You’ve done your research and found a child care centre that you love for your little one. With the first day around the corner, you may be feeling uncertain and perhaps not quite sure what to expect.
This is totally normal. After all, you are trusting someone to look after your most treasured little person. A few nerves should be expected!
Monique is a child care director with more than 20 years of experience. She shares some advice to help reduce the anxiety that parents can feel in the lead up to their child attending care for the first time.
‘While they’re at play, children are learning all the time,’ Monique shares. ‘They are developing physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills within their play each and every day.
That’s something that they probably couldn’t get at home, especially if their siblings are at school or there’s a new baby in the house.
It really benefits children to be around other children of similar ages. They learn so much, such as how to manage the social aspects of friendship, sharing, communication and resilience.’
The first day for your child should be approached with an air of excitement. Start speaking to your child about the new centre, reassuring them that there will be lots of other children to play with. This is important for all age groups, as your little one understands much of what you say, and your tone of voice, even if they can’t speak yet. You’ve most likely already had a tour of the facility. Talk to your child about the different areas that you explored to get them to start imagining their first day. ‘I wonder what you might build in the sandpit?’ ‘Do you think you would like to choose the red or the blue bikes when you play outside?’ ‘Did you see the lovely easels there with big sheets of paper for you to paint on?’ ‘You’re going to see your teacher Kate next week when we go to school. I wonder if she might read you a story?’
In the week prior, you can start choosing (with your child’s help) which clothes might be best to wear to child care. Let them know that they need to have super comfy clothes for playing in, and that it’s OK to get dirty. If you need to send a lunchbox to your child care centre, it can be fun to go together to pick one out in your child’s favourite colour or theme. They’ll also need a water bottle – all that playing is thirsty work! Ensure that your child can open each item themselves, to encourage independence. It’s a good idea to do a few trial runs with using the lunchbox and drink bottle (even if you’re just staying home or going to the park). How about getting a backpack ready to take on the first day? You’ll need to include a hat and a spare set of clothes for those little accidents. Some children like to pop a special toy from home in their bag, to visit anytime they need a bit of reassurance. You can even practice the drive to the child care centre. Where will you park? Show your child the front of the centre and explain that this is where you will be coming next week for their first day. Remind them that they will be able to play here and have so much fun, and that you (or whoever you have arranged) will always be there at the end of the day to pick them up and have cuddles.
Most child care centres offer orientation for new starters. If they don’, just ask if you can come in for a couple of visits before you officially begin care. This is a great opportunity to visit the centre for a short time, meet the educators, and get a good feel for the place. Most centres will have you fill out a form outlining your child’s details, likes and dislikes, allergies, play preferences, their family dynamic, your goals for your child and anything else you would like to share that is relevant to their care. For instance you might like to mention that there is a new baby in the house, that you’ve moved recently, or that you’ve noticed some challenging behaviour when it comes to sharing toys. The educators will then be able to tailor their lesson plans to your child’s needs, and it also helps them understand your child better.
Many centres have online communication apps, such as Storypark, which you can set up before you start. This allows you to have a glimpse into your child’s day as the educators share photos and stories about the activities from the day. You can even set up other users on the system, such as partners and grandparents. Get familiar with the app and ask any questions that might crop up.
5. On the first day
While it’s often a good idea to ‘drop and go’ without lingering too much (goodbyes are tough!) the first day is different. Parents or carers are encouraged to stay on the first day for around 15 minutes, to help their child settle in. Generally you will be greeted by the director or an educator, and shown where to put your child’s belongings. An educator will be set up in their designated area with an activity, and will encourage your child to come and join in. It might be play dough, drawing, or a story. Head to an educator that your child is familiar with and mention that this is their first day at the centre. When your child appears to be connecting with the educator and interested in the activity, you can say something like ‘I’m going to go now and Kate is going to look after you. I will be back this afternoon to pick you up. Have a great day! Bye!’ Once you’ve said goodbye, it’s best to smile and head off, allowing the educators to reassure your child that you’ll be back later. You’re more than welcome to call the centre to see how your child has settled in. This can be reassuring in the first few visits to a new centre. If you’re feeling emotional, it can be helpful to have someone to call or visit after the drop off. Arranging a coffee with a friend can be an easy way to feel supported. When you return in the afternoon to collect your child, you’ll be given an update on how their day went (and you’ll probably have some art and craft projects to take home too). Your child will probably be ready to fill you in on the activities that they’ve done that day. Some parents like to have a quick visit to the park or café to debrief on the first day, and offer some one on one time with their little person. Starting at a new child care centre is a big step for your child, but with these tips you can make the transition a little easier.