The time has come for you to find a childcare centre for your child.
Once you start doing your homework it seems like you are spoilt for choice – there are so many options to choose from…. How do you make the right decision?
I can understand your confusion; this is a decision that most parents struggle with – you want to do the right thing for your child. You want them to be loved, to be safe, to be learning, but above all you want them to be happy.
I certainly struggled with this when it was time for me to make this decision for my family.
There are so many things to think of when on the hunt for a quality of a childcare centre and this will vary from person to person. What is important for you will be dependent on your personality, the personality of your child and the priorities of your family.
My children are a bit older now, but these are the things I looked out for when choosing a centre for my children:
Do your homework
Ask other parents whose opinions you trust for their recommendations and about their experiences. However, be aware that experiences are subjective and will vary from person to person so don’t just take their word for it. You could also look at the centre’s ERO report which will give you an indication of the quality of the centre based on the Ministry of Education findings.
Trust your intuition
All of us have great intuition, you might interpret this as a “gut feeling”. How do you feel when you walk through the doors – what is the vibe? Does the centre feel like the right fit for you and your family? Does it feel right for you?
Consider your child in the setting?
Just as you get a sense of an environment by how it makes you feel, observe your child in the environment.
- Do they appear to be happy, calm and at home in the environment?
- Do they seem keen to explore?
- Are there things in the setting that excite them and take their interest?
Keep in mind that some children might be reserved or shy in the new surroundings.
What are the people doing?
Observe the people in the centre.
- How warm and welcoming are they towards you and your child?
- Do they take an interest in you and your child?
- Do they remember your names?
Take a look at how they are interacting with the other children in the setting. Are they attentive, warm and affirming? Do they get down to the children’s level when they are interacting with them? Do they talk to and treat the children with respect?
Look at the children in the space are they happy, calm, settled?
There is an abundance of research that highlights how important free play is for children’s learning.
- Are they free to play and explore?
- Are they focused and engaged?
- Are there hugs, smiles and laughter?
Please bear in mind that it is absolutely natural to see some tears even at a happy centre.
Do they treat children as individuals?
The centre that is the right fit for you and your child will treat you as unique individuals. You will feel this by the way that the teachers interact with you and towards the children in the space. Find out how they cater for individual needs as well as the learning dispositions and interests of individual children. Ask to see the planning and find out how you can be part of your child’s learning at the centre.
Is there a key teacher or a primary caregiver?
This is especially important when considering care for infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers learn how to respond to the world through their relationship with an attuned adult. Infants first need to form a significant relationship with one adult before they can form further relationships with others (Wallis). Just as this transition is a big change for you it is also a significant transition for your child.
If your child is cared for by a key teacher or primary caregiver the when your baby is at the centre the majority of your child’s care needs will be undertaken by that teacher. This has many benefits for you, your child and their development.
For you it will mean that you will have a “go -to” person who knows you and your child really well. By forming a connection with a primary caregiver, this will be the “bridge” from which you and your baby will get to know all the teachers and other children in the setting.
This results in smoother transitions and less stress for you and your child as you settle into the centre. This gives your child the benefit of having one person who knows them and is attuned to their cues and needs.
“A curriculum for infants recognises the importance of individual care moments for learning. It is essential that Kaiako work in close partnership with parents and whānau to support the transition of infants into the ECE setting.” Te Whāriki, 2017.
Find out about the transition process
Starting in a new centre can be a daunting, stressful time for you and your child, especially if they have not attended a childcare centre before. Find out about the process that they centre has in place for welcoming new children and families into the centre. How many settling visits are required, what will happen during these visits and if there is the flexibility to have more visits if needed?
Find out about the philosophy and the policies
The centre’s philosophy is a statement about the “what matters” to the people at the centre. It is an outline of the centre values and beliefs or approaches towards children’s learning. As a parent it is important to see if the centre philosophy aligns with your family’s values and beliefs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification about things that you don’t understand.
It is important to find out about the centre’s policies especially around food and nutrition, health and safety, positive guidance and illness.
- If the centre provides meals, what does the menu look like?
- Is the food healthy and nutritious?
- How does the centre cater for dietary requirements and allergies?
- What is the centre’s policy around dealing with children’s behaviour?
- How will they deal with accidents or incidents?
- Does this align with what is important to your family and how are parents consulted?
- What happens if your child becomes ill at the centre?
- How long will they have to stay away for?
It is important to note that if this is your child’s first time in childcare outside of the home that they may be more susceptible to cold and viruses especially in the first year.
Adult: Child ratios and group sizes
One of the most important indicators of a quality centre is teacher:child ratios and groups sizes. Currently the minimum teacher:child ratio for children under the age of two is 1:5 and the minimum teacher:child ratio for children over the age of two is 1:10.
You would know from your experience as a parent that sometimes just caring for one or two children is a full-time job, so I am sure that you would know first- hand that it would be of benefit to children, for there to be less of them cared for by one adult.
Quality interactions matter too, as ratios are meaningless if the adults are constantly engaged in conversations with each other or preoccupied with cleaning instead of giving the children their full attention.
Another commonly overlooked factor is group size. There are numerous studies that have proven that large, noisy, overcrowded group settings can have a detrimental effect on the development of young children. This especially true for environment that cater for infants – look for group sizes of under 12 children in infant areas.
Staff child ratio and group size indicators – two of the best indicators for determining the quality of a child-care program. These two indicators significantly effect many other health and safety issues, such as the transmission of disease being greater when there are more children and adults present. These two indicators improve the caregiving behaviours of staff and the safety of children. And on the mental health and school readiness side, more secure attachments occur with higher staff child ratios and smaller group sizes” (Fiene, 2002).
Observe the environment. Does it seem busy, crowded or overstimulating?
Children sometimes spend many hours in a childcare centre and this can be overwhelming and exhausting for little ones. Are there quiet spaces that they can retreat if they need to relax or unwind?
What are the routines and rituals of the centre?
Routines and rituals mainly centre around the care moments for young children such as eating, nappy changing or toileting, changing clothing and sleeping. These moments are important times for nurturing our children both physically and emotionally. It is through these care moments that we support our children to develop trust in the world around them, autonomy as well as their self-esteem.
- Find out about the centre’s care routines and ritual and if possible, observe them. Are they slow, at the child’s pace and enjoyable to be part of?
- Are they affirming for the child, flexible and do they take into account the needs of individual children?
What to do next?
You might find that you have visited a few centres and have a shortlist, but you are still having trouble making up your mind.
I would suggest taking time to reflect on your visit to these centres and making a list of things that you might have questions about or like to find out a little more about.
I would recommend giving your short list centres another visit at a different time of the day or try giving the centres on your shortlist a call with your questions after your visit. No question is too small or silly, it’s important that you feel comfortable with your choice.
At New Shoots there is an open door policy and you are free to visit as many times as you like.
Written by Tanya Valentin – Early Childhood Education Advisor and Professional Development Provider
Want to find out more about how things work at New Shoots?
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