Considering a childcare/early learning centre for you and your child for the first time can be daunting. I remember going around to local childcare providers and trying to look knowledgeable and well informed (this is long before I gained any childcare related qualification). I remember wondering what went on behind those doors when I wasn’t around. I remember wondering whether these people were trustworthy and really cared about my child… I remember feeling really guilty about leaving my child with complete strangers in order to return to work.
There are many articles and reference materials available and here’s a link to a ‘printable’ guide with some key questions about opening hours, sunscreen and the like (https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj04qusys7WAhVFx7wKHajGDAIQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fboogersonthewall.com%2F2011%2F04%2F14%2Freading-babies%2F&psig=AOvVaw22aEVBDKwivNELUD0jB8VE&ust=1506918307406634). However, now I’m on ‘the other side’ and I believe I have some key recommendations to guide new families in what you should be looking for when considering care for you child. It’s less ‘tick and flick’, and more about your observations and connections in the environment.
- Are you made to feel welcome? Whether you are arriving for a pre-booked tour or just turning up unannounced, you should be greeted warmly and respectfully. If unannounced, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be asked to come back at a different time (all childcare centres have ‘peak hours’ where there is settling and organising required to get the day off smoothly). Go back to those first comments – you should be treated warmly and respectfully.
- As you are taken on the tour, are you and your child introduced to the Educators? Are they warm and welcoming to you? Are they engaging with the children? Are they at the children’s level (if appropriate)? Are the children responding to them with obvious trust?
- Does the centre’s philosophy or approach to early childhood development align (sufficiently) with yours? Do they encourage ‘risky play’ and you break out in hives if your child is outside without a jumper on? Are they prepared to accommodate your child’s specific dietary needs? Do they get it that YOUR CHILD is different and special??
- What does your gut tell you? What’s ‘the vibe’?
- Are you going to find the Director of the service approachable if you have an issue or concern? Do you think that she/he will take the time to listen to you?
Finally, I would recommend that once you attend for your scheduled or unscheduled tour, you then check out at least one other service/centre so that you have a point of comparison… and go back to each of them again if you are unsure or unclear.
Write down any questions that you have and ask them of the service director – either in person, via email or over the phone. Trust me, they won’t mind – they should respect and understand that this is a big decision for you as a parent and that they owe it to you to address any issues, concerns, fears etc that you may have.
And remember – you are dealing with people! Things happen. Your child will, in all likelihood, fall over and/or get bitten and/or bite someone and/or… so many things – it’s how the people handle the things that happen that will make the difference to your and your child’s experience.
As families seeking childcare in the 2010’s, you are fortunate to be looking during a time where there is a genuine focus on quality service (via the National Quality Framework and national Assessment and Rating processes). The industry has never been more professional – there are minimum qualification standards as well as generous educator to child ratios. Educational programs are responsive to children’s needs and interests and learning is documented – there are often multiple points of access to seeing what your child is doing and learning such as online, family accessible apps (such as Storypark, Xplor, Educare or KidsXap). Everyone must have passed a level of scrutiny by the police.
Ultimately though, I believe it will come down to how you and your child are made to feel while you are there… so good luck and remember, the team at the centre should be there to help you with your journey through the system, so make sure you build strong, comfortable and interactive relationships on an ongoing basis once your decision is made… they’re going to nurture your children when you’re not around, so you they will be an amazing point of support and guidance for you and your child.
Written by: Deb Callahan, Development Manager for Giggletree.