The very first childcare centre I looked at for my daughter is etched in my memory. I remember walking down the claustrophobic corridors, the fluorescent lights and trying to talk to the unfriendly staff.
I walked out, and promptly called my husband in tears. If our daughter had to go to a centre like that, I declared dramatically, then I was never going back to work.
Your child’s daycare becomes a part of your family
Fast forward four years and I am in love with my son’s daycare. I love waving to the babies as I take him to his room, and when I have time to chat with the other kids and his educators, it’s the best start to the morning.
But starting them at daycare wasn’t easy. As any parent will attest, leaving a crying child in the arms of another adult will crush your heart into a thousand pieces. My husband used to drive around the corner after drop-off and have a little cry himself.
It’s hard. But over time my children have formed amazing relationships with their educators and had magical experiences that I could never provide, they’re our second family.
When there are so many to choose from, how do you decide where to send them?
Five years ago (in Sydney at least) daycare places were scarce. You went on a waiting list for months and took what days you could get, with the more popular centres even harder to get into. It feels like early learning centres have been improving since I first looked into placements in 2014. That could be due to the roll out of the National Quality Framework, and a general raising of awareness about the importance of early learning.
Or it could be that I’m in a job where I only speak to passionate advocates of early learning. Either way, the friends I have looking for care now appear to have many centres to choose from, but they don’t know how to settle on one.
Here are my four tips:
1. Start with a recommendation from someone you trust
In some ways I’ve cheated in parenting from the very beginning. My sister had her daughter first, and I trust her when it comes to all things parenting.
She went through a birthing centre, I went through a birthing centre. She sent her kids to a family daycare, so I sent mine. Everywhere else she went, we followed. And it has worked a treat. While she always hated me copying her when we were kids, she doesn’t seem to mind now we’re adults. Thank goodness!
The key here is that we have similar parenting styles and desires for our kids. Before you take someone’s advice, ask yourself if you’re likely to look at things the same way when it comes to your children.
2. Go with your gut instinct
Following on from a recommendation, you should always go to the centre itself and check it out. Take your child with you and see how they find the new environment while you’re still close by.
For some, it’s as simple as trusting your gut instinct. Personally, gut instinct is a powerful determinant for me. I would never be comfortable leaving my child somewhere that I didn’t like from first sighting.
But sometimes we need a bit more than that to go on.
3. Educators are key
Speak with the educators at the centre. They are the ones stepping in to guide and protect your child while you’re not there. Are they good communicators? Do they like their job? How do they respond to the children around them?
My friend Amanda, mum of two, says, “I always ask how long the staff have been working at the centre. Long serving staff reflect a well-run place and happy environment. High turnover reflects poor management. The Centre Director can make or break a place”.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
What are the most important things to you? Do you worry about how they will sleep during the day, and where they will sleep? Is being outdoors important? How about conflict resolution? Different centres will have different ways of managing the day, and the behaviours of many children.
Ilona lives in Singapore and has been doing some investigating of her own. She’s come up with a comprehensive list of questions.
This is what she asks about:
“Student to teacher ratio, overall number of kids in the centre, pedagogy the principal follows (Reggio, child-led, teacher-led etc), their view on child-led play, if my child hits someone, how do your staff handle it (a centre that is okay with time-outs is not for me), what is their orientation process (how do they handle child’s first few days), how much time do the kids get outdoors each day, how do they manage the outbreak of an infectious illness.”
Just remember it will all work out
I feel lucky to have had such great educators for my children. I love watching them with my kids- the attention, respect and care they give them makes my day. While drop off was excruciating at the start, choosing the right centre for them has made all the difference.
If you need more information on choosing the right daycare centre, try the Government’s Starting Blocks website.