A lot of families start their childcare journey around the start of the year. The majority of questions I am asked about starting childcare fall under four main questions. What do I do first? What does a childcare centre offer? How can I make it easier on my child? What should I expect on their first day? I have provided general answers (as each place and circumstance can differ) to those questions for you.
What do I do first?
Firstly, find the childcare centres available in your area and get your child’s name on a waitlist even if you aren’t planning to go back to work straight away. The majority of schools and kindergartens now only have one intake each year which means that the majority of places at childcare centres become available around that time as all age groups will move up. Childcare centres will accept enrolments year-round, they just need the space available to make this happen.
Next, collect an enrolment and information pack and read it thoroughly. Write down as many questions you can think of and research the centres in your area. Each centre is regularly assessed and receives ratings based on Quality Areas and you can look these up to compare services or ask to see the ratings when visiting the centre. If you know anyone who uses the service, ask them for their opinion. Make sure you plan a visit before starting. Generally you will do up to three visits, with your child, in the weeks leading up to their start date however if you are narrowing down options it is good to have a tour of the centre and spend a little bit of time in the room to help you make your decision. This also gives you a good opportunity to get your questions answered and give you a good feel of the place.
Hopefully you will be offered a place for when you need it. Once you are you will need to contact Centrelink and see if you are eligible for the Childcare Subsidy.
What does a childcare centre offer?
A childcare centre offers care to children while meeting their needs. They will tend to your child’s meals, nappies, toileting, sleep and other routine needs. They will provide care and comfort and form relationships with your child. They will provide activities, supervised play and program for your child under the Early Years Learning Framework while following the National Quality Standards. Young children learn best through play so what may look like a simple activity set out on a table, may actually be developing a range of skills for your child.
Each centre offers different things. Some may have half day bookings available while others offer full days only. Some provide all food and nappies, some only provide certain meals. Some have a minimum ongoing booking requirement, some only require the one session. Each centre will have its own policies and procedures for a variety of things and while the majority of them will be similar to others as they have to meet regulations and requirements, others will differ in certain areas. If your child has an allergy or any other additional requirements make that know as soon as possible so the necessary paperwork can be completed.
While these are all important aspects that a childcare centre provides, a good Childcare Educator will genuinely care about your child. I personally have felt a range of emotions for the children I’ve had in my care and I am genuinely proud to watch them grow, learn, develop and achieve.
How can I make it easier on my child?
Before you start it may be a good idea to attend activities with children a similar age to yours. That way they become used to being around others. Baby Rhyme Time, Kindergym, Playgroup, and Music and Movement may all be good options for you to explore. Check what is available in your local area. Some children are ok with bigger groups and some aren’t. You know your child better than anyone and can decide if childcare is suitable for them or not. Some children take a little longer to adapt and great educators will help you with the process.
Have your child spend some time away from you if you haven’t already. Leave them with your partner or another trusted adult. Start small (a quick trip to the shops) and work your way up a little (go out to lunch). Your little one will start to adjust to you leaving and seeing that you do come back.
It is absolutely recommended that you have visits in the room that your child will be in before you start – a good centre should insist on it. Three visits before starting is a good number to have. Some services may offer you the chance to leave the room for a few minutes to get your child used to you leaving and coming back – take this opportunity if you can. If you are able to book them in a couple of days before you start work you can let them have a shorter day first so that they can build up to a longer day. Or perhaps negotiate a late start or early finish with your employer if you have that option for the first day or two.
Talk to your child. Tell them where they are going and the things that they may do. If your child is older get them to practice unpacking their bag and opening their water bottle. If your centre requires you to bring in all their food get them to practice opening their lunchbox. Name everything! This ensures that lost items will be returned and your child will become more independent as they learn to recognise their name, particularly helpful if more than one child has the same colour lunchbox for example. You can also send them along with something that will provide them comfort (a soft toy for sleep, for example) or with a family photo (many centres will request that you provide one) so that your child can take comfort from it if needed.
What should I expect on their first day?
While it should be covered during your visits an educator should make themselves available to help you unpack and store everything in the correct spots and get them signed in. You can pass on any messages to the educator and if the centre offers a communication book you can write in there as well. I personally recommend allowing a little bit of extra time at the first couple of drop offs to help get your child settled in to play.
It is very important that you say goodbye to your child. Even if they seem happy or even if they cry, make sure that you have said goodbye so they know that you are going. A child who realises you left without saying goodbye will get upset. I also recommend that you keep your voice positive. I know this is an emotional time, especially if it is the first time your child has been in this type of care but your voice will provide them with confidence or worry. So keeping it upbeat, telling them you love them, have a great day playing and I will see you tonight, will be much more reassuring to them instead of crying. You can cry in the car park. I sure did.
You can arrange for one of the educators to call and give you an update or you can call them yourself. Some services offer an app that they can send you photos during the day (if your centre does this, I’m envious!)
At the end of the day someone will pass on information about your child’s day – what they did, what they ate, how they slept, etc and this may also be recorded in a book for you. Well done! You’ve made it through!
As an additional note I’d like to add that if your child cries they are almost always settled by the time you have driven off. If your child doesn’t cry the first few times and then starts to cry at drop off, don’t panic! This regression can be quite normal and doesn’t necessarily mean anything has happened directly to cause it. It usually re-corrects within a few weeks.
I hope that you have found this helpful in your childcare journey. Please leave any questions or additional advice in the comments.
A reminder that parents do what is best for their children and sometimes childcare is the best choice for them. Comments that do not respect this choice and are hurtful will be deleted.