What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Daycare

“We’re not a daycare. Our caregivers and teachers take care of children not days.” When I started working at Bright Horizons more than seven years ago, this comment was made in one of my first meetings. It was such a simple explanation of the Bright Horizons mission. As a marketer, I understood the importance of semantics and terminology. But, as a parent to a then 2-year-old daughter, I admit that I didn’t quite understand the difference…yet.

Afterall, I was a daycare child who graduated to latch-key child to two working parents. Daycare was good enough for me. But was it? Of course, every family is different and every experience is different, but my mom pulled me, my sister and brother out soon after we started because our daycare just didn’t feel “right.”

Now, here I found myself transitioning my own child from a home daycare to a Bright Horizons child care. Like most working parents, I experienced the daycare guilt. My biggest fret was “what if my child is raised without the values and skills that my husband and I valued most?” I wish I had only known the truth about quality child care – that my children would be taught those things and so much more. Hindsight would’ve reduced days, even months, of stress.

Here is what I wish someone had told me before starting daycare.

starting daycare

What to Consider When Choosing Child Care

Remember the whole journey. It’s natural to look at only the baby or toddler programs that your child is entering. If you find the right child care for your family, however, your child may be there until kindergarten. Ask to hear how the toddler program expands on the baby program and the preschool on the toddler, etc. I recall chatting with a center director once and she mentioned that she tours parents of infants through the pre-kindergarten classroom first and works her way through each classroom ending with the baby room. I thought that was so clever. Had I glimpsed the Kindergarten Prep class and met the children who’ve been on this journey, it may have nipped the guilt right away.

Ask about the curriculum approach. What sort of education are you hoping your child receives? Is play-based instruction important to you? How do the teachers adapt to the interest of your child? If getting outside is important to you – how is nature incorporated into the daily activities? How is curriculum experienced in the baby v. toddler v. preschool v. pre-kindergarten classrooms? Back then, I’m sure I would’ve smirked at the notion of “infant” curriculum. I didn’t know this meant an approach to child development — sensory stimulation, loving touch, etc.– vs. traditional curriculum topics such as math, science, etc.

Discuss approach to discipline. Infant parents, this may not be on your radar. Let me tell you, as a mom of a reformed biter, you want to know how these types of situations are handled.

Inquire about how social-emotional skills are fostered. We live in a social world and I don’t mean in the virtual realm. Learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to solve problems – these are the foundations each child needs to succeed in life. The social-emotional journey is a long one and hard to quantify during a single child care visit. Had you asked me when my daughter was in preschool about her social skills, I may have said, “my daughter is bossy and tells everyone what to do.” Now 9-years old, she is confident, a good friend, and kind to others. That foundation was built-in child care.

Meet the caregivers, teachers, and center staff. Parenting is hard. Being a working parent has unique challenges. The caregivers, teachers and staff will become your “people” – your community that will help raise your child. Before you choose child care, ask for the opportunity to meet a lead infant teachertoddler teacher, and preschool teacher. Ask them questions – a lot of them. How do you approach curriculum? What does a day in your class look like? How do you handle discipline? How do you foster friendships? How will my child’s needs be met?

Ask this one simple question. How does your {infant/toddler/preschool/pre-k} program help develop the skills my child needs to be successful in life? That’s a big question and could be answered in a million ways. If the answer includes many of the above points that are important to you, then you can feel confident in the decision. Seven years ago, I didn’t know I should care about all this stuff. I only wanted a place where my baby would be safe, loved, and happy.

Trust your gut. Like children, not every child care is alike and not every location (even from the same company) will be the right fit for your family. If possible, “try before you buy” and visit as many times as you need to feel confident in the child care decision.

Remember, your child may be spending many days in care and finding the right child care is important.

6 Comments

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