Cost, location and availability are three key considerations when choosing a child care centre, but they’re not the only matters to keep in mind.
It’s also important to think about the relationships, spaces, values and other offerings that will help your child learn well and feel well in their early years.
To help you focus on what's important when choosing a child care centre, here are five pointers from Guardian Childcare & Education CNO, Sharon Whiteman and Kids & Co child psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen.
- Find a centre that communicates well
Good communication underpins great relationships, and before you even meet an educator, you’ll get a sense of how well the child care centre communicates through its online presence.
Dr Cohen recommends that you, ‘Look for centres that have considered you as a parent by providing what you need to know on their website, such as opening times, key activities and programs, as well as testimonials and advice. This shows that the centre is vested in their families and want their interactions with you to be positive.’
Regular blogs with tips, advice and news, plus online learning experiences show that a centre is making an effort to connect with parents through its website, and Ms Whiteman says that Guardian also uses the family communication app, StoryPark to keep the lines of communication open – even if the centre is closed.
This private, secure app allows educators to post updates on your child’s day to share learning and development stories and communicate news in real time.
Ms Whiteman says, ‘It’s a good idea to look for something like StoryPark being used in the centre, as it helps you feel more connected with your child and their experiences’ at care.
When you visit a prospective child care centre she also encourages you to, ‘Talk to educators and the Centre Manager to see how they accommodate and support children’s routines.’ Consistency in routines around things, like napping and toileting, will help your child settle in smoothly, and this initial communication lays the groundwork for a great parent-educator relationship.
- Look for inspiring environments and resources
Whether a child care centre is big or small, new or established, it’s important that it offers a variety of places and things that will inspire your child, and every child, to learn through play.
Your under five has their own personality, moods and interests, and there should be areas for them to socialise, explore, roleplay, relax and so on.
Ms Whiteman recommends that you look for:
- Quiet areas in your prospective centre, such as a little nook where your child can feel hidden, while still being visible to a care-giver,
- Dress-up areas where your child can roleplay and gain an understanding of relationships and how people interact with the world around them, and
- Light installations which allow for the shadow play that will spark your child’s curiosity and encourage their creativity, persistence and problem-solving.
Outdoor spaces are also important, but Dr Cohen cautions that big isn’t always better. Instead of focusing solely on size, she encourages you think about, ‘What’s been provided to create opportunities, such as being able to climb, dig in a sandpit, play with water or work in a garden. All these activities support a child’s physical development and encourage ways in which children can socialise.’
This is important because, ‘Socialisation is key in developing children’s ability to work with others, problem-solve, and have fun through imaginative play.’
- Ensure there’s a focus on learning
The first years of your child’s life are a time of monumental brain development, and a quality child care centre will support your little one’s learning and growth, and help them achieve their potential.
You’re looking for a centre that will engage your child and nurture their natural desire to learn, so ask about the curriculum, programs and experiences on offer and visit the centre to see their learning approach first-hand.
Ms Whiteman recommends that you, ‘Look at things, like the artwork on the walls, or the projects the children have worked on. A visit to the zoo may be represented in drawings or paintings of animals, or story books or play environments that focus on some of the exotic animals. This shows how the centre has incorporated learning into fun experiences for the children in an engaging and thoughtful way.’
Dr Cohen also suggests that you look for a centre that offers activities like yoga, languages other than English, and excursions to local parks or shops because, ‘These are all ways in which children can learn about wellbeing and gain an understanding of the world around them in a real way.’
- Think about community connections and sustainability practices
If community and sustainability are important to your family, then make sure the child care centre you choose upholds these values to ensure consistency between home and care.
Ms Whiteman says her centres are, ‘Passionate about connections, communication and being an active part of the local community,’ and she encourages you to look at how your prospective centre, ‘Addresses collaboration and diversity and cultivates experiences that open up a world of possibilities for your child.’ Things like community excursions and cultural activities do this.
She notes that sustainability is also important to many families because, ‘They know teaching children today will help shape a better future,’ so investigate whether your prospective centre is doing things like using recycled materials, teaching under fives to reduce waste, and composting in the garden.
- See how the centre supports nutrition and wellbeing
Dr Cohen believes that educating children about healthy eating and wellbeing is an important part of early childhood development and that it lays the groundwork for a positive food attitude throughout life.
She says, ‘Children will role model adults on their love of food, so review how the centre approaches mealtimes, making sure they replicate your values of nutritious, fresh food and inclusive, fun meals.’
An educator or on-site chef might teach your child what’s in their food or how to prepare it, and there are great lessons to be learnt from a vegetable or herb garden.
Ms Whiteman says child care gardens teach children, ‘Where food comes from, how vegetables grow, how to harvest them and how to enjoy them’ and she encourages you to, ‘Look for a veggie garden in the centre you’re considering, and ask about their menu because it is such an important part of a child’s development.’
This is all excellent advice and, at the end of the day, you’re looking for a child care centre that isn’t just available, affordable and easily accessible, but one that will teach, nurture and inspire your child, too.