Putting your child into childcare is one of the most challenging aspects of early parenthood.
Making the decision to entrust your child’s care to someone who is often a complete stranger (or group of strangers) can leave a parent feeling anxious.
In most areas of Australia there are more choices in childcare than there are in a box of Cadbury Favourites!
5 Important Things To Consider When Choosing Childcare
Families can opt for long daycare, in-home or family daycare, or preschool/kindergarten (the name of services varies from state to state).
However, as fortunate as we are to have choices, sometimes actually making a decision can be overwhelming.
For many years, friends have begged me to help them choose childcare, as they navigate the minefield that is childcare benefit, play-based programs and philosophies.
With so much to know, many of them have no idea where to start looking or what they should even be looking for.
While each family’s values and circumstances are different, there are five things families should look for when making a childcare choice:
#1: Happy Children
When you visit an early education and care setting, take note of the children – your child and the other children in care. Watch how your child responds to the environment.
While it is perfectly normal for a child of any age to be hesitant about new people and places, most children quickly warm to a place that’s fun, interesting and feels welcoming. If your child bolts for the door or huddles in the corner, it may be a sign to keep searching!
Watch the other children playing. Do they seem happy? Inevitably, there will be children who are upset, particularly if you are visiting at drop off time. What you want to see here is an educator comforting them, and responding to their distress at being separated from their parent, in a loving and respectful way.
What you don’t want to see is a row of children with their faces pressed against the glass, like prisoners forlornly awaiting their release!
#2: Loving Educators
The importance of loving, respectful relationships between children, families and educators shouldn’t be underestimated. While the vast majority of early childhood educators are committed to this type of approach, unfortunately there are some who may not yet see the impact they can have on a child when they interact in a gentle and respectful way.
When you visit a service, look for educators who get down to a child’s level when speaking to them, or who speak in a kind, gentle tone. You will instantly notice the love the children have for the educator as they call their name from across the playground or climb onto their lap for a cuddle. Also, take note of how children’s behavior is redirected positively, rather than punished.
If you have a baby, look for a service which adopts a primary caregiving approach. This is when one educator specifically looks after your baby.
Although the other educators will continue to play with and care for your baby, the primary caregiver will become the most familiar with your baby’s individual routine, needs and preferences.
It would be remiss to ignore the fact that for many of us, childcare is a necessity. When this is the case, our circumstances will dictate the type of care and location we choose. In some cases, our choices may be further limited by vacancies and waiting lists.
Think about the hours of care you require and find a setting which accommodates this comfortably. The last thing you want is to be running out of work at 5pm, driving like a maniac through peak hour traffic, in order to get to a centre four suburbs away before closing time and avoid the hefty late fees (yes, they’re a thing!)
Decide if you would prefer to pack your child’s lunch each day or have it provided. While the provision of meals can feel like a lifesaver when you during the morning rush, it is also an additional cost and you may have food preferences which can’t be catered for.
On that note, affordability is often a primary concern. I suggest doing your research as fees can vary significantly between services types and locations.
Early childhood services in Australia are nationally regulated and operate under what’s known as the Early Years Learning Framework. This is a document that outlines the principles, practice and outcomes for early childhood education in Australia.
A recurrent theme throughout the document is the importance of play. Children should have long, uninterrupted periods of play.
When you visit a centre, you should see children accessing environments and resources that enable them to engage freely in play with peers or on their own if they wish.
While it can take some parents a little getting used to – mess is good! Seeing a messy playground with muddy pots and pans and cubbies made out of old sheets fills my heart with joy. This isn’t mess – it is evidence of play! It tells us that children are encouraged to play, to explore and to have fun.
#5: The Vibe
So, the last thing to look for may sound a little crazy, but stick with me!
Have you ever walked into a store and there’s loud music pumping and lights flashing? Maybe when I was 16 that made me want to stay and shop, but now – in my thirties? I want to run in the opposite direction like a toddler doing a dash for freedom!
The same principle applies to the childcare environment. When you walk in, you will get a very clear feeling about it. Trust that.
- Do I feel like I belong here?
- Does this place make me smile?
- Does this feel like a positive place for children?
Finding the right childcare may not be easy, but by asking many questions and spending time in the service, it’s possible to find a place that feels like a home away from home, somewhere the whole family feels comfortable, safe and nurtured.
It is worth noting that all approved early childhood services (those eligible for government benefits such as child care benefit and child care rebate) are assessed and rated against the National Quality Standards. Families may visit the government website www.mychild.gov.au and locate services in their area to view their opening hours, key features, and also their quality rating.