ChildCare Conversations with Kate and Carrie

Episode 187: The Most Essential Tips for Setting Up an Infant Classroom

February 06, 2024 Carrie Casey and Kate Woodward Young
Episode 187: The Most Essential Tips for Setting Up an Infant Classroom
ChildCare Conversations with Kate and Carrie
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ChildCare Conversations with Kate and Carrie
Episode 187: The Most Essential Tips for Setting Up an Infant Classroom
Feb 06, 2024
Carrie Casey and Kate Woodward Young

In this podcast episode, Kate and Carrie explore the nuances of setting up an infant classroom within a childcare center. Carrie shares her expertise in optimizing budget and space, advising against overcrowding with excessive equipment and suggesting the use of smaller cribs for both financial and developmental benefits. The conversation covers practical tips on sourcing affordable cribs, planning for evacuation, and meeting specific room requirements. Carrie also discusses the importance of a tailored infant curriculum and the role of toys in infant development. Additionally, they touch upon the infant room as a loss leader in childcare business strategy, emphasizing its long-term value despite higher costs. The episode concludes with an offer of further assistance to listeners interested in developing their infant care programs, contact us for business coaching and help. 

Blog post about opening an infant room:

Support the Show.

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Show Notes Transcript

In this podcast episode, Kate and Carrie explore the nuances of setting up an infant classroom within a childcare center. Carrie shares her expertise in optimizing budget and space, advising against overcrowding with excessive equipment and suggesting the use of smaller cribs for both financial and developmental benefits. The conversation covers practical tips on sourcing affordable cribs, planning for evacuation, and meeting specific room requirements. Carrie also discusses the importance of a tailored infant curriculum and the role of toys in infant development. Additionally, they touch upon the infant room as a loss leader in childcare business strategy, emphasizing its long-term value despite higher costs. The episode concludes with an offer of further assistance to listeners interested in developing their infant care programs, contact us for business coaching and help. 

Blog post about opening an infant room:

Support the Show.

Thanks for Listening 🎙

Marie (00:00:01) - Welcome to childcare conversations with Kate and Carrie.

Kate (00:00:05) - We are so glad to continue our collection of episodes related to how to start a childcare center in Texas, and today's episode, we are going to talk specifically about the setup of an infant classroom. Now, if you have listened to us at all in the last 185 episodes, you would know that infants and toddlers are Carrie's favorite place, favorite classrooms. And so, because Carrie works with so many startups, we wanted to kind of pick Carrie's brain on the best way to use your money when setting up your first infant classroom. So, Carrie, give me a story of maybe not setting it up the best way you could have.

Carrie (00:00:57) - Well, I don't know. You probably have one in your head and I don't know which one it is, but what I will tell you is that I think more programs are going to have to open infant and toddler classrooms, as the school districts are competing for more of the three to fives than they have been. So even if you're not starting a whole new center, I need you to think about setting up an infant or toddler classroom, or an additional infant or toddler classroom.

Carrie (00:01:26) - Um, I have gone into programs where they have what feels like wall to wall pack in place. And so I'm old enough that we called those playpens, but they have wall to wall pack in place along one wall, and then they have bouncer seats and swings and high chairs and, um, those little poppies, boppy pillows. And there's almost no open floor space.

Kate (00:01:59) - So they have all containers.

Carrie (00:02:01) - Yep. And I call those baby jail. Um, you shouldn't move babies from one baby jail to another baby jail throughout their day. That's not good developmental practice. And from a budget perspective, it's not a good use of your money. My suggestion is that you get smaller cribs that are up off the ground, because part of the problem with a pack and play is you have to bend over very far to put the child in or to take them out, which is going to put wear and tear on your staff's bodies. So that's not a great long term plan. And I know, yes, you can pick them up at a garage sale, but they're not going to last long term.

Carrie (00:02:46) - So if you have to do that to start because you're like, I can pick these up for $20 at a garage sale, what is Kerry doing telling me this is not an effective financial move because it's being penny wise and pound foolish means you're spending a little bit of money at the beginning, but you're going to have to spend that money over and over and over again.

Kate (00:03:08) - Well, we've also heard the phrase you get what you pay for.

Carrie (00:03:13) - Yeah And so if you want to have four pack in place to start your infant room while you're getting those first four infants in, you can do that. But that means that your evacuation plan for that room has to be the baby evacuation smock that the teacher puts on over their clothes and has four pockets to put four babies in, and they evacuate by walking out with four babies strapped to their body. So even in the situation where you're financially strapped and you're setting up your first infant room or your new infant room, I'm going to suggest three pack in place.

Carrie (00:03:55) - If you have two and one crib that you can use for evacuation. Now you can go to Lakeshore or Kaplan or any of the other big companies and look for evacuation cribs, and you're going to choke on how much they cost. Do you want to know how you can get an evacuation crib without spending five, six, $800?

Kate (00:04:18) - Oh, I love to save money. Carrie.

Carrie (00:04:22) - Um, you order the portable cribs from the hotel suppliers? Um, those cribs are designed to be wheeled in and out of rooms every day, and they fold up very small. And they're also narrower than a traditional crib and a little bit shorter than a traditional crib. So they're taking up less floor space.

Kate (00:04:50) - All right. So Carrie, are we going to try to make sure we have a link to one of those in our um, I.

Carrie (00:04:56) - Will, I will try, um, we have a blog post. Here's what you need for an infant room, and there are links in there for various things. Hopefully I'll be able to get a link to one of these.

Carrie (00:05:09) - Um, I have just gone to hotels and asked them where they buy their cribs. Um, when I got my first one, I had a client who was a housekeeper for a big hotel chain, and she was the one who hooked me up and I was like, oh my God, these are less expensive. They're sturdier and they're smaller. I want all these. Um, so eventually I think it's a great idea to have a whole bunch of those. They're metal. It's great. Uh, um, so that's going to be your biggest flaw. The thing that takes up the most floor space is those sleeping containers for the babies.

Kate (00:05:51) - Okay, so before we even start to get too far, let's think through. What are some of the processes, some one who is starting a new infant room might want to think about related to square footage budget. Um, anything else they might want to keep in the in the in their forefront of their mind? Because we get people all the time who don't even have a space yet, and they're already buying stuff at garage sales because they think this is going to save them money.

Carrie (00:06:22) - I don't know what you're talking about. Um, so what she's talking about is I had a program almost fully outfitted before I had a space, because I had been collecting equipment and supplies for five years. Um, people were like, what would you like for your birthday? And I was like, I would like an easel. I would like a two sided wooden easel for children. And they were like, you're not a child. You don't have a child. Why do you need that? I was like, because they're 100 and whatever dollars it was at the time. I'm sure they're, you know, I know they're more expensive than that. Now. But at the time, that's what I did. So the question is, what do I need to keep in mind when I'm looking at overall budget and potential red flags with, um, square footage? Is that what you're asking?

Kate (00:07:15) - Yeah, because we know that hopefully before you're even getting to this part, you know, some of the requirements.

Kate (00:07:21) - How much space per infant? Uh, you have an idea about doors, entrances, exits, some of those specific requirements for an infant room. And so if you know, going in that the space is going to have to be able to, um, and I'm going to be really a stickler on making sure that you use space, um, forget what licensing tells you, how many can go in that space. But you look at the the actual expenses and costs. So either you've got four children or you've got ten children or you've got.

Carrie (00:07:57) - Eight because the maximum group size is ten, right? If anybody's under 12 months, so 4 or 8 or ten are your options with infants. So you have to have an exterior door in your infant room. You have to have a door that the kids can get out of in your infant room. This is sometimes a big issue because the landlord or your building that you bought doesn't have but two interior exterior doors, so you're going to have to put another interior exterior door in that infant room, because the infants have to have their own door, right? Technically, from fire code, they can have a window that is an egress window.

Carrie (00:08:39) - Just just put in a door. Do not do an egress window out of an infant room. That is that is banana pants. Because then that means the teacher has to put all the children by the window, climb out the window, and reach through the window to get the children like, that's not going to work. If there's a danger in the building, if there's an electrical fire, they need to be able to just walk out a door. Hey, we're not doing that. Um, things that eat up a lot of floor space that don't need to. We talked about getting smaller cribs and having cribs instead of pack in place, because it takes up less floor space and it's easier on your staff. Um, but the other one that eats up a huge amount of floor space is the changing table. The changing table is, what, 3.5ft by five feet long? Um, so that's what is the. That's my thing. Um, so that's about it's more than 15ft², but not 20.

Carrie (00:09:40) - So somewhere in between there. So that's a half of a kid, because you need to have 35ft² per infant in your infant room of available square footage so that the child can crawl and walk around. So if you've taken up, I'm going to say 20 because it's an easy number. If I've taken up 20ft² with the changing table, then maybe that room could have taken for children. But now I can only have three because of the changing table. That's a huge issue financially. So get one of the things like you see in public restrooms, where the changing table folds down from the wall, and then get one of the, um, step ladders, the toddler step ladders that you can get that are wooden and you can find plans for them. So if you know somebody who's good with tools, they can just build it for you. But one of those, um, toddler step ladders where the child holds on to the side and climbs up the 2 or 3 steps onto the changing table so that when you've got a child who's ten months old, 13 months old, whatever they can, you don't have to pick them up.

Carrie (00:10:57) - They can climb up because people are like, I want the changing table because you have the ones where you can pull the stairs out. Okay, I'm solving that problem for you. If you're already expecting to pick all the kids up, you don't need that wooden shell, that wooden stair steps, I need it, I'm middle aged, I need this, I need that piece.

Kate (00:11:18) - Okay, so we've talked about containers and that they need to think about how much space. We've talked about the changing table. So just because you had one at home for your infant doesn't mean it's the best thing to use. We've talked about options for cribs. Let's talk about toys and floor space I mean.

Carrie (00:11:43) - I mean, and and part of the challenge, excuse me, part of the challenge of setting up an infant room is you've got those non-mobile babies, you've got those rolling babies, you've got those crawling babies, and you've probably got some walking babies. So we've got four different levels of protection and gross motor activity that we need to provide for, and that can feel very, very daunting.

Carrie (00:12:10) - Um, so for our non-mobile babies, we probably do want one container that you could put a non-mobile baby in when they need some soothing, and you don't have enough people with arms that can hold and rocking and pat. Right? So there will be times when your teachers cannot attend to everybody's need to be held. So a swing or a bouncer makes sense, but do not have three swings and five bouncers. Oh my lord, no, with your bouncers you need to have hooks on the wall so that when there's not a child in the bouncer, you are hanging up the bouncer seat. Those do not need to stay on the floor all the time. Get the lowest profile swing you can as far as takes up the least amount of floor space, and make sure it's one that when you don't have any children who are in that stage developmentally, you can fold it up and put it in a closet. So those are things that we need for the non-mobile babies. We also need a place for them to have tummy time so that we can eventually have crawlers, because if they don't have tummy time, they're never going to become a crawler.

Carrie (00:13:23) - And we want that. So there are various ways to do it. You can do it with furniture, but if we're talking cost effective and space efficiency, um, having those little what they're kind of like doggy door, I don't know what to call them. What are those things called? There's expandable. I put it around where the baby is doing tummy time so that the toddlers don't walk on them.

Kate (00:13:50) - Oh, the the the gates there they make a play yard.

Carrie (00:13:54) - Yeah, a gate or a play yard area. So that when you've got toddlers, um, you can sort of fence off temporarily the area for the teeny tiny babies. Um, you need something for the kids who are learning how to walk to cruise alongside of. So shelves is the easiest solution because you have to have a shelf for the toys. And so if you just put a walking bar on one side of the shelf, haha. Magic. I had a shelf and I'm going to put a mirror on on the side that is closed, and then I'm going to put a walking bar.

Carrie (00:14:34) - And so the mirror is there for the crawling babies to go stare at themselves, and the bar is there for the big kids to pull up on.

Kate (00:14:44) - Okay, so one thing that I want to just throw out for people to think about who are listening to this, who are like, this seems like there's a lot more to go on in an infant room than I thought, because I've actually met with programs that literally thought that all they had to. Do with the inference all day was to hold them and to feed them and let them sleep. And I know, because I've worked with you for a little while, uh, that you also have some really strong opinions, not only about what should the day look like, but the actual use of curriculum with infants.

Carrie (00:15:17) - Oh, yeah. Um, I am a strong proponent of infant curriculum. I've written infant curriculum. I've bought other people's infant curriculum. Infant curriculum is not like curriculum in other age groups. Um, because you don't need to have this is the theme of the week.

Carrie (00:15:35) - It's much more this is what's going on developmentally with this child or group of children. So these are the activities we're going to do with these kids because they're doing this thing, like I said, having the mirrors for the babies to look for, the crawling babies and the babies who are still doing tummy time, part of what we're doing and part of what's in the curriculum for that age is we're strengthening the trapezius muscle in their back so that they can hold their head up better and longer so that it's stabilized when they start walking. So part of what's in the curriculum for crawling babies and tummy time babies is time in front of a mirror that is on the curriculum because there's it's a goal I'm assessing, you know, whole thing. Um, there's an activity and then there's other activities that need to be in the curriculum for those kids who are moving from crawling to toddling, right, because they need to be establishing their balance. And so you should have soft climbing things, things for them to climb on that are soft so that when they fall because they're going to it's not a problem.

Carrie (00:16:55) - Do you need to spend $4,000 on the vinyl covered climbing structure that takes up 40ft²? No you don't. You don't have to spend that money. You don't have to take that much square footage for that item. You have access to pillows. Children can climb on top of a fortress of sofa pillows that you bought from goodwill. You bought the whole sofa, and then you just took the sofa pillows and you got rid of the sofa itself. And those are great climbing structures, and you can take the covers off and wash them once a week. They're they're magical. You can use bed wedges, all kinds of things. I didn't get one of those big things until CHS bought me one, because I was a four star Texas Rising Star program. I never paid for that. I let CHS pay for it.

Kate (00:17:58) - So they sound like some great budget tips related to setting up your program. Um, I think the biggest one that I want to stress for whoever's listening to this and whether you are starting a brand new program, whether or not you are taking an existing space within your program and putting in an infant room and expanding your infant space, don't buy anything more than you have to to start with.

Kate (00:18:23) - Because what if it takes in your community six months, eight months, 12 months to get all 4 to 8 of those infants? Meanwhile, you spent the money upfront for the equipment. Yep. Um, when you're hiring your staff, think about what equipment you have and use those questions. Use that equipment in the interview to kind of see if they're really a good match for that age group. If they think all they're going to do is hold an infant rocking infant, um, they don't know why there would be a mirror, why there would be pull up bars, why there would be pillows for climbing. Then maybe that's not your lead teacher. It doesn't mean that it can't be somebody in the infant room. It just means that you need somebody else who can help train and teach and guide. Uh, your additional staff. Okay. As we wrap up, what are some. If you were going to give me the top five toys that you have to have in every good infant room, maybe there's not even five, but no more than five.

Carrie (00:19:30) - No, there's going to be one bonus because it's not a toy. It's a thing that you have to have, which is a, uh, water filled teething ring that lives in the freezer. So you have to have that. Um, so there should be a cause and effect toy. We used to call these busy boards. Um, but now they have them that are just like, you know, you slide something, you spin something, you push something. So there should be a thing where they can do 3 or 4 different. Motions like that. If you want to go get a 1970s and 1980s busy board, you can pick those up very inexpensively at a garage sale because some meemaw still has hers. Um, and her last grandbaby is now 16 and doesn't need it anymore. Uh, um, so you need to have one of those. You need to have, uh, items that are easy to, uh, something that's easy to grasp. So that can be a ball with lots of holes or knobs, or it can be a discovery toy that I love, which is called the Boomer Lynx the best.

Carrie (00:20:36) - It is one of the three best toys in the world is a Boomer link, a set of boomer links. You can get the knockoffs, but the discovery Toy one is going to last for 30 years. Um, you need something where the child can fill up a container and dump it out. So, um. And that can be as simple as you have a box and fabric scraps for them to fill and dump it out. You can be collecting milk jug lits. You can whatever you want to go in there. That can all be found items, but you need a basket for them to fill up and dump out, or a bucket for them to fill up and dump out that can be easily sanitized. Um, I'm trying to limit it to five more at three. Um, there needs to be something snuggly, something that they can hold on to and snuggle. My recommendation is that it look as much like a human being as possible, or as much like, um, a type of animal that the kids have as pets.

Carrie (00:21:43) - So cat or dog. So something that is a realistic looking cat, dog or human for them to snuggle. Um, so that's number four. And one more thing would be if I can only have five toys, my last baby toy is going to be some sort of musical instrument or rattle.

Kate (00:22:09) - All right. So part of the reason that I put Carrie at the limit of five is that I know that this is something that parents will want to bring in. If you have your own children, you might have your, um, what you consider your, your, your go to toys. But again, remember how many kids you have, uh, think about how easy it is to clean and disinfect that toy. And you can always rotate out toys. You can always get new toys. Now, Carrie, from Texas licensing standards. What age is classified as an infant.

Carrie (00:22:45) - Birth to 18 months.

Kate (00:22:47) - Okay, so again, when you are thinking about space, you can have your younger infants, your middle aged insurance, and your older infants still be charging infant rates, but you can also move them around a larger space in your building.

Kate (00:23:08) - Um, it allows you to make bigger group sizes, um, that are also flexible. So if you aren't really sure what I mean by that, reach out to carry it. Carry it. Texas director, or let Carrie work with you. Um, she is great to hire as a consultant if you're setting up an infant room and an existing program. And, uh, she'll help you kind of take a peek at your facility layout. What are the things that you have to consider? Do your homework. Please, please, please, please do not say you're going to have an infant room. Don't look at the square footage and minimum standards or even your licensing report that says, hey, that room will take 12 kids. No, no it won't. You can have.

Carrie (00:23:51) - 12 infants and I'll tell you, you can do it. But what you're doing, if you have 12 infants in that space, this is a freebie, is that most of those infants are over the age of 12 months.

Kate (00:24:06) - Well, not only that, you've got to look at the staffing piece. Yeah. So, um, I that's the one thing that I try to get people to really look at. And again, Carrie and I look at things from very different points of view, which is great, which is why you get to you get both of us. Um, for the bonus price of free on these podcasts. So,

Carrie (00:24:26) - Yeah I mean, the staffing schedule. I was working with someone this weekend. Yeah, this weekend, who was going to have an infant room with four infants and they're open for 12.5 hours. And I said, so you're hiring three people for that room? And she was like, I'm what? Um, she was not prepared for that because she wanted one teacher to be there for eight hours a day, which meant she needed three teachers. Um, so we worked through that and looked at several different. Options for how she can staff that room that's going to take four infants.

Carrie (00:25:03) - So yes, absolutely. I love doing that. Um, I love playing Tetris with your schedule. Um, Kate loves it even more. Um, but infant rooms are fun and wonderful, and they are what is called in business, a loss leader. So let's talk a little bit about the loss leader element of it and then wrap up the episode.

Kate (00:25:27) - Well we also need to remember it can be depending on your community. It can also be a great place to make money. Yeah. Um, if you think about how you schedule your day so you can have half day infant programs, and that means that you can maximize your staff and your space. Um, and then we can maximize that age range by, by still charging infant rates for your 18 month kids. So go ahead, Carie, talk about what a loss leader is.

Carrie (00:25:55) - So a Loss leader is when you go to the convenience store and they're like, you can have a 64 ounce soda for $0.12. They are losing money on that soda.

Carrie (00:26:06) - Right. Because the cup costs them $0.15. The soda itself is fine at that price. It's the container that cost them money. So a loss leader Costco's chicken rotisserie chicken from Costco. They sell it for the same price. Now that they did 15 years ago, they lose money on every chicken. But what it does is it gets you in the store. And at Costco, the chickens are at the back of the store, so you have to walk through everything else and see 15 things you didn't know you needed on the way to those chickens.

Kate (00:26:45) - Or on the way back from those chickens. Because I try. Usually when I go in, I'm pretty myopic and I'm going for a chicken, um, where if you do that at a traditional grocery store here in Texas, you are somewhere between 950 and 1250. Um, because they keep adding that $0.50, I've noticed about every six months that chickens another $0.50. And what used to be an $8 chicken. The last time I bought him at the same store, he was a $12 chicken.

Kate (00:27:13) - And the chicken didn't get any bigger. So, um, so make sure you're looking at your receipts when you're looking at your budget.

Carrie (00:27:21) - Okay, that is off topic, girl. Um, so the loss leader is something that you break even on. Um, you might make a tiny bit of profit, but it's not where your big profits items are. So the big profit items in Costco are the things on the tables. That's where they make the most money is the things on those tables. That's what they want you to buy. So you have to go past the tables to get your dog food or to get your rotisserie chicken. So in child care, our version of the things on the table at the big box store is our after school program. Our after school program has the highest margins. You make the most money per child per hour in your after school program, the one that we either lose money on or we just barely make a little bit is our infant room. Because what is the staffing ratio in your after school classroom versus your infant classroom? Infant classroom is 1 to 4.

Carrie (00:28:27) - School age is like 1 to 22, I don't remember. It's ridiculous. So it's five times more kids that can be supervised by one adult. And so that's where we want people to give us money. Like this is our cash cow is the after school program. IT people think the infant must be the cash cow because I'm charging a thousand bucks a month. But your staffing and your overhead costs for that room are $950. I don't know, I'm making up numbers, but there's not a whole lot of gap there because we have to staff that classroom all day with good quality teachers, because you can't put somebody who is really green to be the only teacher in an infant room. So it is a loss leader. But if you do the math on how much, if I get one infant into my program and they stay through the end of your program. So if your program only goes to five, if they stayed, if they came in at two months and they stayed the whole time until they turned five, how much money would that bring into your program? That's why infant programs are important, and infant care is a lot of fun.

Carrie (00:29:43) - And you got lots of snuggles and it's great. You should have it. So do it.

Kate (00:29:48) - Okay, so Carrie could do the cooing all day long. So on that note, thank you very, very much for, um, kind of giving some guidance on setting up an infant. Classroom. So if you are starting an early childcare program in the state of Texas and you are going to include an infant room, or maybe you're expanding and including an infant classroom, uh, rewind, pause, take notes, and I'm sure you're going to have questions. So make sure you reach out to either Carrie@TexasDirector.Org or Kate@Texas Director.Org and we are so excited to help you grow your program.

Carrie (00:30:25) - Have a great day. Talk to you next week.

Marie (00:30:28) - Thank you for listening to Child Care Conversations with Kate and Carrie. Want to learn more? Check out our website at and if you've learned anything today, leave us a comment below and share the show.