5 Tips for Choosing a Daycare

You think about it when your baby is tiny, you think about it when your baby is in utero, you even think about it before you conceive. Where am I going to send my baby to daycare?

Some mums delay going back to work because the decision is too stressful. You’ve been your child’s primary carer all it’s life! How can you possibly find somewhere/someone you feel comfortable and confident enough to leave your little one. Here are 5 tips aimed to help reduce the tears (yours!) and ease the agony of the decision. But be ware of the shiny and new. There are more important questions to ask.

1. It’s all about the feeling
2. It’s all about the loving
3. It’s all about the details
4. It’s all about the educators
5. It’s all about the education

1. The feeling

Have you ever walked into somewhere, a restaurant, cafe, shop, office, and knew it wasn’t right, for no other reason than it didn’t feel right. Choosing a daycare is exactly the same. Many prospective clients commented that the main reason they chose a service was the way it ‘felt’. While hard to quantify, it can help to ask yourself a few questions. What was my first thought when I walked through the door? Was I feeling comfortable or ill at ease? Was I feeling welcome or a burden? Did the centre smell ‘inviting’? At the end of the day, feeling comfortable and confident with your choice of daycare is the single most important feeling. Our children pick up on our confidence or lack of and react accordingly. It will also have a big impact on how your child settles.

2. The loving

From the minute you walk in the door, do you feel your centre educators care enough to want to get to know and value your child. This starts from the Director downwards. It is not limited to the Educators in your child’s room. The best centres have Educators that all know your child and take a genuine interest in them. Do you feel a connection with the educators? Watch your child (don’t forget to take them for the visit!). Your child will find the warmest fuzziness Educator in the room (if there is one!). Watch the other children. Can you see this warmth and fuzziness? Can you see little connections happening throughout the room or yard:)

3. The details

You can tell a lot about a daycare by the details. Are the facilities and equipment in good repair? This doesn’t have to mean brand spanking new. Don’t be distracted by the sparkles. It means that everything has a place in the room. Are pencils sharpened? Puzzles with no pieces missing? There are obvious systems and order, and the centre takes pride in this. Why is this important? Because if you don’t care about the little things, how can you possibly care about my precious child. On a more practical note, a well organised centre will save you oodles of time searching for your child’s lost belongings. Is the drink bottle in the fridge, or outside, in the bag? Where was the jumper taken off? Outside? Oh it’s now dark, I guess I’ll use my phone flashlight to look! It’s the last thing you need to be doing after a hard day of work.

4. The Educators

Aka carers/teachers etcetera, but definitely not babysitters. Do they have ‘the loving’ gene (see point 2)? Is this more than a job? Educators who are passionate can’t help themselves, and always give more than is required. Let’s face it, they are not doing it for the money (notoriously pitiful pay). Do they look approachable (or are they standing in a group chatting)? Better still, do they come and approach you or welcome you first? Educators that are engaged in children and their learning can be seen with a bunch of children around them. Children are naturally drawn to someone who is interacting with them. These Educators are usually down at the children’s level, bending down for a chat, crawling on the ground, sitting reading a story, singing a song. Good Educators will encourage your engagement with your child’s learning. They will also respect your tradition and cultures and home routine. They will ask you what you did on the weekend AND include it in the program. They will laugh at the funny things your child said AND remember to tell you. They will throw a party in the bathroom with the first poo on the toilet AND get the child to call you. They will cry with you when Grandma passes away or you are simply having a bad day AND give you some phone numbers for referral services. They will form a great partnership with you on the journey of your child’s education.

5. The Education

The education received is purposefully point 5 as without the other four points, even the best education programs will be ineffective. Your daycare should inform you of the centre’s philosophy and how the education program works. In Australia, we follow the Early Years Learning Framework or EYLF (pronounced elf) as it is known. Many centres also offer a government approved Kindergarten program in the year before school which is taught by a Bachelor trained Early Childhood teacher. The best centres run this program 5 days a week. Make sure your child’s learning will be documented. Will they have a portfolio or some way of documenting your child’s learning journey. This should be easily accessed by you at all times but will remain at the centre for the educators to add too. The program should be child centred and child directed. This doesn’t mean that Jessica can choose to go and sit in block corner all day. This means that the Educator has seen the Jessica is interested in blocks and building and has built on his interest by providing a lot of learning experiences around this. For example, the class might use the blocks to measure how tall each child is (maths), some children might choose to be scribes and record this data (English- writing). Sarah’s dad is a builder who might come in and talk to the children (connections with the community). Child centred does not mean there is no intentional teaching. Beware the centre who has a program drawn up at the beginning of the week for the whole week. The program should grow and develop as the week progresses and may draw on experiences from other weeks. This should all be documented with clearly defined curriculum links.
After all your investigations your choice should be easy, follow your intuition, you will just ‘know’.