Making the most of childcare – the home/childcare transition

Helping your child settle into child care

Many families start new childcare arrangements in the fall. It’s a hectic time for the family and for the childcare centre/provider.

One of the best ways to help everything go more smoothly is to slow down. I know this sounds ridiculous, I just said how hectic it is, but it’s sort of like the stop and smell the roses idea. Taking a few extra minutes at the beginning and end of your day will help your child settle in or make the transition back to home. The best thing to do during this time is to get to know your childcare provider and the program.

It’s amazing what building a relationship, parent to caregiver, can do for your child’s experience in care. Not only does it make it easier for parents and childcare providers when everyone is on the same page – having taken the time to debrief between transitions to/from childcare, but there is something really consequential about your child seeing parent and provider as partners in caring.

In a quality childcare environment you’ll find the providers strategically placed in the room, if there are more than one, one may be near the door and the other engrossed in the busy-ness of starting the day with the children. When there is only one provider, a quality caregiver often places themselves in a manner that is accessible to all, while giving optimum supervision of the room (and thus the children). She may have her back to the door (facing all of the children who have already started their day), but be placed very near the door, looking over and greeting families upon arrival. Take a few minutes to walk a few steps into the classroom, allow your child an opportunity to share something special that they look forward to doing that day, spend a few minutes sharing information with the childcare provider(s), and stop long enough to make just a little small talk. Ask about your providers’ evening/family, etc. Give them an opportunity to share bits of themselves that will help your child know that there is life outside of daycare, and that it’s important too!

When I notice things are especially tumultuous at the beginning of the year (more new starts than usual, an especially needy child/family, etc.) I like to offer a small token of appreciation to the providers. It might be delivering coffee on my way through to a meeting. It might be baking cookies at home for staff to share. It might be dropping off a package of reward stickers to add to the educator’s collection used for transition times. It’s sometimes sharing a story of something my child told me they loved doing at childcare the day/week prior.

By making the time to put the provider at ease by taking a personal interest in my child’s caregiver(s) I find information flows much more readily between childcare and home. Some providers are fantastic about sharing little details about the day, both the good and the bad, regardless of the parents’ approach to care. Others are afraid to bother busy parents with anything that seems insignificant or unimportant. It’s up to us, the parents and consumers of care to initiate the casual debriefing at the beginning and end of the day. And when we’ve done so effectively and consistently, then on the odd day when we are strapped for time, we can simply let child and provider know as we arrive that today time is limited and we’ll have to keep it short.

When I ask around, I find that the parents who know their childcare provider’s children’s names, or the hobby they spend their after hours engrossed in, etc. are the parents who also feel the greatest connection to the childcare program and are most satisfied with the care that they receive.

Are you scrambling for childcare?

Did you suddenly find out that you will need childcare after all? Did your childcare arrangements fall through? Did you have a sudden job offer that requires a near immediate start date? Perhaps it’s your first time requiring childcare and you simply had no idea how long this process could be?

Have you called all the best centers/providers only to be told there’s a long, long waiting list? Have you been on the waiting list and not received any sort of update? Do you not even know where to begin?

This can be a very overwhelming time of year for parents. Whether you require infant, preschool-age, or after school care. Whether you’re looking for full-time, part-time or flexible care. Whether you have narrowed it down to a specific type of arrangement (i.e. licensed group care, or private home-based care). And especially if you don’t even know where to begin.

The first step is determining what type of care is best for your family (licensed group, licensed dayhome, home-based caregivers, in-home/”nanny” care, family caregivers, etc.) If you are anything like me, this may need to be re-assessed based on availability of quality care, but it’s still important to know what your preferences are before beginning the search. You can find tips to get started: here . Once you’ve narrowed it down to type and preferred location, it’s time to start making phone calls. Keep a checklist of questions by the phone and when your questions are answered to your satisfaction, request a tour/meeting – even if they have (or you are already on) a waiting list.

During busy transition times (the fall is especially so) childcare centres/providers don’t always have/make time to refer to their wait lists. If a spot opens up unexpectedly (a child is moving, or a parent loses a job) sometimes it is possible to jump the line if you are in the right place at the right time. If you’ve already identified your first choice childcare provider, keep checking in with them to ensure that you are remembered.

I suggest making initial visits without your children in tow whenever possible. If you like the place enough, bring your child on a subsequent visit before committing to anything. You’ll know immediately if it’s a poor fit for your child based on their reactions (keeping in mind what is a “normal” reaction to a new situation for your child).

During your initial tour ask if you can drop-by unannounced for a second visit and if there are any particular times of day that are discouraged. If they insist on an appointment, find out why. Unless you are satisfied with the answer, this in itself may be a red flag. That being said it is not uncommon for visits during sleep times to be discouraged. It is also common to hear that the transition leading up to lunch and naptime is not an optimal time for visiting. These times of day tend to be more challenging for both staff and children in group environments.

Unannounced visits give you an opportunity to see what the facility is like during an average day. You’ll also find that during repeat visits to the centre you’ll be more likely to take note of little details that are important to you. Generally speaking if your first reaction to a centre is a negative feeling, you can almost certainly rule that option out. Some places will feel great the first time in, then subtle details may begin to stand out that identify items that are important to you.

It can sometimes feel like your choices are almost non-existent – quality childcare is in short supply everywhere, but don’t give up hope – you can find the right arrangement with a little diligence and patience. If you truly have no time left, and aren’t entirely satisfied with your choice, keep searching – remain aware of centre policies around withdrawals and move your child if you are confident you’ve found a better arrangement for your family. Above all, listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Trish McCourt is a parent of two school-age children, consumer of childcare, and former child care centre director and early childhood educator.

Finding the Right One – the challenge of securing quality childcare

Digging into my archives I found an article that I wanted to link to in my next blog entry. This is several years old, but the still applies. I’ve updated the links, since I can no longer find my own article that was referred to here.


Finding the Right One

– the challenge of securing quality childcare

I have had many people ask me how to go about finding childcare, what questions to ask, what type of care I would recommend…

I worked in most different capacities of early childhood, prior to having my first child. One thing that cemented my decision to stay home with my children is the challenge of finding the quality childcare.

There are basically three options of childcare to consider: licensed group childcare; home-based childcare (licensed and unlicensed); and in-home care (Nannies).

What age will your child(ren) be when they require care? Space is often limited for children under two years of age.

How many children do you require care for? Once you have 3 or more children in care, it is often more economical to consider hiring in-home care.

Do you require ‘full-time’care (typically Monday to Friday, 7am to 5pm)? Any flexibility required will affect availability of childcare space.

What are your children’s temperaments? Will they thrive in a large group of same-age children? Do they require an intimate, mixed age-group setting? Are they flexible and able to adapt to new routine easily? Do they need their familiar environment and routine to cope well?

Once you have determined the type of care that works best for your family, how do you secure and maintain quality childcare? There are some obvious and some subtle things/questions to help you determine if the care you are considering is quality – you can visit and for some suggestions.

The bottom-line is that licensing does not equate quality. While it should give you piece of mind that a centre or caregiver has met the minimum standards set by licensing, it is ultimately up to the parents to monitor quality of care. I am a huge advocate for childcare licensing, however it is my opinion that the standard set by licensing is 1) difficult to enforce, and 2) a minimum standard that any quality childcare centre should strive to not only meet, but to exceed.

I cannot stress enough: if anything about a care arrangement does not sit right with you, go with your gut. This is a very personal decision, and one of the most important you’ll ever make in your child(ren)’s formative years. Taking the time to strive toward a long-term arrangement for your family will benefit your child(ren) to the utmost.

Most importantly, observe your children in care! Even after all arrangements have been finalized, be sure to re-evaluate how the arrangement is meeting the needs of your family!

Trish McCourt

ECE and mother of 2

Daycare Divide – an interview

Article that I was one of the interviewees for.