First day of childcare: What you need to know

A child’s first day at day care can be daunting for both child and parent. Father of three, Chris Pavey, offers some tips that helped him.

There’s a lot of talk about a child’s first day at kinder or school, but a child’s first day at childcare can be just as important and just as challenging. Here are some tips that I found helped me make it the best possible experience.

Find the right care

There are many different types of childcare; large childcare chains, small independently run centres, the Family Day Care option, even the alternative of getting a nanny to come to you. Some childcare centres are more expensive than others, but may provide food and nappies. Others are cheaper but require you to bring your own ‘everything’. All have their own set of pros and cons.

Making a list of what’s most important to you and your family can be a great start to finding the care that best suits. See if you can match a couple of the options up with the majority of your pros. 
Things to consider:
  • Location - do you want care closer to home with less of a commute for your child? Or closer to work so you can get there quicker in an emergency, or somewhere in the middle?
  • Child-to-educator ratio - do you want your child mixing with lots of children, and more importantly, will it suit their personality? Or do you want them to have quieter days with more personal care?
  • Opening Hours - what time do you need to drop off and pickup?
  • Education philosophy - do you have a routine at home, or do you and your child just take every day as it comes? If you have a preference, make sure it’s supported by the care choice you make.
  • Food - do you want to prepare your child’s food each day? How many days will they attend childcare? Can you manage that preparation on top of everything else?
 A lot of the information about a day care centre can be found online, but nothing beats giving the centre a call and arranging a visit. Try to do this without your child so you can take your time and watch some of the activities and have a chat with some of the educators.

Arrange a couple of pre-visits

Most childcare options will allow some pre-visits before the first full day. If time permits and the opportunity is there, it can prove as much a benefit for you and the educators as for your child.
  • Talk the educators through any home routine you have so that they can try to match it as closely as possible (eg. the times you have snacks, main meals, sleep, etc.).
  • Try to take a back seat. Let the educators get to know your child while you’re there to help.
We did two visits. At the first, my wife and I spent a couple of hours there with our twins playing. We also timed it so that it over-lapped a meal time. That way we could pop them into the high chairs and feed them just as we would have at home. For our second visit we left the twins for a morning, coming in just after lunch to pick them up and take them home for their sleep.
preschooler playing

Make the first day special and share in the experience

No matter how many pre-visits you make and how comfortable you are with your choice of care, the first day is probably still going to be tough; and it might be a lot tougher for you than for them.

If your child is old enough, having a chat about the day in the weeks leading up to it can be a big help. And no matter the age of your child, bringing out a new bag and lunch box can be a fun and exciting prelude to the big day for the little ones.
On the day, it’s a good idea to set your alarm early. The more time you and your child have in the morning the less rushed and stressful it’s likely to seem. And it also helps for those curve balls like an unexpected pooey nappy just as you’re walking out the door.
Try to arrive at the centre as early as possible. This will give you plenty of time to sign them in, put their bag away, place their food in the fridge and get them settled into their room. Prepare yourself for some tears. The educators should help you and provide some comfort and distraction, but make sure you say goodbye and then leave. Try not to stop or look back. Think of it like taking off a band aid; going slow and stalling is only going to lengthen out the pain for you both.
Things to remember:
  • The comforter/s (a comfort blanket, a favourite teddy, the dummy, etc.). Make sure you put your child’s name on them, and keep some spares at home in case they get soiled, lost, or broken.
  • Lots of extra healthy snacks. Our children tend to eat a lot more when in care than when at home.
  • Let your child know who will be picking them up and at what time (ie. after lunch, after sleep, etc.). It can be a great comfort to the child knowing who’s coming to pick them up and when.
And finally, when you pick your child up, it’s a great idea to read the updates (some centres have an app now that provides you updates through the day) and/or get some feedback from the educator/s before you leave. Also, try to have a chat with any of the other children that seem to be gathering about as you pick yours up. Get to know their names and let them get to know you. This can give you some valuable fodder for conversation and interaction with your child once you’re home. 
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