I like to think I have a fair bit of experience when it comes to childcare. My mum became a childminder when I was nine years old. I did my first lot of work experience in a nursery school, and then went on to work in two different nurseries following my graduation from uni.
But when it came to putting my own son into childcare, I found the whole thing a little bit daunting. Despite my experience, how would I know if I’d found the right place for my son? As it turns out we made a pretty bad judgement call! Imagine that – all this experience and we still made a mistake! The worst part was, I was working as the PA to an Early Years’ Consultant, so I should have known better. It wasn’t so much that I was unaware of the issues, but rather I lost the courage and conviction to follow my own instincts.
That all changed when, after around 6 months, our son’s childminder announced to us that she could no longer look after him because “he just cries the whole time, and clings to me when we’re out, and it’s stressing me out too much. I don’t want you to think I’m being unprofessional...”
Well, as it happens, I did think she was being very unprofessional! But, equally, I knew I should have followed my instinct that something wasn’t right too...
But what does all of this have to do with “getting the most out of childcare”? Surely this is how not to do it! Bear with me on this...
What this experience taught me was that I should have remembered that childcare is a profession. If you have a concern over anything, you should be able to bring it up. Childcare staff should also be offering you honest feedback on how the day has gone, so you know straight away if your child is having an problems settling in etc.
Since moving our son into a nursery setting, he has gone from strength to strength. The staff are always asking us what our son has done at home, what his interests are and whether there is anything they need to know. In return they keep us up to date with his progress and are more than happy to discuss any concerns we have, whether it’s worry over potty training or wondering why he’ll eat peas at nursery but refuse them at home!
As such, they know our son (and us) incredibly well and we have built up strong relationships with those who look after him every day. In fact, we consider his key worker more of a “friend” than someone who is paid to care for him, such are the nature of our chats in the mornings! This all means that we have every confidence in the nursery’s ability to provide the absolute best environment for our son to spend his days. The fact he runs in happily every morning, sometimes even forgetting to say goodbye to us, says it all!
So after all that, how can you get the most out of your childcare? Well, here are a few tips I think will help you:
• Remember that these are professional people – they are trained to look after your child and they are paid to do so too. If you are unhappy with any aspect of the care, talk to someone! Don’t brush it under the carpet and hope it goes away. Even if it is just a niggling doubt, bring it up with someone. If in a nursery, find a member of staff you feel comfortable talking to and then ask if you can have a chat sometime soon. If you are really uncomfortable about the issue, ask to speak to the manager. It can often be incredibly busy when you drop your child off at nursery, with parents bustling past to drop their own children off, so you could always call the nursery during your lunch break or send them an email asking to arrange an “appointment” to see them. I have done this before, admittedly because I wanted advice on something rather than to complain, but the deputy manager was more than happy to arrange a time for me to visit the nursery and meet with her and my son’s key worker. We had a very long discussion in a private room at the nursery and I went away with all my questions answered.
• The staff can also help you discuss any concerns you have about your child. Whether you’re worried about their eating habits or you are unsure how to support their progress in a particular area, the staff will most likely have come across the same thing many times before and will be able to offer you suggestions, information and advice if you ask for it. Having someone to bounce your concerns off like this can be hugely beneficial. Even if you have older children and think you’ve “seen it all”, sometimes your child will do something you just cannot fathom, and that’s where having another person to discuss it with can be a real bonus.
• Take the opportunity to complete home observations. If you don’t know how to do this, ask a member of staff to explain it to you. It is basically a way of recording what your child can do, such as recognising new words or learning to read and write. These observations can then go in your child’s folder and help the staff to plan activities around their stage of development. Whilst children generally develop at a similar pace, there will always be things your child finds easier or harder than others, and knowing about these can be really helpful. If you know your child can write his own name, and then the nursery staff tell you 3 months later that they have discovered he can do so, you’ll kick yourself when you realise you could have told them when he first did it!
• No question is silly! This is a big one. You could ask staff about pretty much anything pertaining to child development. There’s really not much they won’t have come across before, and if it really is a new thing for them then they will know where to look to find information about it.
• The staff are “partners” in your child’s care. Don’t be afraid to get close to the staff. Have a chat with them when you take your child to nursery, they will really appreciate you taking the time to talk to them and get to know them. It’s through this kind of communication that strong relationships develop, because you’ll have built the foundations for if and when something crops up that you are unhappy or unsure about.
I do hope that these tips help you. Do let me know in the comments if you have any more to add.
About the author: Amanda is a full-time working mum, balancing a busy job with an active toddler.
In her “spare time” she has written a book about Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe pregnancy sickness) and writes her own blog over at www.thefamilypatch.com