Publication: School Holidays Australia
As a mother to 3 children who are all 7 years apart, I have learned and relearned my childcare journey from the very beginning, every single time. Do you want to know what I learned about what the best centre is? There isn’t one, it’s just the best one for you and your child. In 2021, there has been an oversupply of childcare centres and the decision of picking has become a lot harder too. Here is how I would pick my best candidates. Hot tip – you must always have a few options as there is no guarantee that you will get into your favourite one so learn to be a little bit flexible on that too.
Location Location Location!!
The most important thing to consider is the location. If the centre isn’t convenient or it’s a bitch to access in peak hour traffic, reconsider your options. It should be no more than 10 minutes drive from your house. Some people like to ensure their centre is near work. I have even seen young children catching the train with mummy to work. I advise against picking a centre based on your office location as that could change. Obviously though if your home residence is more of a temporary option, choose something near work. Or better yet, choose something in the suburb you plan to establish roots in. If you are the type that needs to drop into the store regularly on your way home, you could consider centres nearby those stores. But the 10 minute drive prerequisite still applies no matter how you spin it or justify it to yourself. Remember, you have 18 years of being a mum taxi, there is no need to over commit right now. My teenager has me driving around the countryside for his sport so trust me when I say this, choose local!!
Once you are happy with the location of the centre, then it’s time to look inside. I would safely say all childcare centres offer a good educational experience. It is how they deliver this as to whether it’s the right centre for you. Each centre will have different layouts of the rooms depending on the number of children they have capacity for. They will also have separate or joint playrooms to accommodate the different ages. Personally my preference is to keep the rooms smaller and share the playroom space as it allows the children to have more room to explore when they aren’t inside the classroom partaking in age appropriate learning games.
Another thing to consider is the quality of the facilities. Some centres are brand new and very spacious, while others are older but still homely. I pay close attention to the educational materials to see if the centre invests your childcare fees back into the kids through learning experiences. While I like a new centre as it looks cleaner, I don’t pick a centre just because its brand new. One of the best centres I went to was older but they renovated it and kept it very clean. If the centre isn’t cleaned regularly, it is a breeding ground for germs. It also says management isn’t really in the business of caring for children if they aren’t interested in keeping their play spaces clean.
Your Routine – will it suit?
So a few things to consider here is when the centre opens, closes, the inclusions and will this help or hinder your mad rush to do the school run? New centres offer coffee to takeaway everyday. Most centres offer food and nappies. Some offer nothing.
Another important question I always ask is where the nap time arrangements are. If you don’t think your child will do well in the nap areas, ask what the plan B is for a child that has different needs. Your child will need to nap or they will be a wreck at home and that is not fun. Also, if you need to drop your child off early and pick up late, be sure to check what time they separate the children into their rooms. What you want to avoid is centres that rely on the house ratio rule too often to avoid paying too much in staff wages. Ultimately, your centre should help your home routine not disrupt it and make home time unbearable.
Probably the most important aspect of your decision is the people who care for your child. The staff. Good long term staff is a sign of great management. Good management not only pay their staff well, they care for their personal and professional needs too. Being a childcare teacher is a tough job and personally, I don’t think they are given enough credit for their efforts. When you have great teachers, your children will be loved and nurtured. I am yet to meet a child who doesn’t end up having a ‘favourite’ teacher but it’s not about ‘favourites’, it’s about the consistency amongst all staff. I knew I was at a winning centre when the teachers set my daughter her own learning challenge at 3 years old. She loved to paint so they gave her the colours to mix and a printout of a water painting to copy. It was a fabulous activity which engrossed her for hours.
Questions to ask the staff are:
- So how long have you been with this centre?
- What made you choose childcare?
- Do you like working here?
The best way to get to know the staff is to book in as many stay and play visits as you need to feel comfortable. If they aren’t accommodating on this, I would be asking why. Making a decision on a childcare centre is a tough decision as a mum and you want to feel comfortable.