Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michelle Fine

Committee Members

Sheridan Bartlett

Roger Hart

Ana Ramos-Zayas

Cindi Katz

Subject Categories

Early Childhood Education | Educational Sociology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Interior Architecture | Work, Economy and Organizations


family child care, early childhood education, school design, child care workforce


Family child care, which takes place in the caregiver’s own home, is one of the most common arrangements for American working parents, yet it remains low paid and undervalued in the ecosystem of early childhood care and education (Uttal and Tuominen, 1999). Little is known about how family child care providers organize space within their homes and the repercussions the location of care has on their daily practices with children, relationships with family members, and design of their homes. Even less is known about the strategies used by providers operating in dense, urban neighborhoods with high housing costs. This investigation documents the lived experiences and working conditions of ten women who provide licensed, group family child care in New York City. Data from in-depth interviews, walking tour interviews, and participant observation collected from 2016 to 2018, revealed an unexpected subset of experienced educators and social entrepreneurs who pursue family child care primarily because of the autonomy it affords them to design and manage their ideal space for children to play and learn. For contemporary, independent educators, self and space are in a process of constant making and remaking; this dissertation elaborates four themes that characterize how providers design their


home child care settings. First, the subset of providers described in this study engage in “boundary work” to

segment their personal and family areas from the child care to achieve their visions of a “school- like” environment. Second, providers draw upon their varied pedagogical philosophies to guide their design of the layout, objects, and rules for use of their space. Third, skilled educators, like the providers in this study, are designers of affective environments that nurture emotions and relationships vital to learning; family child care providers are uniquely able to draw upon “home-like” uses and meanings of space, such as building routines around the needs of individual children and expressing subcultural values like spiritual faith, antiracism, or environmental stewardship, which may not be prioritized in local school institutions. Fourth, the women in this study identify as lead teachers or directors of their child care programs and rely on staff members to perform direct care and more menial domestic tasks; I open the question of racialized hierarchies in staffing and who provides the labor of direct care and menial domestic tasks, as well as the possibilities for reflective mentorship and solidarity in a space that can potentially be isolating.