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Is My Toddler Ready for Childcare?

We are currently attempting to navigate our way through the dilemma that many modern parents face – should we send our toddler to childcare?

Next year she will turn two and we are aware that as she gets older, her need for social interaction with other children grows. While she gets some of this a the local park, a regular place in a childcare centre, in which she can begin to develop friendships with familiar people is becoming more attractive. Also, the exposure to trained early childhood educators can’t hurt.

But is Hannah ready? It’s a big change to spend time away from family and around people who are (at least to begin with) complete strangers. Hannah can, at times come across as shy. She sometimes hides her face when in new environments or when surrounded by unfamiliar people. At other times Hannah is playful and engaging. She has shown an interest in other kids.

To get a feel for what to expect, Emma and I organised to visit some of our local centres. While each one was vastly different (this is a topic for a whole different post) one thing was for sure – Hannah would be quite at home in any of them.

Some of the moments throughout the day that made us feel confident Hannah is ready for childcare…

 

Join the queue

We were standing in a brightly-lit hallway at the first childcare centre. As the director waxed lyrical about the difficulties that some two year-olds have with adjusting to the setting, she seemed completely oblivious to the actions of Hannah. She had watched a door open and a small army of toddlers file out into the hallway.

Hell-bent on joining them, Hannah had squirmed out of my arms and run the length of the hallway. She neatly joined the back of their line as they headed out the door leading to the outdoor play area. I left Emma and the director chatting away to rescue Hannah, moments before she had crossed the threshold and was part of the day’s activities for good. I returned to the conversation, holding a madly kicking little girl. Given half a chance, Hannah was ready to join in. She didn’t even think twice about glancing back to her parents to say goodbye.

 

Let me in

At the second childcare centre, Hannah was even more determined to join the fun. She wriggled her way out of my arms early on and made a beeline for the outdoor play area. She stood and looked longingly at the children playing on the other side of the fence, until a kind-hearted centre educator took pity on her and invited us to come on over and join in. I opened the gate and Hannah was off. Again, she didn’t think to look back. She suddenly had unfettered access to a yard full of kids, some younger, some older and some her age.

As is Hannah’s way, she soon found an older girl who took her under her wing and looked after her as she climbed the nearest balance beam. Hannah then abandoned her new friend and went to join a young boy who was sitting on the ground, spinning a contraption. He happily allowed her to join in, and together they spun the device around and around, until more kids came over and joined in.

Hannah eventually left that party and went to play by herself in the sandpit. She finally walked over to a seesaw, which she happily operated by herself for a few minutes. The whole time, she never once looked around to see where I was. I could have dropped her and run, and as long as someone fed, changed and played with her, she wouldn’t have cared one bit.

 

Must be getting hungry

By the time we visited the third childcare centre, we were feeling pretty good. Hannah had demonstrated enjoyment and a willingness to explore without direct parental supervision. We were surprised by how comfortable she had felt in both places. Nothing, however, had prepared us for her next demonstration of her willingness to attend childcare.

The director of the third centre was taking us on a tour and we entered the 0-2 room. Seated at a small table on little chairs, and on an assortment of high chairs was a gaggle of babies and toddlers. At first I was slightly disturbed. They were all sitting silently and looking directly at us. Obviously they were waiting for lunch and well-used to the drill.

Hannah, however, did not know what was going on. She looked at the other children then looked up at us. She grinned a big grin, then toddled over to the table, pulled the one remaining seat out and sat herself down with the rest of the kids. There she sat, a big grin on her face. She looked at the little girl next to her who shot back a similarly toothy smile. Hannah was in her element. She had no idea what was going on, yet she assessed the situation and summed it up perfectly. It was clear that her thought process was “if everyone else is sitting, I should too”.

I delicately removed Hannah from the table and we continued on our tour. She diligently waved goodbye to the other kids and the various staff, who had just begun bringing out food. I heard the now familiar “she’s sooo cute!” whispered from one educator to another as we headed out the door.

When we finally made it to the play area, the older kids were busy at play. Once again, Hannah toddled off without so much as a glance back in our direction. She played with the other children for a while, then they headed inside to eat their lunch. Hannah wasn’t bothered, she set about making her own fun while we finished our discussion with the director.

At some point I glanced over at Hannah. She had made her way to the kitchen play area. She was banging away in the sink, then she quickly lifted a spoon to her mouth. I wasn’t bothered, she often pretends to eat from her toy spoons at home. Then I looked a little closer. There was something white in her mouth. I excused myself and walked over to Hannah, who was now happily sitting on the floor. She was clearly munching away at something.

“What do you have in your mouth?” I asked. Hannah looked up and grinned at me. Specks of dirt surrounded her lips. I quickly stuck my fingers into her mouth and retrieved a sizeable pebble.

I hoped that the director hadn’t seen it. This was the best childcare centre that we had visited and the one to which I wanted to send Hannah. I couldn’t stand the thought of her already being labelled as “the rock eater”. Reputations can be hard to shake.

 

Conclusion

Hannah is more ready for childcare than we possibly could have imagined. In another six months-time she will be even more outgoing and adventurous. It is obvious she thrives on social interactions and imagination-based play. Whereas before I was still quite apprehensive about the idea of sending Hannah to childcare, now I’m almost excited about the prospect.

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The Other Children in The Toddler Playground

Now that visits to playgrounds feature heavily in our weekly routine, I’ve begun to notice a few similarities between the children that I see at each playground. As someone who forms his understanding of the world through sweeping generalisations, I have spent my last few visits to playgrounds observing the other children there, and placing them in categories.

 

The King (or Queen) of the Playground

You know this kid. He’s the one that sits at the top of the slide and doesn’t let anyone else go down. She’s the one who pushes others down the stairs, or hogs a particular piece of equipment all for herself, the entire time you’re at the playground. The ruler of the playground is usually just that little bit older than the rest. He has no ability or desire to share and he becomes extremely agitated when his dominance is challenged.

These kids may appear fearless, even like miniature schoolyard bullies. However, their tough-guy façade tends to crack fairly easily.

Last week Hannah managed to wrestle the baby swing from a helmet-clad toddler who was hell-bent on dominating it, despite the apparent unwillingness of any adult to lift him up and place him inside. He had been holding the damned thing for a full five minutes before Hannah got jack of the situation, toddled over and went head-to-head in a battle of ‘hold and pull’.

This kid had already chased away a grandmother with a small baby, by racing over and yelling “it’s mine” as she attempted to give her granddaughter a quick swing. The poor old darling seemed quite flustered by the interaction.

But he was no match for Hannah. Her tiny hands grasped the black rubber and they refused to budge, despite the young tyrant’s best jerky efforts. “Aw, you’re sharing” I interjected from the sidelines, which no-doubt fuelled his ego-centric rage and resulted in a few more attempts to regain sole control of the contraption. However, he hadn’t counted on the tenacity of a baby girl with surprising strength and a bloody-mindedness for swinging that matched his own. He relented and retreated to the big-kid swing, where he sat sulkily and complained about not being pushed, for the next five minutes while Hannah swung away joyfully. As soon as Hannah alighted, he raced back across and resumed his position at the ‘throne’, much to the dismay of the grandma who was once again hovering hopefully nearby.

 

The One Who Always Gets Hurt

Just this morning we were at the soft play area in a shopping centre. As I watched Hannah play I noticed a little boy, perhaps three years old, out of the corner of my eye. He was climbing the staircase of a slide, it was no more than a metre high. Somehow, he pulled a backwards summersault off the side and landed face-first on the soft-fall surface. Despite the meagre size of the equipment it really looked quite painful, so much so that I let out an audible gasp. The boy’s father was close by and he rushed to his aide.

Following this adventure, I went for a quick browse of a shop While Emma stayed with Hannah. When I returned just a few minutes later, Emma regaled me with a story of a little boy who had almost taken out Hannah in a spectacular fall off the slide. It felt like déjà vu as I listened. Then Emma pointed out which child it was – the same bloody kid! In the space of ten minutes, the child had managed two life-threatening falls on what must be the safest play equipment in Sydney.

This wasn’t a one-off occurrence either. The other day I watched a kid with his arm already in a sling, majestically pirouette from one stepping-stone to the next, until he gracefully slipped, tumbling head-over-arse and landing on his one good arm. Some kids are just born to have spectacular stacks.

 

The Nice Kid

I’ll admit it, this one surprised me. I was expecting all other kids at the playground to be self-centred jerks, or at the very least uninterested in the activities of a little baby girl who is just finding her way around. But time and time again, a little darling has absolutely blown me away with his or her generosity or kindness towards Hannah. Every time it has left Hannah with a great big smile on her face, and hopefully taught her a thing or two about positive human interactions.

Several times girls who are a few years older than Hannah, and otherwise alone on the playground, take her under their wing and show her the ropes. They play with her, show her how to do things and even share their toys with her. Hannah, in return beams great big smiles and fully engages in their games.

One child that particularly surprised me recently was a boy of primary school age, who had some of the sweetest interactions with Hannah yet. He had sent his football down a slide and it had rolled off the edge, straight into Hannah. She had looked monetarily shocked, but not upset. He came down the slide after his football and went straight over to Hannah to check on her. Seeing that she was okay, he then offered his football to her to play with. She showed some interest and her interacted with her for quite a while. He even showed her how to use another interesting piece of equipment at the playground. The young boy was so engaging that at one point, another young girl of about Hannah’s age crawled over, and they both sat side-by-side watching the boy. It was really beautiful to watch and I felt such joy that there are kids like that around. It taught me not to be such a cynical old grump.

 

The One With Parents Permanently Attached

Little Johnny should be able to climb to the top of the slide by himself, after all, he’s six years old. But he can’t, because for his whole life he’s relied on a helicopter ride straight to the top. This kid can’t do anything for himself, and when he is faced with even the slightest glimpse of independence, a parent magically appears with a fresh roll of bubble wrap to protect him from the threat.

Ha has absolutely no social skills, because he hasn’t been provided with the opportunity to develop them. His views about other children range from mild annoyance to bewildered hatred. His parents can often be seen forming a kind of makeshift human barrier between him and the great unwashed.

But all of that is okay, because he’s not going to have to learn how to wipe his own bottom until he leaves for university – he’s living the dream!

 

The One Without An Owner

You can spot this kid easily. He’s the one hanging upside-down by his ankles from the top of the rope gym when you first arrive. A quick scan of the playground will reveal that there isn’t a parent in sight, yet this kid seems quite at ease. He doesn’t think he owns the playground, he just happens to live there.

These kids come in two flavours – the ones who keep to themselves, and the ones who attach themselves to your family.

The ones who keep to themselves normally drift between the pieces of play equipment, choosing the least populated activity. Sometimes they even scurry off into the bushes for a while, no-doubt seeking some downtime from the hustle and bustle of a busy playground. They re-emerge later, sometimes after several hours – long after you think they’ve gone home.

Then there’s the one who tries to join your family. She just happens to play on the same piece of equipment as your child, and before you know it she’s eaten half your picnic. When you go to leave the park, she’ll look at you as though you’ve just run over her puppy.

 

The One Who is Stuck

He’s ten centimetres off the ground, but that doesn’t stop him from calling for help to get down. He doesn’t scream at the top of his lungs, instead he opts for the continuous “help, I’m stuck” said at normal speaking volume. He knows someone will come to help, they always do.

 

The Bolter

This kid has a twinkle in her eye and a penchant for playing on motorways. Her parents have learnt that she can only be taken to fenced play areas, and even then that they need to be constantly alert to the possibility of escape. She can be spotted loitering around the one exit of the playground, just waiting for a careless person to leave the gate open a fraction of a second too long.

Heaven help her parents if they glance at their phone to check an email. It will almost certainly result in a manic chase across at least three lanes of traffic. This child’s parents have the thighs of Usain Bolt and they’re probably quicker off the mark.

 

The Perfect Child

This is the one who’s behaviour you just can’t fault… you can’t help it that they just happen to be your child…

 

I’m pretty sure this is the definitive list, but if you happen to spot any other types of children who I’ve neglected to mention, feel free to drop it into the comments. I’ll be sure to keep an eye open for them the next time I’m at the playground.

One Hull of a Dad
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The Twitter Parents You Want To Know

When I started writing this blog, I did so because I wanted to record and share my experiences as a new parent. I thought it would be fun to share the joys and trials of parenthood with a young baby. Perhaps some people would read it, maybe even a few people would respond.

 

What I didn’t count on was the door that it would open to one of the most supportive and caring communities of mums and dads one could hope for. What was even more surprising was where I found that community – on Twitter.

Read more “The Twitter Parents You Want To Know”

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