Choosing the Appropriate Child Care Centre – Important Considerations
So – it’s time for little Sally (or Johnny) to go to creche. Or should that be a day care? Maybe it’s a preschool? Nursery, anyone?
Not to be pedantic, but there is of course a difference between these concepts. The differences not only relate to what ECD (Early Childhood Development) educators say about the matter, nor what amounts to best practice, but often the meaning behind the terms differs from country to country.
So, let’s dispense with definitions first – at least as far as some sources would have it:
- A creche is considered a secure facility where children of ages from just after birth to four are dropped off to allow parents to go to work. In most instances there is no fixed curriculum (this also differs).
- A preschool, by some sources, is defined as an educational institution that prepares children between the ages of three to five for formal education. Preschools are of many variants such as a nursery, or kindergarten.
- Others define a preschool as a facility that prepares children during their last year before formal schooling. In South Africa, as one example, this is typically referred to as Grade R.
So, although there are different viewpoints about terminology, and as to the age-related requirements, it would seem as if the primary difference is that a preschool has some sort of formal curriculum in place, whilst a creche may not. (This is also not panacea – in South Africa there is the well-known Play, Learn Win curriculum, promoted by the similar-named company, which in fact makes provision for curricula-based training for children already from zero to eighteen months – but because their focus is on play-based interventions – more on this later – the term ‘curriculum’ may be somewhat of a misnomer).
In order to avoid confusion as far as terminology is concerned, for the rest of this article we will use the term Child Care Centre, to include reference to any and all the type of institutions mentioned above, accepting in the same breath that there may be different approaches between different ‘schools’ of thinking in this regard.
The aim of this article is to discuss the various options available for child care centres, whilst also considering the requirements that a facility may have to fulfil to ensure a seamless transition path to the first level of formal education in the child’s school life, i.e. to Grade 1.
What to Look for in a Child Care Centre
This is of course a highly subjective matter which is influenced by several factors. Some of the most important considerations for parents are the following:
- Quality of Care. This relates to whether my child will be looked after properly and treated kindly. Nowadays one finds that an important consideration for parents here, especially for the traditional preschool centre, is the type of curriculum that is followed and whether the child will be properly prepared for Grade 1.
- Cost – always a consideration, although often not on the critical path of parents’ decision-making process – most parents are prepared to pay a significant premium to ensure their children are looked after properly.
- Convenience Factors – distance from home/work, ease of pickup, ease of parking, ease of communication with the school, etc.
However, this need not be a daunting undertaking, even if approached in a quasi-scientific manner!
Generally speaking, there are four things that need to be considered by parents – this may be broken down into simple steps:
- Step 1. Consider the Basics.
- Step 2. Consider the Teaching Methods and/or Settings.
- Step 3. Do Some Further Research.
- Step 4. Narrow Down the List and do Visits.
It is important to understand that the undertaking of the above four steps must be done within the broader Context – one may consider this to be a fifth Step. The Context involves factors like considering the specific cultural factors at play within the environment, the Grade 1 requirements for children, the regulatory environment (who ‘governs’ the facility, regularity of inspections), etc.
The interplay between these factors is illustrated in Figure 1. This may be termed the Child Care Centre Decision Ecosystem – a consideration of all relevant factors at play when selecting a child care centre.
Figure 1: The Child Care Centre Decision Ecosystem
Let us investigate each of the steps mentioned above in more detail.
Step 1 – Consider the Basics.
Think about how the child care centre will fit into your family’s daily life. Here are some questions parents could consider:
- Is it important for the location to be near my home? Also consider your mode of transport.
- Is it important for the location to be near my workplace?
- Is it important for the facility to offer childcare services in the morning, afternoon, or both? This would of course depend on your specific circumstances but remember – your circumstances may change! It is therefore important to think long term/strategically about this matter.
Step 2 – Consider the Teaching Methods and/or Settings.
This issue can sometimes be a minefield for parents, especially because there are nowadays so many options available. And not only are there ‘formal’ curricula out there, there are also other ‘educational philosophies’ which may be relevant, depending on the country that you are living in.
We list these terms in alphabetical order, with no specific preference – these are Methods/Approaches, and Settings. One could of course have a specific Method/Approach followed within a specific Setting:
- Bank Street Approach
This approach places an emphasis on learning through multiple perspectives, both in the classroom setting and in the natural world.
- Child-Centred Setting
These settings offer opportunities for children to choose activities throughout the day depending on their interests. So, for example, are classroom activities based on the interests of the children, and not on pre-scheduled topics chosen by the teacher.
- Child-led Setting
Very similar to Child-Centred Setting, but here each child initiates or asks for new activities and experiences, fostering individualised learning experiences rather than group experiences.
- Co-operative Setting
These settings often ask parents and families to assist in the running of the centre. Parents and family members may assist in the day-to-day management of the facility as well as helping with advertising, upkeep and fundraising.
- Developmentally Appropriate Method
This term means the centre plans the curriculum and activities based on activities that are appropriate for the age of the children in the class. Like the Play, Learn Win Method discussed below.
- Faith-based Approach
This term is used to describe programmes that are run through faith organisations such as churches or synagogues, according to their faith’s philosophies.
- High Approach
This approach focuses on letting children oversee their own learning. Children are taught to plan for what they would like to do each day and participate in a review session to discuss the success of their plan and brainstorm ideas for the next day.
- Montessori Method
Focuses on maintaining the individuality of each child in the learning process. This method believes each child learns at their own pace and educational progress should not be based upon comparing students to one another.
- Pre-kindergarten Approach
In general, a Pre-kindergarten programme is one that has children enrolled in the year before kindergarten, usually at age four. These settings are often more structured than traditional preschool settings.
- Play, Learn Win Method
This method flows and early childhood development approach from ages zero to four, by focusing on play rather than formal learning to develop a bias towards life-long learning. The programme is however curriculised.
- Reggio Emilia Approach
This approach focuses on providing opportunities for problem-solving through creative thinking and exploration.
- Teacher-led Approach
The opposite of a child-centred setting is a teacher-led setting. Teacher-led means that curriculum and supplemental activities are implemented based on a set schedule developed by the teachers in the setting. This type of setting usually provides children with a structured learning environment.
- Waldorf Method
This method places an emphasis on imagination in learning, providing students with opportunities to explore their world through the senses, participation and analytical thought.
Step 3 – Do Some Further Research.
Once you have a good idea of what type of philosophy would best suit your child as well, as of the Context that it is important, there are a few things you can do to help narrow down your options:
- Contact Other Parents: Ask your friends, your neighbours, or your older child’s teacher – ask people you trust for recommendations for quality settings in your area. Most people will be happy to share their insights. One also often finds school listings in towns which are ranked as to their suitability.
- Do Internet Searches: It is easy nowadays to find information on child care centres on the Internet, and even sites that rate these facilities. This can also be a useful starting point, even before Step 1.
Step 4 – Narrow Down the List and Visit.
Now that you have narrowed down your choices and come up with two or three settings you are interested in, schedule a time to visit each setting. You can learn a lot about a setting by the way staff approach introductory visits with you and your child. During your visit ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel welcome here?
- Does my child seem interested in what they have to offer?
- Do the children in the setting seem happy?
- How do the adults and children interact?
- Is the setting clean and safe?
Other things which you may consider, are the following:
- What is the turnover rate for staff members?
- What percentage of the staff hold degrees in early childhood?
- How does the setting handle discipline? Are there formal policies in place?
- What are the safety procedures for picking up and dropping off children?
- Is the setting accredited?
- How do they manage communications with parents? Nowadays all modern child care centres have an App for mobile devices to interact with parents.
It is a useful idea to draw up a checklist before such visits. If you want to go about this in a scientific manner, you could even rank these criteria, by means of a weighted average instrument for every facility as indicated in Table 1:
Table 1: Weighted Average Checklist
Remember, as you go through this process, to continually revisit the Context. A good example of the importance of this, is if you are living abroad as an expat. Will my child fit into the specific cultural environment? As an aside – early years multi-cultural exposure can be of great benefit to a child in later years.
Other questions to consider here are – will he/she be properly prepared for reintegration back home one day? Are the teachers properly qualified? Are there proper health and safety regulations and inspections?
The above guidelines hopefully provide some sort of indicator of what to look for when deciding on a proper child care facility for your child. There are probably many more questions that one could pose, and more factors to consider.
At the end of the day there is no alternative but to get feet on the ground and investigate the various facilities in person. Getting there well-prepared is however very important, so that you may be able to ask the correct questions.
In the final analysis no amount of questions or checklists can replace the ultimate indicator of the best fit between the establishment and your child – is he or she a happy and fulfilled child, and will he/she be properly prepared for ‘real’ school…
http://www.getreadytoread.org/early-learning-childhood-basics/early-childhood/choosing-a-preschool-simple-tips-for-parents (National Centre for Learning Disabilities)
Janse van Vuuren, I. Child Care Centre Decision Ecosystem. Doha. 2019.