With a new year upon us, it’s time to move forward with those decisions that we’ve put off until “after the holidays.” One of those decisions might be finalizing a child care decision. Nanny? A Child Care Center? Relative? A combo of all of the above?
New parents have so much floating around in their mind that I thought I could shed some light as to why I’m a full-on proponent of day care (aka child care center or school). As my children are 13 and 10, it’s been some time since I needed to make this decision, but many years ago I was in your shoes at this very same time of the year.
While I was pregnant with my son back in 2004, I figured that I would hire a nanny. That’s what most of my friends did, so I assumed I would do the same. I would be heading back to work in NYC after three months of maternity leave and a nanny would be my answer for a child care solution. Easy enough, right?
I didn’t take much action on my plan until after my son was born in November 2004. The end of the year was approaching quickly….as was that return to work date. We placed an ad on Craigslist and the search was on.
Ultimately we interviewed two candidates. One of them was lovely, with wonderful recommendations from the references I had spoken with. We actually did offer her the position, but she never responded. Back to square one – yet it was a blessing in disguise.
But during the nanny search process, something didn’t sit well with me. Not so much about the nanny candidates, but I questioned if hiring a nanny was the right decision for my family.
At the time, we lived in an apartment in Hartsdale. Unless we hired a nanny that drove – which is typically more money and moreover, the thought terrified me (as I was a non-driver at the time) – what exactly would they be doing all day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.? As much as I loved East Hartsdale Avenue, there’s only so many times you could walk up and down the block!
We didn’t have relatives in the area who wanted to babysit and both my husband and I had to work. So, I started thinking about day care. I knew very little about it, but those stereotypes were eating at me. The germs with kids putting all the same toys in their mouths. Dirty and crying kids with runny noses. Babies just sitting in bouncy chairs. I actually asked my best friend if she would still see us if we enrolled in day care. I honestly was afraid people wouldn’t see us because my son would have too many germs from being in day care.
On the search we went! We visited a local center, met with the director and toured twice. The director was as warm as could be and her interactions with the children at the center were amazing. The second time we visited we spent some time in the infant classroom. There were three babies in the room with one teacher.
One little girl caught my attention – a smiley cutie who was around eight months old. She was working so hard to pull herself up to a standing position while holding on to a chair. The teacher was giving her such encouragement, support and cheering her on. The teacher’s interactions with this little girl sold me.
What I learned on the visit, and subsequent enrollment, is that those stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. Centers have stringent health policies and safety processes to follow. Many don’t even allow bouncy seats and swings. And of course the teachers wipe the runny noses – and even teach the kids how to do it themselves! Oh – and the term is not “day care” – it’s “child care.”
When my son came home with his first piece of “art” – his footprints in red paint on a piece of paper – I knew I made the right decision and never looked back.
My Supporting Statements
Full disclosure – I became such a proponent of child care centers that I decided to work in the field. Since 2010, I’ve been employed by a child care company – the same one that my children attended. My children had already been enrolled since 2005 and 2008, respectively. The benefits are aplenty and here are the reasons why I am – hands down – a huge proponent of a child care center:
Being the Nanny’s Manager:
I worked long days in NYC and part of my role was to manage a team of HR professionals. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to think about was being a manager at home too. Training and performance management of an employee whose main “client” was my son? Nope. Not for me. In addition, we never had to concern ourselves with a nanny calling in sick – or worse yet resigning – and needing to scrounge for child care last minute.
Learning from Other Children:
Children love observing each other. Children love when others observe them. Win-win! Younger children learn from older children in a center setting, simply by watching and imitating. The older children have the opportunity to teach the younger kids all of the cool things that they know how to do. Children learn from each other, just as much as they do from adults. Sometimes even more so. (In a child care setting this is A-OK. Less so when they get to elementary school and beyond, but that’s another story!).
Licensing and Regulations:
This was a major factor in my decision. There is higher power in charge to regulate health and safety, such as infant sleep practices, feeding policies, hand-washing, diaper changes and overall cleaning systems. There are guidelines for emergency preparedness plans, background checks, CPR and first aid certifications, and ongoing training. Even the ratios, which could be concerning to a new parent, really worked out fine. There’s always an extra hand or two to help out.
Partnering on Developmental Milestones:
I often joke that my kids wouldn’t be potty trained if it weren’t for their teachers. (Kidding/Not kidding). All joking aside, child care centers can be your partner in regards to child development. Teachers nurture children, but are adept on the age appropriate developmental milestones and ways to encourage achieving them – and will share any concerns they may have.
You can’t beat the socialization that a child receives in a child care setting. As a working parent, with a long day and a long commute, I wound up having very little time to arrange and have play dates. It was a relief to know that my son would be around children. Insta-play dates! A child care setting can offer camaraderie not only for children, but for parents, even if it’s just at drop off and pick up time. Parenting can be a lonely sport and often you’ll find commonalities between yourself and the other parents in the center. Your day care center could be your connection to the community, including formal parent partnership groups.
I admit that I had no interest in this when my son was a baby. Curricu-what? He’s an infant! Please, just feed him, change his diapers, put him down for naps. Make sure he is safe….and love him a little too. But a child care center is much more than a place for your child to spend time while you are at work. From infants through Pre-K, these programs can truly offer exposure to all subjects in order to set an educational foundation to prepare the kids for school. And the best? The mess, for any art projects and science exploration stays at the center!
On top of everything, the teachers make the experience. If you’re lucky the teachers will truly become your second family. When my daughter was in Pre-K, her teacher noticed that one of her eyes turned inwards when she was trying to focus. After observing this a few times, she was concerned enough to bring it to our attention. As a result, we brought her to a pediatric ophthalmologist who diagnosed my daughter with esotropia (a form of strabismus, which can cause complications if not treated). The current treatment is lifelong glasses. If it were not for her teacher, we may not have realized this until much later on. Even more awesome was when my daughter came in with her glasses for the first time, the teacher was prepared with books with kids with glasses; and even 10 pairs of fake glasses for all the kids in the class.
What works for my family might not work for yours. It’s always important to look at both sides of the equation to determine the best choice for your family. If opting for a child care center, there are additional aspects to consider. You have to drop off and pick up at the center. What happens when your child is sick? And a nanny often assists with cooking, cleaning and laundry.
Something that always stuck with me though were my lunch breaks when I worked in NYC. My office was across the street from Chelsea Market and I used to head over there to grab lunch most days. In the colder weather, day after day, I’d see children strapped in their strollers and nannies chatting with each other. Obviously, these were just snapshots in time and I had no clue what occurred during other hours of the day, but is reaffirmed my decision of wanting something different for my children. Saying “better” wouldn’t be accurate or fair as it’s not my role to judge. Everyone needs to do what works for their family.
These days very few children start Kindergarten without some kind of group care experience – whether it be a child care program, preschool or even local gym/art programs. Did my kids have a leg up on children who haven’t? Stats say yes, but I think that’s an individual assessment as well. One thing to keep in mind is that not all child care organizations are created equal. This is why you have to do your due diligence – the same you would do for a nanny search.
Keep an open mind as you are assessing your options. Breathe easy mamas. It all works out.
To learn more about child care and early education in our county, please visit The Child Care Council of Westchester at http://www.childcarewestchester.org/