The rewarding experience of becoming a parent also comes with an extensive range of questions and decisions that you must carefully negotiate for the well-being of your child. One of the earliest and most challenging decisions that you may face is, which childcare service is best for my child?
Naturally, in their youngest years is when children do all of their fundamental learning, not necessarily learning how to do maths and read novels, rather engaging with other children, forming relationships and absorbing an understanding of the stimuli / reaction nature of the world we live in. It is important that you as the parent(s) make the right choice as to where to send your child and your family, choosing a childcare service that is right for your child will ensure that they learn to treat others with respect and form healthy relationships, they will have a well balanced and accommodating diet, they will be involved in a consistent and age appropriate curriculum, but above all, your child will be safe at all times and the staff will have regular contact with the parents to make decisions that are best for the development of the child. This article is designed to offer you information about choosing a service which is right for your child and your family.
It is suggested that when looking for a good childcare service, they should meet the following 7 criteria:
- Good Reputation
- Clear Policies & Procedures
- A Stimulating Curriculum
- Qualified and Caring Staff
- Healthy Food
- Clean and Safe Facilities
- A Current License
Do your research to find parent reviews and testimonials on the internet or ask parents of the service just how good (or bad) it really is. An opportunity to do so is on the service’s open day where you can liaise with families of the service as well as the staff members. The very best services will have lots of reviews and high star ratings. It takes 1 minute to search a childcare center and see the reviews, and it could save the heart ache of enrolling your child in the wrong service.
Clear Policies & Procedures:
It is very important for a childcare center to be flexible, and meet the needs of your family. But it is important that the center is still organised with strong foundations including set operating hours as well as well defined procedures. Most services will be able to provide you with a copy of all the service’s policies.
Ensure that the service you choose has a well defined policy for unwell children. While this policy can be an inconvenience at times, it is necessary as it helps ensure the health and safety of all children and staff in the service.
Finally, you should look for a service with an open door policy, or even better a service which encourages visits which are unannounced. The very best services will have nothing to hide and will go above and beyond letting you in the service to drop off / pick up your child, they will facilitate the building of relationships by organising activities which help bring the service and the wider community closer together.
A Stimulating Curriculum:
The industry leading childcare services will have well structured and unique curriculums built off the back of strenuous research. A well balanced and stimulating curriculum will include time for physical activity in an outdoor environment, quiet time (individual or group reading), group programs, individual activities, meal and snack time as an outdoor / indoor program.
Screen time should play a relatively small part in the schedule of your child’s day. This is not to say that we should keep children away from technology, rather if they are to engage the use of iPad’s for example, then the videos the watch or games the play should be educational and linked to their curriculum. You must also ensure that the resources that the service provides are age appropriate, it is no use giving lego or other building platforms to a toddler as they can’t achieve that level of activity. Ensuring your child is engaging with the right resources will help encourage their development. Ultimately, you need to find a service which provides a consistent yet innovative curriculum that exposes the child to different types of play with age appropriate equipment.
Qualified and Caring Staff:
A well trained and qualified staff is one major advantage that leading childcare services hold over services such as babysitters and nannies. It is a requirement that all staff in childcare services obtain a minimum of a certificate 3 in Early Childhood Education & Care, while the average qualification may be more substantial amongst industry leading services. On top of their education in Early Childhood Education & Care, training for First Aid can help give that extra layer of security for parents; should an unlikely event unfold where a child has an allergic reaction or needs CPR performed for example.
It is important that you pay close attention to the way that the educators interact with your child. Particularly in the younger years when forming bonds is particularly important, it is imperative that the staff show enthusiasm towards caring and educating your child and are constantly providing them with the positive energy that they need. The very best educators will ask you detailed questions about your child’s health and the practices used at home for discipline as consistency and continuity are pivotal to your child’s development.
It is also important that the childcare centre you choose has an extensive list of qualified and experienced educators, this way they can ensure that your child receives the care and attention that they need. The ratios of educators to children can vary depending on the age of the children. The following ratios were recently enforced as of January 1 2016 by the childcare regulatory authority known as the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)
- Birth – 24 months => 1:4
- 24 months – 36 months => 1:5
- 36 months – Preschool Age => 1:11
Finally, you should look for childcare services which provide their staff with a positive workplace, for example offering above award wages, holiday leave, professional development as well as clean & safe working conditions. These services are more likely to attract the very best employees, and furthermore keep these employees working at the service for longer, thus ensuring that your child is receiving stable and consistent care and education.
Some childcare services will require that you pack a lunch for your child, your first priority in this case should be to find out the services guidelines regarding what to put in their lunchbox. If the service you are considering allows you to pack unhealthy lunches including sweets and lollies and lacking nutritious elements, then perhaps that service doesn’t have your child’s best interests in mind.
Alternatively, the better services in Australia will provide your child with snacks and meals every day, and thus it is then your responsibility to attain a copy of the service’s menu so that you can ensure your child is free from any danger of an allergic reaction. Additionally, you should ensure that the service is providing a well balanced and nutritious menu with elements from all food groups. In the children’s later years in the service, the educators should also be teaching your children about all of the different food groups and the way they affect our bodies and health.
Clean and Safe Facilities:
The very best services will be clean, sanitary, safe and well maintained. When you are inspecting a service, take notice of the condition of the floors, walls, kitchen and equipment. Childcare services are buildings which tend to suffer a lot of wear and tear and require more cleaning than most other services. Being so demanding of maintenance, it is very easy to tell whether a center is well maintained or not. If the center comes across as dirty and worn, then it is likely that there may be some hazards around the service that may jeopardize the safety of your child.
The best services for your child will be extremely pedantic with the cleaning and maintenance of their service and all of the equipment inside. It is a great display of professionalism and commitment to achieving the very best care and education for your child. Placing your child in a service which is clean and sanitary simultaneously sets the standard with your children that messes need to be cleaned up and conveys to them the importance of being sanitary and hygienic.
It is very important that the service you choose for your child has a secure, stimulating and safe outdoor play area. This is because outside play with different equipment will challenge their balance and co-ordination to help with their physical development. The outdoor play area can also create the forum for your children to experience different interactions with the other children as they will naturally create more games and activities to play in groups and form relationships. While the outdoor play can be stimulating, it can also be dangerous as falling off equipment can be a hazard for example. Thus you must ensure that there is sufficient supervision harmonized with soft fall surfaces and secure boundaries to help prevent any escape or injury.
A Current License:
Finally, prior to enrolment, you should ask to see a service’s license and credentials, followed by a call to your the department of education to ensure that the facility is up to date with current rules and regulations. The service you choose should have also passed the stringent accreditation process required by NAEYC, a quality assessment whereby the industry leading facilities will achieve an “exceeding” standard.
Put simply, there are two main elements in the childcare industry which comprise to provide quality care and education; the facility and the educators [building and operator(s)]. A current license on its own cannot guarantee quality care, it can only suggest that the facility (building and fit out) is up to industry standard. As a parent it is in your best interest to assess the educators. You should meet the service owner and operator to see whether they genuinely care about the care and education of your children, and of course speak to the educators to assess their level of enthusiasm and satisfaction in working within the service and with your child.
Ultimately, there is no surefire way to know whether a childcare service is right for you without enrolling, however following those 7 criteria, you can evaluate services in your area, and one service will stand out from the rest. It is important that when deciding on a service, the daily fee is not a deal breaking factor. When it comes to the care, education and development of your child.
In addition, enrolling your child in a service which is not suitable and then realizing you have made a mistake after a couple of months can also be taxing on your child’s need of continuity, consistency and stability.