The City of San Diego offers child-guardian classes on a daily basis each morning. These provide City College credit. Our children are immersed in a diverse atmosphere--on the beach, in a canyon hike, and in a classroom--with about 15 children, 15 siblings, and 15 parents/grandparents/guardians. The children gain increasing independence by pairing off with other parents. There is classroom bonding and sensory and academic stimulation for parents and children. A teacher designs lessons and assigns changing jobs to parents who are in the learning environment with all of the children.
The classes are for newborn to age 5. In the summers, the age can be as high as 12, depending on the class.
Our experience with day-care was limited to:
* having our first-born on a waiting list from six months before birth until 4 years old at the military base where I worked as a civilian
* hiring babysitters: My net pay after paying for a babysitter was $5/day (but I did get benefits, including retirement); at any time a babysitter could quit, so I ended up paying monthly bonuses to stay on; one of my boys ended up have a special needs challenge that meant he was too high energy for the patience for many of the babysitters I selected; when we did have a stable babysitter, she was reticent to let us know the truth of our son's behavior problems for fear of losing her job.
*nursery school started at two years, and we ended up losing $1600 when our son was asked to leave. Since these businesses are unregulated, we had no recourse to recover our money other than asking our clergyman to contact the clergyman where the nursery school rented space.
Commercial daycare did not meet our family's needs. We are grateful that the city had another option to enrich our lives. I tried organizing a playgroup myself and found that attendance was hard to maintain, as the circle of people I could reach was limited. The City College environment drew on parents from all over the county and supplied a framework that made it easy to simply attend rather than to be on the phone organizing. There was no fee.