It’s a huge step to put your bub or toddler into another person’s care. As parents, we want to know that our little ones are being well looked after and given a good early childhood education while we work, study and get on with our lives.
Not surprisingly, child care is a topic that frequently comes up in the Inner West Mums group. Among the questions asked, the most common are these: What kind of service – long day care, family day care, preschool or occasional care – will suit my family best? What should I look for in a childcare provider? How do I find a spot in the Inner West? How will my child cope all day long without me? And … how will I cope all day long without him or her?!
For those families who are new to the concept of child care, in this piece I share an Inner West Mum’s experience of looking for, and ultimately finding, a great long daycare placement for her children. I also speak to a centre director about what goes on behind the scenes and what she believes makes a great daycare centre. Finally I offer some tips for families who are starting their search for child care.
A parent’s view
For a parent’s perspective, I speak with Inner West Mum Michelle, whose two children currently attend a long daycare centre in the Inner West.
What were some of your criteria when looking for day care for your child?
For me, the number one priority was to find a centre where the director and educators genuinely cared about the children. I wanted a centre that was run with a sense of professionalism. And I wanted to see a clean, tidy, safe environment. Also in my case, it was important that the centre could accommodate some special circumstances around my child’s health.
From what age did your child attend day care? How did you find that place?
We were offered a spot at a long daycare centre quite quickly, when my daughter was just 11 months old. However, at her orientation visits, I became uncomfortable about some of the things I saw and heard. My heart broke when, at the end of one of those visits, I found her sitting alone in the same spot I’d left her two hours earlier without any toys to play with. I decided not to go ahead with that placement and instead asked my mum to watch her until a more suitable one came up.
Meantime I applied to a number of other local daycare centres which had good recommendations. But we were never offered a place at any of those centres, even after a year of waiting. Then I heard about a centre I’d not applied to through a mum in my mothers’ group, so I got in touch with the director. I was lucky: they had a place immediately for the two days I needed. By then my daughter was 2.5 years old!
What impressed you when you toured the centre you ultimately chose?
I was impressed by the warm feel of the centre. It was small, with just two rooms in it, and felt quite homely compared with the cold, clinical atmosphere of some of the other centres I’d toured. Everything was clean and well organised. It was clear the educators cared about the children. The activities the kids were doing looked great too. When I mentioned my daughter’s additional needs, right away the educator made suggestions as to how they would address those needs in a positive way. All the educators and the director showed great empathy regarding her additional needs. I felt like I could trust them with my child.
How have you and your children found the experience?
Both my children now attend that centre, and they love going there. I am just amazed at how caring the educators are. They show such great joy in doing what they do. They work so hard to plan such wonderful activities. Their communication is excellent too. And they are so willing to cater for additional needs. I feel so fortunate to have found this centre.
A director’s view
For an industry perspective, I chat with Christine Pynes, a centre director with more than 20 years’ childcare experience. Christine has worked as both a director and an early childhood educator and currently runs My Stepping Stones Haberfield.
In your opinion, what are the fundamental aspects of exceptional child care?
I’d say, taking the time to make relationships with the children and their families and maintaining those relationships. A key part of this is being honest and listening to the families and the educators. It’s also really important to keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry and deliver on best practice.
If a friend or relative was searching for a good childcare provider, what would you suggest they look for when researching and touring centres?
Recommendations from people using the service are helpful. Organise to spend time at the centre you are considering to get a feel of how it operates. Then go with your gut feeling.
What do you consider to be the main strengths of your centre?
I feel the culture of our centre has always been to support the children and their families. The educators work as a team and enjoy their roles, and the support they receive from management is second to none.
Can you describe an average day at your centre?
There’s a story for every day! Some days can be quite hectic. Ensuring that all the paperwork gets done is a challenge in itself. There is a quirky sense of humour among the team that gets us through each day. When the children accomplish anything, it’s a big deal, and I encourage the educators to talk about the children’s accomplishments.
What do you wish all parents understood about running a busy centre?
I’ll admit it’s challenging, and I do feel like an octopus at times! I need to be in touch with each and every child and what’s going on in their lives (if they’ve been sick, going on holidays, etc.), as well as encouraging and supporting the educators, so they can provide the best possible care and education to the children. The rewards come when you know you’ve made a difference to a child and their family.
Some tips for finding a great childcare service
- If you live in Sydney’s Inner West, it’s never too soon to start researching local childcare options – many local services have waitlists of more than a year!
- Consider what kind of care you’d prefer: long day care, family day care, preschool or occasional care. Speak to other parents about their experiences.
- If you’re likely to need to use a childcare service during your child’s first year of life, it is advisable to put your name down for services during your pregnancy.
- Make a shortlist of services and put your child’s name down for several services. Some services will require an application fee.
- When you are offered a place, do take the time to tour the centre. Look closely at the environment in which your child will be spending a significant portion of their early years. Ask the centre director about the qualifications, skills and experience of the staff. Observe how the centre director and educators engage with your child and the other children at the centre, and with each other. Take note of the surroundings: does the centre have a warm, welcoming feel? Does it appear to be clean, hygienic and safe? Is it a place where you feel your child could learn and develop? If your child has additional needs, will the centre actively support those needs? How does the centre communicate with families? Find out the centre’s quality rating. Ideally, it will have received a rating of ‘Exceeding NQS’. (NQS refers to the National Quality Standard.)
To learn out more about your local childcare service providers and their ratings against the seven key areas within the National Quality Standard, refer to the Starting Blocks website. Starting Blocks also has a handy checklist on what to look for when visiting a childcare service:
If you’re researching Inner West childcare service providers, a great place to start is the Inner West Mums Business Directory.
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