Free child care! I bet you’re skeptical. If you get what you pay for, then child care is something you’ll want to pay for. But I’m not suggesting free child care from just anyone…just the opposite.
Find free child care by tapping into child care resources in your community. Look to services you already pay for or trusted friends with whom you might work out an exchange.
Infants and toddlers are more work intensive, so most of these approaches are better for school age kids. And most are not going to yield of long periods of time. But when a work-at-home mom only needs part-time child care, she can take advantage of short bits of time when free child care is available.
1. Kid Swap or Play DateTalk to other like-minded work-at-home and stay-at-home moms about a kid swap. Then arrange a play date. You host one day, and then the child’s parents reciprocate on another day. This gives your child an opportunity for play dates both inside and outside your home.
Tip: If it works well, set it up as an ongoing arrangement. For example, you host Tuesdays, and the other family hosts on Thursdays.
2. Museum/Pool MembershipWhen you buy family memberships to museums or pool clubs, they often allow a sitter to bring your child without you. Usually you must write a note or have the person's name put on the membership. A friend, perhaps a mom with children the same age as yours, may appreciate the opportunity to go to the pool or museum for free in exchange for watching your kids. While the sitter is free, her children would not be, but often members can purchase guest passes at a discounted rate, making it a good deal for all.
Tip: This strategy works best when kids are a little older. Be sure your sitter can comfortably handle your kids and hers in this situation, particularly at the pool.
3. Gym With Child CareUnlike the rest of these ideas for free child care, this one is actually better for younger kids. Many health clubs have child care facilities, often geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, as an added benefit for its members. If yours does, take advantage. If yours doesn't, consider switching to one that does.
You can't leave the premises, but you can bring along your laptop and work in the lobby after your workout. Of course, you have to pay for the membership, but if it is something you would pay for anyway, then essentially it's free child care.
Tip: If you don't have a laptop, bring along another task, like paying bills, that is easier to do when the kids are occupied.
4. Clubs, Classes, Music Lessons, Sports or Other Kids Activities
Many communities offer free or low-cost classes and activities for kids. Take advantage of these (or activities that you were going to pay for anyway) as free child care by working while your kids learn. Bring along your laptop or pack a work-at-home mom bag of tricks. If the class is long enough and close to home, you may be able to drop off the kids and go home to get a few things done.
Tip: Find classes by picking up a local parenting magazine or your city's newspaper or asking friends. If a friend is enrolled in the same class parents can swap pick-up and drop-off duties.
5. Grandparents and Relatives
Grandparents having been helping out with child care since the days of the cavemen. But whether it the occasional night out or full-time child care, there are child care issues parents and grandparents will want to discuss first, i.e. rules, where to babysit, payment, schedules, etc.
Tip: Grandparents may enjoy taking the kids to the pool or a museum as suggested in #2.
6. Child Care Coop
Join or start a babysitting coop with other moms who are home during the day. Ask friends or look to online resources like local parenting listservs or websites to locate a childcare coop in your area.