Maybe you’ve noticed that your toddler lights up at the sight of kids at playgroup. Or perhaps you think your two-year-old isn’t getting enough socializing. Should you consider part-time daycare?
“Toddlers don’t need to be in an early learning and care facility to become socialized,” says Sally Kotsopoulos, who teaches in the early childhood education (ECE) program at Humber College in Toronto. Young children develop good social skills through everyday activities with parents and other family members, informal encounters with peers during a romp in the local park, even a visit to the grocery store. “Most toddlers aren’t ready to play co-operatively with others,” says Kotsopoulos. That milestone isn’t usually reached until the child is at least three years old.
So what are the benefits of daycare? “You do get this explosion in vocabulary and language skills in toddlers who come to daycare,” Kotsopoulos says. “In my experience, that’s the primary benefit.”
The other big benefit is the chance to develop both gross- and fine-motor skills. “I see a lot of what I call ‘stroller children’ in big cities — kids who are driven and pushed everywhere,” says Kotsopoulos. At daycare, kids can swing, climb, run outside and play with balls in a safe, supervised outdoor space. They are also provided with materials, such as beads, glue, paint and puzzles with little knobs, that encourage dexterity in the hands. “We like to get messy in ECE,” says Kotsopoulos, for example, at the water or sand table, or by taking off shoes and socks and letting kids “paint” with their feet.
Here are things to consider when searching for a daycare program that will nurture your child’s development while providing warm, loving care:
Ask how regimented the day is. Is there enough flexibility to allow toddlers to learn through play? Teachers should have time to listen and respond to the needs of individual kids.
Kotsopoulos also advises parents, if possible, to opt for two or three consecutive days, rather than one day on, one day off. Toddlers don’t have highly developed memories — if they’re coming to daycare on alternate or occasional days, each time will feel like the first. “It takes a lot of commitment from parents and teachers to help a toddler who comes every other day,” says Kotsopoulos. “In my experience, that’s much harder on kids.”
Do the adults have strong relationships with the children? Are they responsive and warm? Is there lots of conversation? Ideally, you should see teachers down on the floor with the kids.
Is the daycare a place where different kinds of families, ethnicities and children with special needs feel included?
Natural, soothing environment
Kotsopoulos says she likes to see natural materials, such as wooden furnishings and soothing colours, rather than a sensory overload of bold, brash colour and plastic — which can be overstimulating. She says a good daycare environment also will reflect the children’s needs and interests. Rather than themed displays for Halloween or Mother’s Day created by teachers, Kotsopoulos likes to see photos of the children on the walls, along with work they have created.
Connection to nature
Time outdoors is a must, but beyond making sure that kids get fresh air, parents might also ask if the centre provides opportunities for children to be up-close-and-personal with nature by playing in the grass or holding a worm in their hands.
Ask what the kids typically eat and whether the meals are nutritionally balanced. Are there alternatives for children who don’t like that day’s lunch? Can you send food from home?
Finally, says Kotsopoulos, trust your instincts. “You should feel in your gut that the children come first.”