Choosing the right childcare centre will always be an emotional decision. For most children, the childcare centre will be the first time they have been away from both parents for an extended period of time. From the time of their birth, your child has been constantly with you, learning from you as you cared for them. Now, you are contemplating handing over that responsibility to someone else for part of the time, so naturally, you want to be certain that you choose the right people for the task.

What happens at childcare centres?

In general terms, childcare centres take care of children when the parents are not able to be with them. They are intended to be pleasant, fun places for children to be, but they are also places where children learn. A typical pre-kindergarten program will aim to enhance the development of children by nurturing their skills through play, socialisation, and set activities.

Educational philosophy

Many long-hours day care centres adopt particular educational philosophies that guide their interactions with the children and help to shape the different activities that will be offered every day. Some may choose to follow a Montessori pre-kindergarten program, while others may prefer a Reggio Emilia program or something different. If you favour a particular approach for your child, then you will need to talk to the staff at the centre to find out what they will be doing with your child, what the expected outcomes will be, and how the centre's philosophy aligns with your own parenting philosophy.

Choosing a long-hours day care centre

Finding the right childcare centre has to be about more than just their pre-kindergarten program. You will need to consider practical issues, such as the location of the centre so that you can be sure to drop off and pick up your child on time, and whether the centre actually has space available. Many of the best childcare centres have long waiting lists, so you will need to register well in advance of your intended start date.

Flexibility is perhaps the most pressing practical need once your child begins attending the centre. Lack of flexibility is one of the biggest problems for parents who rely on childcare centres. You may book particular days or times at the childcare centre, but what happens when your shift changes and you are asked to work on a different day for a while? When choosing a centre, it is always worth asking how flexible they are prepared to be in the future. Do they have penalties that come into play when you try to change your booked days? Are they able to offer occasional extra days at the centre if needed? Knowing that such flexibility is available can help to reduce parental stress all the while your child is attending their pre-kindergarten program.

Consider these points as you look at child care centres and pre-kindergarten programs.