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A parent's guide to choosing the right daycare

Daycares are invaluable for working parents and nuclear families. Here’s how you can choose the best daycare program for your child

A good rule of thumb would be to ensure that one trained adult does not care for more than three or four infants or toddlers.
A good rule of thumb would be to ensure that one trained adult does not care for more than three or four infants or toddlers. (iStockphoto)

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When my daughter was two years old, I decided to enrol her in a daycare. I wanted to get back to work, and with no extended family in the city, I needed a support system.

As mothers, we constantly gather guilt about leaving our children with hired help. But deciding to leave my daughter at a daycare has singlehandedly helped me navigate my life as a caregiver as well as a working professional.

I say this since after a few weeks in the daycare, I noticed my daughter had not only settled down, but she grew so attached to it that she did not want to miss out on the activities that were slotted for post her scheduled hours at the daycare, when I would pick her up and bring her back home.

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A daycare is a day-nursery or creche that takes care of infants and children during the daytime, typically when parents are away at work. There are many reasons why parents today choose daycares over nannies or traditional family support systems.

“Having our family take care of the child is tricky because if we accept their time, we must also accept their style,” says Bengaluru-based Shruti G, parent of a 5-year-old daughter. “As a parent, I have to then give up control, which isn’t easy. Managing paid help is always simpler and less fraught with tension. Daycares also helped me regain my sense of self. I was able to give my child more of myself when she returned,” she adds.

Tanvi Drolia, founder of Cubby Tales Preschool and Daycare in Bengaluru, observes that it is not just the working couple that opts for a daycare. “Many parents are looking for a nurturing environment, peer interaction, and a natural learning curve,” Drolia says. “Not all of them live in large apartment complexes and many of them are from nuclear families. Their children do not have opportunities to meet or play with other children in their age group."

There are many advantages, therefore, to enrolling your child in a daycare. But it is also important to find the right fit. Here’s what I discovered during my long and tedious search for one.

Safety, hygiene, and certifications

It’s a no brainer that child-proofing, food safety practices, sanitisation, bathroom hygiene, and cleanliness all matter immensely in a daycare. But there are other things that may slip your attention. Drolia specifies that medical knowledge and training matter immensely. “Daycares should have at least two adults who are trained to help children in case of injuries, especially choking hazards. First aid and safety training is crucial. There is no time to rush to a doctor during emergencies.”

The number of children assigned to every adult also matters. This is called the child-caregiver ratio. A good rule of thumb would be to ensure that one trained adult does not care for more than three or four infants or toddlers.

Drolia advises parents to check if the daycare has a policy of ensuring that at least two adults stay with a group of kids. “If one adult has an emergency or even gets locked into a room by mistake, you have a group of children who are alone,” she says.

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Unlike schools, daycares are not regulated in India because there is no governing body. They are not licensed as they are in countries abroad. Drolia insists that parents check if the daycare at least has a basic trade license or even a shop and establishment registration.

It is important to choose daycares with CCTV cameras and monitoring. Aparna Prabhu, a working professional and mother of a 11-year-old and 5-year-old, was clear that she wanted live CCTV footage of the childcare space that she could access as a parent. “When I tour a daycare, I see if all safety measures are in place, including safety nets, ventilation, and high rise gates,” she adds. “I also check how easy for me it is to walk into the daycare. If it is easy for me, it is easy for someone with malicious intent. I also wait outside and talk to current parents for feedback.”

Look for meaningful activities and interactions

Although these are important part of a child’s day, there is more to a daycare than feeding and napping. What really sets a daycare or any other form of hired help apart is the the exposure and learning curve it provides the child.

Today, daycares weave short, simple, and meaningful activities into the child’s daily routines. The head of my daughter’s daycare centre helped me through the ups and downs of parenting, counselling me about the terrible twos or milestones. Look for a daycare that has an open door policy and values constant communication with the parents, instead of being a shut environment.

If it is an option, choose a daycare that encourages interaction, outdoor play, and creative free play, instead of a place where children are glued to gadgets or educational toys.

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Knowledge of childcare and early years’ education also matters. “Recently, I have seen children who are so engrossed in gadgets or who have dozens of toys and dolls that they are not able to engage in meaningful conversations,” notes Drolia. “As adults, we constantly control them and instruct them. We do not read with them and we even have separate meal times for them. Children should spend time outdoors and engage in physical activities. They need to play creatively and use their imagination.”

Visit the centre and observe interactions

“Before I chose a daycare, I visited it a few times to check it out and see how the staff members are with the kids,” says Parmesh Vivan, father to a 2-year-old daughter. “Even the way they speak to the child and handle them can tell you if they are loving, kind and if they are using the right language. A daycare should not be a stressful place and the vibe you get when you visit it matters.”

When my daughter first joined daycare, the first few days were difficult because she would cry when I left her there. But she slowly settled into a routine. Every child is different and the time taken to settle into a new environment can vary for each child.

The best piece of advice I received about separation anxiety? Do not send mixed signals, express guilt, or reward your children when dropping or picking your children up at the daycare.

Parenthood is meant to be a life-enhancing journey and we have the right to access meaningful childcare options. Daycares are led by childcare experts who understand a child’s emotional and cognitive development, and this invaluable for young parents.

Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist who lives in Mumbai

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