I’m not like those other women who shame working moms for putting their babies in daycare. I get it. We can’t all quit our jobs and become stay-at-home moms. But for those of us who are blessed enough and cursed enough (depending on the day) to serve in that role, you may still find yourself wondering if you should put your kid in daycare.
My 1-year-old son, Donovan is no longer the immobile infant perfectly content watching me sing to him all day. He is a wild explorer who loves being around other kids. And as much as I want him to keep that energy for as long as he can, I can’t afford a hefty daycare bill just so he can be around other kids. We just don’t have it like that.
So here are my favorite low-cost daycare alternatives for thrifty moms:
Music classes with Sound Beginnings
I happened upon one of these family music classes at a local library in Cobb County. (I consider pretty much everything in metro Atlanta local, by the way.) Since then, I’ve taken to following the instructor, Alyssa Nash, from library to library until my schedule permits me to sign Donovan up for one of her seasonal sessions. In the class, Donovan played with percussion instruments, lifted a parachute up and down and tried to mimic our movements as the other moms and kids marched and sang through various songs and nursery rhymes. It was as much educational as it was fun, and the class for ages 0 to 4-years-old would only mean a once a week commitment for 30 minutes.
Cost: $35 a month plus a $35 materials fee
Not only do most public libraries offer some kind of baby storytime on a weekly basis, but they are also hubs for information on free things to do throughout the city.
That’s how I came across Learning Spaces, a formal preschool program held at metro Atlanta libraries. It aims at preparing children from birth to 5-years-old for school. In that program, Donovan can play with a kitchenette, create art projects with PlayTo and paint and start learning his letters and colors with alphabet magnets.
We even hit up library storytimes when we’re out of town. It’s a great way to start a vacation and get some local recommendations for food, family-friendly activities and drinks. Just talk to other parents there, and tap those librarians for their thoughts.
Long gone are the days when strolling into a local bookstore was part of your routine. I mean, we have Amazon. But now that you’re a mom, it’s time to get back into the habit of visiting bookstores. I schlep Donovan, his oatmeal and diapers from South Atlanta all the way to Decatur’s Little Shop of Stories each week for songs, bubbles and stories. Sometimes while we’re in the city, we even pop by a park, history center or farmer’s market to take in some new scenery. We just let curiosity lead, and it all begins with a story.
You can spend between $100 and $200 a week for part-time childcare, or you can spend that much a year for a museum membership at your favorite metro Atlanta museum. It was a no brainer for me.
Last year as part of my annual Christmas grabbag with friends, I asked for a yearlong membership for Donovan and me to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. Let me just say, that place is everything.
The first time Donovan and I went, I was simply amazed. I wanted to run from exhibit to exhibit as much as Donovan did. Instead, I watched him play with train sets on continental maps, frantically push a shopping cart through a play grocery store and gaze in wonderment at a ball system of pulleys, levers and gadgets.
My favorite offering is one that’s pretty easy to overlook. In a small classroom just off the main entrance, an instructor leads a new hands-on project each week. It’s tailored to children between 6- and 9-years-old, so we opt for a time slot with fewer names on the sign-up list. I generally create the projects for Donovan, and he assists along the way. We’ve made a pencil holder, an Easter basket, a cardboard castle and a self-watering plant. Talk about great birthday gifts for loved ones!
Cost: $90 and up
Find package options for a children’s museum membership here.
Programs during church service
Many churches provide some form of drop-off childcare during worship services and special events. Take advantage of them. Not only do they give you a breather, but they are great ways to get your baby used to the idea of being away from you. I like a megachurch experience with multiple eyeballs for accountability and secure check-in and check-out processes. I usually try to sneak out while Donovan’s playing with toys, and I also pop up unannounced during longer events. Anytime you’re trusting a stranger with your little one, pop up on them occasionally to see what’s really going on. And always trust your gut.
Find a megachurch near Atlanta here.