My husband and I had limited experiences of childcare ourselves, with my mum being a stay at home mum and my husband’s Aunty owning a childcare centre. This meant that when it came time to figure out what childcare would look like for our own daughter, we were both a bit apprehensive.
We looked at both long daycare and family daycare. Long daycare had huge waitlists, whilst family daycare was more accessible and cost effective. Three children later, we have now used the services of a nanny, long daycare, family daycare, grandparents, and preschool. It was through all of this experience that I came up with the Leor concept, because I identified the best factors from each care setting that we had experienced to create a learning and care environment that I knew would benefit children.
However, if you are considering long daycare or other care arrangements, by taking money and availability out of the equation, I have used my own experience to identify the factors that I would now use to choose childcare if I were starting this journey again.
1. Your Child’s Personality
It may sound obvious, but often in the rat race of getting back into work, needing to keep your job, or juggling the financial pressures of daily life, many parents forget about what type of care arrangement will work best for their child’s personality and stage of development. Understanding whether your child thrives in large or small groups, or is the type of child who needs greater love and affection in order to feel secure, should inform your decision. For example, if your child is paralysed by loud noise and busy environments, then a large long daycare setting may not be appropriate.
A longitudinal study of over 10,000 children in the US found that children in larger groups, particularly those under the age of three, experienced greater stress and difficulty managing their own emotions, and this type of setting was likely to delay the development of effective communication skills, whilst also increasing the chances of exhibiting aggressive and anti-social behaviour.
Therefore, for children who need a bit more comfort and settling, a home based care service with one on one care, or fewer children, would be a great option.
2. Your Child’s Age
The same US study found that children under the age of three were most at risk of being negatively impacted by large group settings. An Australian study from 2004 also found that small group, home-based, care arrangements were the most beneficial to children under three.
However, if a small group home based setting is not an option for your under three year old, then it is important to discuss with your long daycare how many children are in the nursery or toddler room; how many educators are present at any given time; and what their practices are for comforting young children if they do become distressed. Some centres, for example, have ‘no cuddling’ policies, and the research is clear that at this age children need a carer who meets their basic needs, including offering warmth and affection, in order for them to build secure attachments well into the future.
3. Hours of Care
The number of hours that a child spends in care has been found to have a direct link to their long-term cognitive outcomes. In the US study mentioned above, more than 25 hours of care per week in centre based, rather than home based, environments, was linked to a higher risk of a child exhibiting behavioural issues later in life. This study also found that children’s cortisol levels increased as the day progressed in centre based settings, particularly for children under the age of three.
Based on the research, shorter hours of care until the age of three will prove beneficial to your child’s development. After the age of three, a child’s ability to focus on learning will generally wane after about five or six hours. Therefore, try and find a setting where the day’s routine will allow for around five or six hours of learning for your three to six year old.
4. Quality of Educators
The educator or carer that you choose will be vital to your child feeling comfortable and safe in their care environment. Often in the rush to get a childcare spot, parents choose a centre that looks shiny and new. However, what should be of greater importance is the quality, experience, and temperament of the educators. In many long daycare settings some of the carers who are looking after your child may not have completed any sort of formal study in children’s services, so you should ask about their experience and qualifications. Another way of determining if the centre is a positive environment for children and staff is to ask how long educators and carers have been working there, as staff turnover is rife in the childcare industry, but if the educators are happy, they will stick around.
A longitudinal study which looked at educator qualifications, found that those with higher qualifications in early childhood education delivered better quality learning environments, physical environments, and emotional support to children in their care. Therefore, choosing a care arrangement with qualified staff is the most likely to achieve positive measurable outcomes for your child.
5. Learning Program
Numerous longitudinal studies have found that high quality early childhood education is directly linked to long term positive outcomes for children well into adulthood. Therefore, ensuring the care arrangement can cater to your child’s learning needs is crucial. Many long daycare centres prepare one program for all children within the same age bracket. This means that a three year old could be receiving the same program as a five or six year old. In order to ensure your child receives education that is tailored to their age or stage of development, you would need to find a centre that is rated as ‘exceeding’ against the National Quality Standard. In a preschool setting, children are often grouped according to their age and stage of development, so this is another way to ensure your child gets tailored learning.
The only home based service delivering tailored programs in Australia is Leor In Home Early Learning. Alternatively, selecting a nanny who has childcare qualifications and ensuring they deliver educational programs to your child, is another way to ensure your child receives care with a focus on education.
At the end of the day, remember to put your child front and centre when making your decision. You can often be desperate to get a childcare place, but as this might be your child’s first experience of non-parental care, it is important to make the right decision and find a situation that ensures your child feels safe and secure, whilst also receiving the attention they need at this young age.
Andrea Christie-David is a lawyer, company director and mum of three. She is also the Founder and Managing Director of Leor In Home Early Learning.