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Childcare options - By Ruth Liew

What to look out for when choosing a day care centre for your child.

MORE working parents today opt to place their children in day care programmes, rather than keeping them at home to be cared for by a domestic helper.Children need the right start to succeed as responsible members of society. Hence it’s important to provide them with a conducive environment to grow and develop during their formative years.Scouring for the right childcare centre to host your child, even with the abundant choices around, is a tough but all too important task.

Firstly, a childcare centre is not just about its physical facilities. Staffing and programming are equally, if not more, important in creating a child-focused environment. Over the years, I have come across many parents that chose convenience and low fees over quality care. One grandmother related how her two-year-old granddaughter was enrolled in a centre that was not age-appropriate, i.e their facilities were not meant for children under four years.

The child had to follow the older kids’ scheduled programme. When she was tired in the middle of the class, the assistant teachers would get her to wash her face in order for her to stay alert and keep up with the class. The tot simply lacked the stamina possessed by older children in coping with structured lessons.So, consider your child’s age and needs in making your choice. Do not choose a programme based on its prestige. What works for your friend’s son who’s a year older may not be right for your child.

As large groups are not appropriate for children under three years, there should be a higher adult-child ratio for the younger group. Also, large buildings with high enrolment may not necessarily be a good thing for young kids, who may prefer a more home-like environment. But, above all, children need centres that are licensed and offer developmentally-appropriate programmes run by qualified staff members who are friendly and patient with children.You may want to visit selected centres at different times of the day just to observe how their programmes are conducted.

It’s important to do your own research. Do not just depend on recommendations from friends and neighbours. But then a credible centre should have a good track record in the community.Be cautious, though, with “window dressing”, such as beautiful pictures of smiling children and impressive facilities in posters and glossy brochures.

Always make sure to check out its premises and facilities including the toilets, nap room and playground.Perhaps what should top your list of priorities are hygiene and safety. Think twice when the centre is located on a busy road or the building is in great need of repair. The kitchen and bathrooms have to be clean and dry, in other words, child-safe.

Talk to the person in charge. If you are going to leave your child with her for more than five hours per day, five days a week, you need to build a relationship with this person. Children adjust better with care providers whom their parents trust to give the best care possible.

Ask about flexible hours and the centre’s policies before signing up. Since many working parents may have difficulty adhering strictly to arrival and departure times, it’s useful for them to enquire about after-hour back-up care. Do find out, too, about hidden costs such as field trips and enrichment classes that are not covered in the childcare fees.

A good childcare centre for young children will have a schedule for playtime, naptime, learning activities as well as down time. The staff are dedicated, competent and respectful of young children. They should also be disciplined and trained in handling emergencies.

Ruth Liew is a child developmentalist, Montessori trainer and examiner. A mother of two teenage daughters, she is committed to supporting children’s rights.

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