Broadly defined, the term childcare includes all types of education and care provided for young children. The term is also used more specifically for the supplemental care of children from birth to age eight years by persons other than parents.
Childcare is used for various reasons, and programs vary by the number and age of children, the reason care is used, the preparation and status of caregivers, and the location of the care. Terminology varies in different countries, although there may be similar concerns of low pay and status and insufficient training for teachers.
The two major purposes of early childhood programs are care and education. A majority of families today use childcare while they are employed or engaged in other activities. Many programs include an educational component based on a growing body of research that documents the importance of children's early experiences for their healthy development and academic success.
Many programs have originated through concern for children living in poverty and who may be at risk for success in school and later life. Programs may also include a parent component designed to educate parents through their participation in children's activities.
In some countries, such as the People's Republic of China, programs instil societal values in young children, such as working together in a collective tradition. The childcare used for short-term activities such as shopping, appointments, and leisure activities has been less studied.
What is the best age for a child to start childcare?
Many parents start their children in daycare at one year old, as a baby is often deemed more independent. Every family, however, will have different circumstances.
Some parents may need to start as early as six months due to work or financial commitments.
Others may wait until their child is three or four years old. Starting your child in childcare or an early learning centre is a very individual choice, and there is no right or wrong answer. However, here are a few tips to consider in helping you make your decision.
Starting childcare as a baby (0 to 12 months)
In Australia, paid parental leave from the government is up to 4.5 months, so it is not unusual for mums to return to work as early as six months. At this age, however, the most important thing for a baby is having a personal attachment to someone or a few people they can trust.
Ideally, this would be mum or dad at home, but a good early learning centre might also provide this sort of care. High-quality childcare will understand the importance of establishing a personal connection with younger babies.
Look for an early learning centre with a low child to educator ratio for the baby room and one that can provide your child with individualised attention.
In the baby stage, children need one-on-one care so that they can feel safe and secure. The baby room has a rough routine in terms of meals, sleeping time and play, but it is often flexible enough to follow the routine your child is used to at home.
Starting childcare as a toddler (1 to 3 years)
This a popular age to start early learning as many new mums take a year off work. At 12 months, many children would have passed the separation anxiety phase (which peaks at nine months) and are ready for more stimulating activity.
Toddlers, however, are not much older than babies and still require close attention. So, again, having enough educators in the room is important. The educators must also be qualified and know how to engage positively with the child. At this age, children start to learn independence, social skills and interacting appropriately with their peers.
Educators will play an important role in modelling and guiding children towards the right attitudes and behaviours.
Starting childcare in kinder (3 to 5 years)
Children in the kinder years are getting ready for school. They are often keen to build relationships with their peers. They are practising their language skills and social skills, they are learning to think creatively, and problem solve.
An early learning centre can provide your kinder-aged child with a wide variety of activities they might not have a chance to engage in at home. For example, they are working on a science project with other children, going on a group excursion, or learning how to navigate friendships.
Look for an early learning centre that provides a wide variety of activities for your child. It doesn't have to be a modern classroom type of environment. The most important thing is a place where your child feels safe, supported and inspired – just like home.
Other factors to consider when starting childcare
Still can't decide when to start childcare? Think about your child's personality, strengths and needs. Think about your family as a whole and what you need for yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your child get stressed in group environments? Would they prefer staying at home for longer? Or perhaps they might need a daycare that is a little smaller and less busy?
- Does your child thrive in the company of other children? Do they often want to go out on playdates? They might very well be ready for an early learning centre.
- When do you need to go back to work? That is the deciding factor for most parents. Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and do it.
- Even if you don't work, do you think you need a break? Would having some support even for a few hours a week help? Having some 'me' time or participating in other activities not related to child-rearing can make you a better parent.
Benefits of Daycare for Both Children and Parents
One of the biggest benefits that Small found were the friendships that the mothers made among themselves. At first," Small admits, "I assumed mothers would only make superficial friends through childcare centres. But, who has time to sit and gossip when mothers need childcare in the first place because they work outside the home?
"Surprisingly," he continues, "many made strong friendships—they used the word 'family' to describe them—in which they would go to the theatre and plan trips together out of state."
The "Hi and bye" relationships were described as "compartmentally strong friendships," as Small calls them, extended mothers' support systems, even though they rarely resulted in meetings outside the centre.
Socialization & Interaction
Your child's experience at daycare provides an invaluable opportunity for them to develop their budding social skills as they interact with others.
One of the biggest advantages of daycare is your child's ability to build relationships with other children in a supervised environment. In addition, qualified teachers are trained to support and model prosocial behaviour, which can have a long-lasting impact on your child's social development. Studies have shown that a focus on prosocial behaviour in early childhood fosters altruistic traits and emotional intelligence, like empathy and compassion, throughout a child's life.
Your child's opportunity to build positive relationships with their new caregivers is also significant in their development. In addition, it will support a strong attachment style, which has significant long-term positive implications on their social and emotional well-being.
Connection & Communication
Stemming from the daily social interactions your child will have at daycare comes countless opportunities for connection and communication. One of the many benefits of daycare is the opportunity for your baby to engage with others in active communication as they make meaningful connections and strengthen their language skills.
The daily exchange of discourse with familiar faces and trained caregivers will promote the development of your child's communication skills and their ability to express themselves. In addition, having a familiar environment where your child feels safe and comfortable will allow them the confidence to practice their expressive language skills at each developmental stage.
Consistency & Routine
The importance of consistency and routine in early childhood is undeniable – and daycare provides your child (and the entire family) with exactly that.
As new little humans in a big world, children need a solid foundation of structure and stability to learn and grow. So having a consistent schedule and routine is one of the big benefits of daycare: it's a great way to provide structure for children, which allows them to predict and anticipate what's next.
Predictability provides children with an opportunity to feel in control of their lives and increasingly confident in their place in the world.
Autonomy & Independence
Fostering your child's autonomy and independence at a young age is essential in setting them up to lead a life as a confident and capable adult. A quality daycare program will provide endless opportunities for children to strengthen their skills, becoming more autonomous and independent each day.
For parents, one of the many advantages of daycare is the independence it offers you as well. In addition to providing time to devote to work and other family duties, your time for independence as a parent is still important yet often overlooked.
Squeezing in solo time for self-care and activities that support your emotional well-being are essential in caring for your family. Even if it's just a quick 15-minute window where you can take a peaceful pause in your day — everyone needs their independence, and parents are no different.
10 Factors to Help Choose a Child Care Facility
Every parent wants to make sure they are selecting the optimal child care facility for their child. After all, their child is their most precious cargo! They aren't going to send them just anywhere for the day when they aren't able to be with them, nor should they! But so many times, the price can end up being the primary factor for choosing a facility, and that should not always be the case.
Factors, besides price, that should be considered when selecting a child care facility:
Hours of Operation
Depending on your circumstances, this may be a critical piece that you will need to determine. Do you have the flexibility to accommodate shorter hours of operation? Or are you committed to a fixed schedule at work where you may need longer hours for child care?
Also, make sure you understand what the policies are for late pick-ups, as well. Even if you never intend to be late, there may those times where the impossible happens, and you will need a backup. Make sure you're prepared!
Curriculum and Structure
There are so many different philosophies and curriculums out there today in the child care world, so make sure you do your research and find a facility that matches your expectations. Are you looking for more "developmental" or "academic" needs for your child?
Each facility will have its daily schedule, structure and activities that they promote, so make sure you know what the daily curriculum involves. Ask questions and find out specific things each facility would do to prepare your children for school. You want to make sure you're establishing a lifetime foundation and enthusiasm for learning!
The ratio of Staff to Children
Make sure you learn more about what the ratio is for staff to children. For example, the more staff that a facility has may mean that every child will be getting more individual attention, which could be beneficial if your child does better in small groups.
One of the best ways to find great child care facilities in your area is to ask for the recommendation of your friends, family and other parents. But even more than that, ask the child care facility if they can give you a list of potential parents you could contact to get more information about their particular centre. Does the facility conduct regular parent evaluations that you can see?
Make sure current families are satisfied with the child care facility, and it will help put your mind at ease that you are making the right decision for your child. Word of mouth is priceless!
While all child care centres may be a little messy with all of the little hands that are constantly in and out of everything, it's still a great idea to take a peek "behind the scenes" when you're taking a tour of the facility.
Check out the bathrooms and kitchen and make sure they are held to standards of cleanliness that you would expect your child to be around all day long. Hygiene is important for little ones, and you want to make sure they are going to be well taken care of while they are out of your care.
Training, Licensing and Credentials
Do the facilities that you are looking into have well-educated and experienced staff? You want to make sure your child is exposed to high-quality interactions and activities daily. Ask each facility what the experience and education level is of the teachers and director.
Is the facility licensed correctly? Is there a place where you can see teacher biographies to get a better feel for who your child will be spending their days with? Is there someone on staff who has CPR and first aid training? Ensure you do your homework and that the teachers your child will be with have the right credentials and experience!
Snacks and Meals
If your child is attending child care all day, make sure you know what the policies are on snacks and meals. Will you be expected to provide food for your child every day? Is this part of the overall tuition at the child care facility?
If it is provided, what types of things are offered? How are food allergies handles, and are the items they offer healthy and nutritious? Ensuring your child has proper nutrition throughout the day is an extremely important part of choosing a child care centre, so make sure you find one that meshes with how you want snacks and meals handled.
Turnover of Staff
Don't be afraid to ask about the staff turnover rates. If staff are constantly in flux at the facility, it may be best to avoid it. It may mean there are deeper rooted problems, and they are unable to find and retain quality staff.
High turnover can also negatively affect your child, who may work well with a teacher who suddenly is no longer there. It can greatly influence a child's daily routine and schedule. Having the same staff working with your child day after day builds a level of trust that helps to make a child's day go much easier and is more conducive to learning.
Is it better to find a child care facility that is close to home or close to work? That is it easier for you to get to or your partner to get to? Figuring out the logistics of how you will get your child to and from a child care centre will be an important step in choosing one. You'll also want to consider the location of the child care facility in relation to the neighbourhood it is in. Is it safe?
Is there plenty of parking? Is it in a well-maintained area, and is it well-lit once those early winter nights start showing up? Making sure the location of a potential child care facility is as safe as possible and easy for you to get to will help narrow down your options.
Your Gut Reaction
Finally, there isn't anything quite like your gut reaction after touring different child care facilities. If you get a bad feeling, it probably isn't going to be the centre for you. But, instincts are important and even if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the child care centre that you can see, you always want to make sure you and your child will be comfortable with the new facility!
Childcare benefits all of us: parents, carers, employers, communities and most importantly, children. Research shows that it gives young children the best start in life by improving their emotional and social development and have a positive impact on educational attainment.
According to americanprogress.org, child care services enable parents to get the education or training they need to access good jobs. ... Child care makes it possible for low income or sole support parents to take advantage of opportunities for advancement. Most working parents have four options for securing child care.
While some parents fear sending their babies to child care too early may cause behavioural and developmental problems, new Australian research turns that theory on its head. A study involving about 1,000 children indicates that entering child care before a first birthday does not impede development.