5 tips to help you choose the right childcare centre for your family.
I send my son to childcare two days a week while I search for part-time work. It was not an easy decision. In fact, I had months of agonising and sleepless nights over it. I want to be a stay at home mum, but at the same time, it is really a struggle in the current economic times to support a family on a single income, especially as we try to save for our first home.
Searching for a childcare centre that I felt comfortable sending my son to was a lot harder than this search for employment.
Way back when I was just at the beginning of my search for a childcare centre, I wrote an article that was published here. It is full of useful information on sensible questions to ask on a childcare tour if you have absolutely no idea where to start. These tips include:
Do you provide nappies?
How is the transition to childcare handled?
How are the parents kept involved?
What is your cleaning policy?
What is your play philosophy?
What are your meals like?
After a few months of my son starting at the centre, I ended up choosing, I realised that I missed out some really important factors in the original article that makes picking a place so damn hard.
So here is an extended list of things I think are important to consider when choosing the right childcare centre.
1. What is the overall feel of the centre?
When choosing a centre, my husband and I were tossing up between two. The first was really shiny and new. Everything was beautiful and clean and sparkling, and the director who gave us the tour really impressed us with her long important sounding phrases about childhood development.
But it felt a little cold. The staff were really young, and it was open plan, so it was all a bit overwhelming. There were so many kids and so many staff members just running around everywhere. My mummy spidey senses were tingling.
The second centre was smaller with fewer frills. It was tucked into a back street of a quiet neighbourhood and had been there forever, so was in need of a bit of a facelift. But the staff were so warm and lovely. By the second visit, they all knew us by name, not just me, but my son as well. The greeting we got from all the staff always made me feel so welcomed.
The centre just had this really lovely family feel to it. It may not have had the brand new equipment and a full chef’s kitchen, but it just felt like a home.
I listened to my gut instinct and went with the second one. After all, the overall feel of my own home is definitely not shiny and new. It is messy, full of hand me down toys and banana bread crumbs. But I love my home and I loved the feel of this centre.
2. What do the other parents think about the centre?
Before you buy a new vacuum cleaner or try out a new restaurant, I am sure you look up and read reviews. So when choosing a childcare centre, it is no different. I am not talking about just checking the Government ratings either. Although this is a really great start, they may not always be a true reflection of the centre.
The centre we chose only got ‘meeting national quality standards’. But personally, I, and the other parents love it so much it should absolutely be ‘exceeding national quality standards’. I honestly have no idea why it doesn’t.
So ask other parents what they think. Post on mothers group platforms and ask the other parents you see at the centre at pick up and drop off. It is always great to get real, personal opinions.
The centre I chose is also the centre of my entire mother’s group chose. One of the big deciding factors was another mum had been sending her first son there for a few years already and just loved it. She was able to tell me about how lovely the staff were and how they comforted her child when he is feeling sad. The Government website did not tell me that.
3. Find out who will be caring for your child the majority of the time.
On most tours, it is the Director who will be showing you around. But make sure you meet the group leaders and the staff who will be taking care of your child every day. The director will have little interaction.
Who will be the one who will give your baby a cuddle when they are upset and show them how to stack blocks? Spend time with them, ask them questions about how long they have been working there and how they like the centre. Watch how they interact with your child. You can tell if it’s just a job to them or if they truly love it.
I adore the staff at my centre. My son cries every day at drop off and pick up without fail (it’s horrendous), but I know that the room leader will be there to scoop him up and give him cuddles and make him feel safe. He loves the staff and that makes me love them too.
4. What happens if your child will not sleep?
My son is a pretty good napper most of the time. He goes through phases, but even though he is an average nighttime sleeper (and wakes most mornings by 5am), his naps have usually been consistent and long. Until he started at childcare. The little cherub just did not want to sleep there. He flat out refused to sleep. Ever.
I have heard horror stories from friends, of centres that lied to them and told them that their child slept, then they, later on, found this to be false. My centre was open and honest to me from the start about Max’s lack of sleep. After a month of him refusing to sleep in the cot room at the nursery, with me picking him up to have his afternoon nap at home, they decided to work with me on what would be best for Max going forward. They recommended transitioning him to the toddler room. I had my reservations but decided to trust them.
Turns out, the environment of the toddler room, where all the toddlers slept on mats on the floor at the same time worked for him, and his first day there he slept! Only for thirty minutes. But still, small miracles.
Mostly I appreciated the openness and honesty of the workers. They told me everything they tried, asked me lots of questions about what we do at home and would call me when they thought I should pick him up. They came up with a plan. This is what you want. Not just a complacent, oh well if he misses his naps it doesn’t matter. Sleep is hugely important for kids and how the centre deals with sleep stubbornness is really important too.
5. How is the transition between rooms handled?
Most centres have a nursery, toddler room, senior toddler room and kindy. Although these rooms are set by ages (e.g. nursery is 6 weeks to 15 months normally), every child is an individual. Just because your child meets the magical 15-month mark, this does not necessarily mean that they are emotionally ready to transition from nursery to toddlers.
Find a centre that is willing to work with the uniqueness of your child. I love that my centre does a slow transition between rooms. Once a child is showing signs they are ready to move up, they start having ‘play dates’ in the other room. They will spend a few hours with the carers in the other room, playing and eating there, before going back to the familiar room. It makes that big step between room-to-room less scary.
Most of all, don’t let the staff push you to move your child up before you are ready. You are still in charge at the end of the day, and it has to be when you feel comfortable with it as well.
So there you have it – my updated list of choosing the right childcare centre. I really hope it helps you. It is such a hard decision, and for a lot of us, we just have no other choice but to go back to work and put them in paid care. But finding the right place does make the transition just that little bit easier.
When my daughter started daycare, I spent a lot of time trying to find the right fit for her and our family. I did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions. Over and over again though, the answer to my question would come back the same, "she'll be fine."