There are a lot of factors that you have to take into account when starting your child in childcare such as your financial situation, work commitments, family support and the overall needs for your family. It is usually a difficult decision for parents to make. If you are flexible in those decisions, what age would you send your child to childcare?
To ensure you make the right decision for you and your child, parents must also consider the health of their child, if your baby is still breastfeeding, arrangements that will be made when your child is too sick for care and if emotionally the parents and child are ready to begin the childcare journey.
6 WEEKS- 2 YEARS
All states and territories in Australia have the same ratio of 1 educator to 4 children under the age of 24 months. A lot of families send their child to childcare under 2 years due to returning to the workforce. If you do need your baby in childcare but are breastfeeding, it can still be done. It is best to find a supporting and encouraging centre or caregiver who actually supports the continuation of breastfeeding. I myself returned to the workforce whilst breastfeeding, and found the childcare centre I used extremely supportive, but had more struggles with a supportive workplace. For more information on choosing the best centre for your breastfed baby see this blog.
No matter the reason for you needing care for your child under 2 years it is extremely important to choose the best centre for this early developmental stage. A child under 2 years will usually form a really strong attachment to care givers so a lot of families will choose family day care. Family day care providers can only care for a maximum of 4 children on any given day and if you find the right carer your baby will feel like they are at home and still get lots of individual attention. Most child care centres offer care for under 2’s as well but with the ratio of 1:4 you can still find lots of children in the room at once. In some larger childcare centres you could find up to 20 children ages under 2 years which can be quite overstimulating for your baby.
Children of this wonderful age can be quite a handful so a lot of families chose to place their child in care for social development and to give themselves a break. In all states except for Victoria the staff to child ratios are 1:5. In Victoria the ratios for this age remain at 1:4. If you are placing your child in a long day care centre between the ages of 2-3, the skills, knowledge and behaviours vary a lot! You will find most of the children are very active and they all love to test boundaries. A lot of families will experience biting in childcare but if you find the right service they will have policies and procedures in place to manage this from happening.
If you place your child in care between 2-3 years, they may not make friends as with this age children normally play alongside one another not necessarily together. At the end of the day though it does come down to your individual child. A lot of families feel pressured by other people to place your child in care but for me personally, it did not help my first son at all. Placing him in Preschool at 3 was the best decision for him as now he has grown by leaps and bounds and loves going! See my story here. I also have an almost 2 year old who has a different personality to his brother, but once again I don’t feel as if he would be ready for care until 3 years.
The different care options are expanded for a child aged 3-5 years with the option of preschools as well. In Victoria, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Queensland ratios for this age are 1 carer to 11 children. In New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia the ratio is 1 carer to 10 children. In South Australia the ratio is 1 carer to 10 children if your child attends a centre based service other than a preschool or if your child attends a preschool for dis-advantaged children. If your child though attends a preschool other than a disadvantaged preschool the ratio is 1 carer to 11 children.
Most children will attend some sort of care between the ages of 3-5 in preparation for ‘big school’.
Between these ages children can learn how to socialise with other children, make friends, build language skills, build listening skills and learn independence. A lot of parents though will ask the service provider what they will do to help their child to prepare for school. Long day care centres will usually still encourage children to have a daytime sleep between the ages of 3-4 whereas most preschools do not do nap times. Preschool also operate between the hours of 8-4 or 9-3.
Most service providers will also follow the curriculum of play based learning. The Early Years Learning Framework defines play-based learning as ‘a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations’. In my experience as a director in a Long Day Care Centre, I have found that a lot of parents struggle with the concept of play based learning. This is because at school the children are expected to sit for extended periods of time and practice their numeracy and literacy.
The research has shown, and you will notice it in your own kids, that children absorb a lot more information while engaged in the frame of play. This just means being clever about the methods used to introduce the more formal areas of learning. The childcare centre’s will detail how they are doing this through their documentation so if you have any concerns you should be able to just ask!
At the end of the day though, If you would like your child to be happy and enjoy going to ‘school’, then choosing the right centre is important as well
as assessing your child’s needs. Dropping your child off is going to be a lot easier if they feel secure in their new environment. This means being really careful in your selection and making sure the centre you chose is right for your family. You have to be happy too, because kids are really good at picking up on the vibes put out by their parents.