those with more education usually earn higher wages. Pay for self-employed workers is based on the number of hours they work and the number and ages of the children in their care.

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for childcare workers in the top three industries in which these childcare workers worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and
private
$10.98
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar
organizations
9.11
Child day care services 9.04

Although many childcare workers work full time, more than a third worked part time in 2012.

Childcare workers’ schedules vary widely. Childcare centers usually are open year round, with long hours so that parents can drop off and pick up their children before and after work. Some centers employ full-time and part-time staff with staggered shifts to cover the entire day.

Family childcare providers may work long or unusual hours to fit parents’ work schedules. In some cases, these childcare providers may offer evening and overnight care to meet the needs of families. After the children go home, childcare providers often have more responsibilities, such as shopping for food or supplies, doing accounting, keeping records, and cleaning.

Nannies may work either full or part time. Full-time nannies may work more than 40 hours a week to give parents enough time to commute to and from work.

Job Outlook

Employment of childcare workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Parents will increasingly need assistance during working hours to care for their children. Because the number of children requiring childcare is expected to grow, demand for childcare workers is expected to grow as well.

In the past decade, early childhood education has become widely recognized as important for children’s development. Childcare workers often work alongside preschool teachers as assistants. This continued focus on the importance of early childhood education will spur demand for preschool programs and thus for childcare workers.

Job Prospects

Workers with formal education should have the best job prospects. However, even those without formal education who are interested in the occupation should have little trouble finding employment because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.

For More Information

For more information about becoming a childcare provider, visit

Child Care Aware

For more information about working as a nanny, visit

International Nanny Association

For more information about family childcare providers, visit

National Association for Family Child Care

For more information about early childhood education, visit

National Association for the Education of Young Children

For more information about professional credentials, visit

Council for Professional Recognition

National Early Childhood Program Accreditation

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).