5 Top tips: How to choose the right childcare centre

Carol Soleymanbik has been a childcare centre director for 17 years. She believes the very best childcare centres are those which go over and above the basics to truly nurture each child’s early development. Here she shares her top five tips to help you choose the right centre for your child.

Sending your child to childcare for the first time is a huge step, and every parent wants to ensure they make the right choice. So, what should you look for beyond an environment that is safe and secure?

1. A place where they let children be children

One thing I’m increasingly seeing and hearing about is preschool age children suffering from anxiety. One of the best things childcare centres and parents alike can do to prevent this is to just let children be children.

Of course, we all want our children to develop their core skills, such as reading and writing, at a young age. But this shouldn’t come at the detriment of the child’s wellbeing. The best childcare centres teach preschool age children the skills they need to prepare them for their first year of primary school in a stress-free environment that allows them to learn through what they love most – play. Let’s face it, we all have plenty of time for stress through our lives – let’s allow our children to just be children while they can.

2. A centre that sees your child as an individual

It’s a cliché to say every child is unique but it’s the truth and that needs to be mirrored in the care they receive. Of course, this means ensuring each child’s needs are being catered for on an individual level, but it’s also about building relationships and rapport, not only with your child but with the family too. When picking a childcare centre, look for the little touches. A simple but effective way to build relationships is for each child to be greeted by the same educator every day, which fosters a real sense of trust.

What’s really important in childcare is a centre that not only reflects your own values as parent but is driven by its own values as a centre. While some childcare centres pour money into high tech equipment and modern play areas that can lure parents in, what will really set your child up for the best start in life is a childcare centre and staff dedicated to nurturing them as an individual.

3. A centre that offers variety in the program

As children can be in childcare for 40+ hours a week, it is important that there is variety in the program. Centres that offer diverse activities beyond the usual play activities provide additional opportunities for development. Educators and carers often have other skills that can be utilised in the centre, such as yoga, music, sports and languages, which open up a world of wonder for preschool age children.

4. A place that embraces difference

So many headlines at the moment from around the world seem to be about intolerance and division. The best thing we can do to make sure the next generation does better is to expose them to a variety of positive cultural experiences. No child is born hating anyone for the colour of their skin, their religion or their sexual orientation. It’s our job to ensure children associate our differences with positivity. So don’t just settle for promoting tolerance for others, but actively seek out centres that celebrate other cultures where appropriate. As childcare is a key opportunity to set the tone of a child’s outlook on the world, inclusivity needs to be a key value – be that in terms of other cultures and faiths, same-sex relationships and families or those with disabilities.

One initiative our centre has embraced is a calendar of international events we have a connection to, either through a child or a member of staff. We mark each occasion in a way which gives the children an opportunity to experience an element of another culture in a fun, educational way. For example, we’ve had members of staff teaching children about Thai culture during Songkran (Thai New Year) and a parent holding an event to mark Bengali New Year. These celebrations typically involve letting the children experience the food, music and sometimes clothes of another culture. All interactive things to give them the opportunity to learn.

5. A place that brings the community together

We have all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” and it is important to find a centre that is interested in building a relationship with families.  A strong relationship between childcare centres and families has enormous benefits for everyone and helps foster such a sense of belonging, creating a hugely positive environment for children to experience.

One way we have connected to the local community is through offering a free meeting place for mothers’ groups. When I was a new mother, my mothers’ group was invaluable, giving me access to the friendship and shared knowledge of a group of likeminded women going through a similar stage in their lives. With quiet meeting places becoming ever rarer and the outdoors not always an option (either with it being too cold or too hot!), a natural way we were able to support the community was by opening our doors to mothers’ groups.

Carol joined SDN fresh from university as one of the organisation’s youngest ever centre directors 17 years ago and has spent the intervening years perfecting her approach and philosophy on what makes for the very best childcare. Carol is currently Centre Director of SDN North Sydney.