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Drop-in daycare centers thriving in Anne Arundel

ANNAPOLIS — At My Time Childcare, Jaiden Hendley and Katherine Hedinger express themselves with Play-Doh.

Jim and Bonnie O'Brian sit with 4-year-old Jaiden Hendley as she makes Play-Doh ‘pizzas’ at the My Time Childcare in Annapolis.

For 4-year-old Jaiden, that means pounding out a pancake and dousing it with fake syrup. And for Katherine, also 4, that means organizing the bottles and creating the occasional insect.

This is all while they are under the eyes of Bonnie and Jim O’Brian, directors of the facility, which offers short-term child care services on Buschs Frontage Road in Annapolis. With a staff of 35, the idea is to watch infants and children for as little as an hour at a time while the parents can complete errands. Jaiden said she enjoys her time there, for specific reasons.

“Because they have good food here,” Jaiden said. “I like to eat the macaroni and cheese. [And] swinging outside.”

The traditional structure of child care centers is for parents to pay for the daily care of their infants and children. But the drop-in concept is different, in that the children don’t have to be left for a full day.

Last year, Westfield Annapolis launched Family KidCare near the mall’s Play Space. Geared toward children ages 3 to 9, the free service provides caregivers to supervise children while the parents shop. At My Time, they take children ages 6 weeks on up to 12. It costs $15 an hour there, with an additional $3.50 an hour for meals. Savings packages are available for 10 and 25 hours.

Studies show the fragile state of the economy has made the need for child care more urgent. A report from National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies found that 40 percent of child care consumers said the economy was affecting their child care arrangement, and more than 30 percent said it has caused them to change child care settings.

In Anne Arundel County, care for a child 23 months and younger can cost nearly $300 a week. The Maryland Child Care Resource Network estimates that a family of four with an infant and a preschooler likely would have to pay nearly $20,000 a year in child care expenses.

“Moms and dads don’t need full-time [daycare], they need a break,” My Time owner Jody Baldwin said. “I was a single mom for many years and there were times that I just needed to breathe.”

Arnold parent Emily Fisk learned about My Time through a Facebook friend. Fisk is a hairdresser and her husband is a real estate agent, so sometimes they need some flexibility when he is showing a house.

She wasn’t sure how her 4-year-old son, Jackson, would react when she brought him in for the first time. But he spotted some of his friends from the Big Vanilla Kids Club.

“[Jackson] actually begs to go,” Fisk said. “It’s really going to be a great thing to have.”

Baldwin launched My Time in March, after leaving a job where she was providing child care services at a gym. At My Time, the staff can accommodate up to 56 children daily. If they reach capacity they don’t accept any more children that day.

Each day has a schedule of learning activities, such as colors, alphabet and numbers. The center operates 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Staff members undergo a background check before being hired. Parents check their children in and out through a fingerprint. Emergency contact forms also list the names of backups in case the parent is unable to pick up the child. Each area is configured to a specific age group, such as cribs in the infant room and the Xbox and Wii in the area geared toward the oldest children.

“Anything you think would bore a child, we try to not do,” Baldwin said.

Each age group gets a nickname, like wobbler for those beginning to walk and trotter for those slightly older, Baldwin said.

“It’s based on “Secretariat” [the movie] and living your dream,” she said. “And this is my dream and that’s why we’re living it.”