Selecting a preschool or long day care centre for your child is one of the hardest decisions that you can make in the early years of their life. You are leaving your child in the care of a complete stranger for at least 6 hours a day.
It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster with Alexia and care, so here is my experience and my tips of making the selection process that little easier.
The process started in October last year, when Alexia was just over 2 ½ I thought to myself, I better start researching now as I wanted to start her when she was 3 (she started 2 months before her 3rdbirthday). Now the one thing I love to do is research, let’s call it a guilty pleasure.
So, the research process started and there were 3 preschools in my area that I wanted to look into. These preschools/long daycares had been referrals from friends and family, and then there was one based on Internet/Facebook reviews.
So, the first preschool/ long daycare I walked into was dark and dreary, I was depressed just walking into the place, there was no way I was dropping off my daughter there.
The second preschool/ long daycare couldn’t even give me the time of day, all they did was give me a wait list form and said, come to our information night (come on let’s do a little one on one seriously!)
The third preschool/ long daycare, this was the place that had the highest of reviews, everyone was raving on about it, and when I walked inside I understood what all the hype was about. Now just looking at the structure of the building, the place was open and bright, the light just shone in, the playground was larger than any and the smiles on the kids’ faces showed it all. I could genuinely see all these kids were so happy to be there. While I was getting the guided tour, Alexia was happy to go and play and I knew she would be comftable. Looking at the academic sides of things, the curriculum that they had was excellent, it felt like a school without the added pressure, there was fun and learning combined into one.
So why didn’t I enrol Alexia into my dream centre you may ask? There was a waiting list, and I would soon find out that I only got to the top of the waiting list 6 months later.
So, last year I enrolled her into another recommended centre to start in the beginning of this year. The curriculum was great, but as time would tell it was for the children who were going to kindergarten the following year. Daily reports would show to me that she was learning things she already knew, things that most kids knew, and she was just painting and drawing. Constant rotation of teachers and disorganisation of the centre throughout the 3 months there sent me on edge weekly, I was just not happy. In my head, I thought that Alexia desperately needed the social interaction she was having weekly, I needed her to mingle with other people besides myself. And for most of the day she was good. Drop off’s were so hard and when I called an hour or two later, she was not crying but whinging, something I thought should have settled down in the period that she was at the centre. Now you think that pickups would be a piece of cake she would love to go home, but the tears kept coming. By this time something had to give.
That is when I went to my dream centre before I went to pick up Alexia one afternoon. I felt like Cinderella and all my dreams where coming true, she could immediately start that following week. But like any fairytale there has to be some heart break and most of it was on my end with the guilt of what I was about to do to my daughter and the change I was about to bring to her life. I had already settled her into a school where she had familiar faces, a routine she was used to and I was just about to change all that. The days leading up to her first day at the new school led to me having no sleep, as these were the thoughts that were currently going through my head.
So, I’m not going to sugar coat it, here’s how Alexia’s first day went. The day arrived that Alexia was to start her first day she was mostly excited, that was until we rocked up to the centre. We were immediately greeted by the teacher that she had meet earlier in the week and although she was happy to see her, she clenched onto me for dear life. She let me settle her in by putting her bag away for her and putting on her hat to play outside but she did want me to pick her up and stay with her for a little bit. Now I know it’s best to just leave them and run, but I wanted to give her a little comfort. I stayed by her side for 5 minutes while I went through some points with the teacher.
I could see her absorbing it all, she was excited to play but just nervous to leave my side. By me staying there also I could see how the kids were interacting with eachother and how the teachers handled certain situations (there were 2 kids fighting at the time and I think the teacher handle the situation well), but that also added to my stress, but I guess anywhere you go kids could fight. I called about an hour or so later and the teachers told me that while she was distracted she was ok, but when the teacher’s attention was directed somewhere else she started to get a bit teary. I was about to call back when I decided to check the app to see if there were any updates of Alexia’s day. This was something that was so new to me, I was used to receiving a newsletter at the end of the day from her old centre, with sometimes no photos of her. By lunchtime I had received 3 photos and a video. I could see as each photo went on the little smile that was also half a cry turned into a genuine smile.
After I picked up Alexia she recited her whole day to me, this was without me having to ask her did you paint or colour? etc. and everything she was telling me reflected on what she really did do from what I seen in her photos and daily report.
It’s a pretty structured day which is something I like. In the morning when I dropped her off there was just outside activity time, from there they went in and had a little free time, during this time she painted, which is her absolute favourite thing to do, if you ask me it was a real Picasso haha. Then it was time for some morning tea and then sports time. Again, this is something that really impressed me, they have an obstacle in which they work through which really helps the gross motor skills, and after a structed obstacle there is time just to run around and have some fun. Obviously after all that hype it was time to have a bit of down time, so it was group activity time, today was learnt all about germs, and by the afternoon Alexia kept telling me that to make sure she doesn’t get sick with germs she needs to wash her hands. Lunchtime followed, but by this time of the day she was feeling a little lost because she had stopped all the fun and realised that I still wasn’t back. I picked her up not long after this where she was just having down time while the other kids slept, she was learning how to trace letters and numbers on a clear contacted sheet. Previously where she was, when the other kids slept and she had quiet time she was given the IPad to watch a show, here she was practicing her writing skills. It’s safe to safe I was more than impressed when I saw this.
When I walked into the room to pick her up for the day I expected tears, but there was nothing like that, it’s like she didn’t even care that I was standing there, she continued her activities, so I decided to leave her and talk to her teacher to get more of an update on how her day went. Once she was ready she collected her stuff and told me we could leave for the day.
Over all I don’t want to jinx myself cause it’s only the first day but I was so impressed with every aspect of the school and the day she had.
So, what are my top tips for choosing a suitable preschool/daycare: –
- TRUST YOUR GUT – We all know mother’s intuition is always right, so why go against it? If your gut says go with one, then honestly that’s the one you should go with.
- DON’T RUSH INTO ENROLLMENT – Unless it’s un avoidable and you need to get your child into care due to work commitments or something else, don’t enrol them into another centre, as above trust your gut.
- HOW THE SCHOOL COMMUNICATES WITH PARENTS – This is one of the most important ones. Communication should be constant. Do you receive updates throughout the day through photos or comments, on apps or emails? If your child is unsettled for a period of time, will the make the phone call to tell you that?
- ASK A LOT OF OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS TO MULTIPLE STAFF MEMBERS – I found that I asked the same questions to different teachers to see if I would get the same result. As your 1stintroduced to the teacher of the room your child is more than likely clinging onto you for dear life, ask them many questions, but open ended questions so they need to elaborate not just yes or no. I also ask the same question twice but in a roundabout way, so you get a similar answer. Then you notice that that teacher will often ask the children to come and interact this is the perfect time to approach another teacher and do the same as above, ask the same questions to see if the answers are the same. I know this may seem over the top, but I did more of this the second time around and I got the same answers and felt a lot more comfortable.
- WHAT IS THE CIRICULUM FOR THE YEAR – Again like the above point you may seem like one of those OTT mums, but honestly learning and absorbing information at these young ages is imperative, so what their curriculum is and ask them to elaborate. Ok yes, the learn about numbers, ok so how to count to 10? How to put 10 rocks in one pile? How to recognise the number 10? And so forth. It’s so easy to say ok yes that’s what I think my child needs to learn when it may only be the basic and not what you thought it would be.
So, to pretty much summaries the above ASK, ASK AND ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN, as they say the more you ask the more you know. The average 3-year-old ask 144 questions a day, so you asking 20 to 30 questions isn’t so bad.
What things would I do differently? –
- There is only one thing I would do differently with this experience and this would be wait. I have the flexibility that I don’t not need to put Alexia into care, so why did I rush to put her in. Yes, the waiting list took 6 months before I could get her in, but there was no urgency in her starting at the beginning of the year, or now 3 months later.
I hope this story and these tips for choosing the right care for your child have been helpful.