I will never forget the week before I had to put Master E into child care for the first time; it was hell. I felt guilty, I felt sadness, I felt worried and I cried…a lot. I remember asking myself if I was doing the right thing, joining the ranks of working mums. I also remember being worried because I didn’t know how to choose a childcare. I was worried my decision could lead to selecting the wrong one and that I would never know because, at that stage, Master E was too little to tell me.
Our childcare experience
Master E started off in family daycare when he was one. We chose family daycare because we wanted something that was homely and so that with the small numbers, he was well attended to. But as he grew older, it is evident that he needed to interact and socialise with more kids his age. The family daycare homes he had been in may have only had one or two children his age. This decision lead us to put him into a childcare centre.
As time went on at the childcare centre, Master E’s separation anxiety grew worse and consequently, my productivity at work was at an all-time low. It came to the point where I was left in tears as I sat in my car outside the centre because Elliott was so distraught he’d pinch me and pull my hair so tight. I was new at this, I thought it was normal and something that would pass, but, it didn’t.
My mummy instinct started to kick in, and I started to take notice. There was never the same educator at drop off. Children were left to roam around without a teacher nearby. The staff turnover was very high. And then, one day after I dropped Master E off, again crying his little eyes out, I peeked through the fence to see if he was ok. My heart was broken to see that the educator who I thought would look after him and console him, simply put him in the sandpit with two other children and left him. The look on his face broke my heart, and I cried my heart out in the car. He was only two.
As soon as I got home, I called another childcare centre I’d had my eyes on and was amazed they had a spot free. Our family has been at this centre ever since.
How to choose a childcare centre
If you’re new to the whole childcare arrangement just like I was or you’re still trying to decide between centres, here are some of my suggestions of things to look out for when deciding whether a centre is right for you and your child.
- Is it a relaxed and happy atmosphere?
- Are the children happy?
- Is the centre clean?
- Is there natural light as opposed to being in a windowless room?
- Is it secure? For example, do you need to sign your children in and out? Is there a security system where a pin is required?
- Is food provided? If so, is it healthy, varied and are dietary requirements catered for?
- Do the centre’s values match your family values?
- Does the centre have a good reputation?
- Does the centre have a stimulating curriculum for children? Ask questions about the program.
- Are the staff properly qualified?
- Is there a high staff turnover? Why?
- Is the centre licensed and assessed under the National Quality Framework?
- What is the centres rating? You can check here.
- What is the staff to child ratio? You can see what they should be here.
- Did you feel welcome when you visited the centre?
- Did the centre staff take an interest in your child when you went to visit?
- Did the staff offer to take you on tour?
- Is there enough space for the children to play and for children to have ‘quiet play’?
- How much time do they spend outdoors?
- Is the children’s artwork displayed in the centre?
- Are the toys, play equipment and areas safe and not damaged?
- Are there toys that allow for open-ended play and encourage the use of imagination?
- Are rules implemented and followed?
- Is there structure and routine?
- Where do the children sleep? Ask to have a look.
- Are the toilets/bathroom clean and suitable for children to use?
- Are there health & safety procedures for when accidents may occur? What is the process?
- What extracurricular activities are on offer at the centre? This is a personal preference of mine, but one of the reasons I selected Master E’s new centre is due to their strong focus on things like permaculture and recycling – the children help grow the fruit and vegetables which are used in the children’s meals. The centre also has chickens, and they learn about composting and recycling.
There are so many questions to ask and consider, my list doesn’t cover all of them, but these are the ones that are important to me. What I can say is that you will know when you’ve found the right one, you will very much rely on your motherly instincts.
When it comes to how to choose a childcare centre, one thing I cannot recommend enough is asking for feedback about different childcare centres and family daycare mums from friends and acquaintances. Most often than not, recommendations are usually the best way to get an accurate feeling for a centre.
What tips would you share with a mum looking for a childcare centre for the first time?