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.
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.