When I made the decision to return to work (once I had come to terms with the mum-guilt and written a list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ longer than my arm) it was time to hunt for the perfect daycare centre for our wee cherub. Mr. Mac and I discussed at length the decision of in-home care versus a daycare centre and we decided that daycare was the right choice for us. But which daycare? Here’s how we found the right one for us.
How to find a daycare centre.
We made a list of all of the daycares in the area we thought would work for us in terms of location. As I didn’t have a job yet we decided to look as close to home as possible.
We started asking around to find out which centres our friends were using. This was actually the least helpful step. Each and every parent we spoke to said nothing but positive things about their child’s daycare. And why wouldn’t they? If they didn’t like it they wouldn’t have their kids there!
We looked at each centre’s Facebook page and website. We read their philosophies, their policies, their FAQs, their staff bios. Again, not hugely helpful unless you’re looking for a specific preschool program (e.g. Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner). There was a lot of use of keywords like ‘nurture’, ‘engagement’, ’empower’ and lots of talk of ‘learning’ and ‘development’. After reading a few I thought I could write a pretty good daycare philosophy even though I had never set foot in one and certainly know nothing of early childhood education!
We read the ERO reports for each daycare. It’s very easy to find ERO reports: head to the Education Review Office website and do a simple search at the top of the page for the centre you are after. The report will tell you how well placed an education provider is to promote positive learning outcomes for children. It also provides information for parents and communities about each service’s strengths and next steps for development (there’s a helpful guide for parent’s available here.)
Following these steps we now had a shortlist of 4 daycare centres.
Visiting! We visited each of the 4 centres on our shortlist. We called first to check that they had availability (no use visiting only to find out there is no room for your bubba!) We didn’t make an appointment though – we thought the ‘surprise approach’ would give us a good chance to really inspect the day to day operation of the centre. We went armed with questions on everything from what would you do if our darling simply wouldn’t have a nap to issues raised in their ERO reports (there’s a good list of questions here on the Education Review Office website.) We also paid close attention to the physical setting of the centre – the play areas, the sleeping rooms, the kitchen, did the little ones have their own space or were they all together. One important consideration for us was that we had been following an ‘on demand’ routine with Baby Mac – we didn’t have a set daily schedule. We wanted this to continue – things like feeding and napping when he was ready, rather than because it was ‘nap time’.
Some centres we visited we knew immediately weren’t for us – time to make a polite but quick exit! (The debriefs in the car afterwards were interesting as we found that we had both noticed completely different things.) Some provided nappies, some all food, others just snacks. There was a huge difference in pricing too. The cheapest we found was $4 an hour* with no minimum number of hours. The most expensive was $7.50 an hour* with a minimum of 2 full days.
And as soon as we walked in to the last daycare centre I knew this was the one for us. There were two nursery teachers to show us around and they were both lovely. They seemed to really know their stuff when they spoke about infant development. They were so informative and passionate when they were talking to us but at the same time they were totally engaging with our little man – waving and smiling at him. Now it could have been all for show but I think as a mother I am learning more and more to trust my instincts. I just knew that this was the place for us! They answered all of many, many questions patiently and, most importantly, their philosophies and care style were a perfect fit for our little family. The sense of relief was almost immediate – we had found a great ‘home away from home’ for our little boy.
Well, once we’d sorted out the paper work we started making visits. We would pop in for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to play and simply spend time with the other children and carers. I gave my little man feeds in the feeding chair, he had naps in the sleep room, then one day I left him for a whole hour. I spent the entire hour sitting in a local cafe, drinking coffee and willing myself not to rush back to my baby early. After that first solo visit we increased to longer solo visits. I remember the first time I left him for a whole afternoon – it was a bittersweet feeling of having a whole child-free afternoon but also like missing a piece of me. But it got easier. After 2 months of settling in (no need to rush these things, ha ha) I had my first day back at work. And you know what? I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t even cry. I knew that my precious baby was happy, safe and well-cared for with carers I trusted.
*Prices are in NZD, from centres in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in 2015.