Tips to prepare your child (and yourself) for day care

When our daughter was born we all stayed at home for a month together. Then I stayed two and a half more months with her. And then, when I went back to work, we hired a nanny that would take care of her till she turned one. It didn’t take us much to decide that we’d like for her to go to a day care once she’d be one.

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3 reasons to take your child to day care

I never went to day care when I was a child. I stayed at home and my aunty took care of me. My parents claim that when I started going to school, I’d get sick on Fridays and be perfectly recovered on Mondays. Apparently, the doctor’s diagnose was that I really enjoyed playing with other kids (I am an only child) and wanted to go to school on the weekends too.

These are the three main reasons why we liked the idea of our daughter going to a day care:

  1. Socializing. Getting the chance of interacting with other children is something that we really wanted for our little one. We chose a place with around ~20 children where  kids of all ages play all together in the same space. And while they have different activities for different age ranges, we thought it’d be good for her to get to play with older kids who would challenge her, as well as with younger ones, so she could learn to care for them.
  2. Learning new things. The more people she’s exposed to, the more chances she has to learn new things.
  3. Time for you, parents. For starters, I mostly work from home and while that was very convenient while I was breastfeeding, eventually she started requiring my attention while I was working. Apparently, having a nanny exclusively playing with her all day wasn’t enough 🙂 Even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, taking your child to day care a few hours a day will give you some time for yourself that you can use for, I don’t know… taking a shower, eating, exercising, or why not, reading a book.

How to be prepared

I think this is like deciding to become a parent, or giving birth, or going back to work when your maternity leave is over… you’re never prepared.

However, here’s a few things you can do to prepare yourself and your child for day care:

  • Adapt their schedule. Find out the day care’s schedule and try adapting your child’s schedule to that at least a couple of weeks in advance.
  • Start progressively… or not. We didn’t have a choice so started with eight hours a day, five days per week. However, a lot of people prefer to start progressively just with a couple of days a week or even half a day during a few weeks.
  • Don’t go alone. Let them take their inseparable stuffed animal, baby blanket, or favorite toy with them.
  • Explain everything. On the first day (or first few days), explain to them how the day is going to look like. No matter how young your little one is, they do know and they do understand things. So tell them they’re going to go to a place with other children, get to play all day, learn new things, and that you’ll be back. Very important, don’t forget that last part!

Every child is different so really my best advice is do what works for you and your baby. When I got back to work it took my baby a week till she accepted our nanny. She started crying and refusing eating from the bottle the days that I was working from the office. Our solution to that was giving her a bottle during the day (not in the morning or at night), even when I was at home. After a week, the madness stopped and she was happily eating from the bottle when I wasn’t around.

How to choose child care

There are many factors to take into account, here’re are a few of the ones that were useful for us.

The most important thing for us was finding people that cared. The first time we visited what today is our daughter’s day care, we found the director so caring and loving, that everything else – the space, the price, the location – ended up not really mattering that much to us.

For finding a nanny, we did the following:

  • Asking around. Do you have any friends with children who are about to start going to day care or pre-school? Is their nanny looking for a new family?
  • Searching (and interview) online. After asking a few families, the website that people recommended unanimously to find a nanny was care.com. There’s also urbansitter.com, which we ended up not using. We paid to post an ad and immediately got dozens of replies. To optimize the process, we pre-selected around 10 candidates, interviewed them online (skype, facetime) during 3-4 days, and finally met only two in person. It only took us about a week to find a nanny that we really liked.
  • Considering nanny sharing. Nanny sharing is a really good option if you know another family in need of child care and lives near by and / or has a child the same age than yours. Better if both. This ended up not working for us, but it would’ve still been our preferred option since our little one would have had someone to play with and it’s always a more economic option. For nanny sharing in San Francisco, people seem to use Nextdoor.com with good results.

Main factors to take into account:

  • Experience. On Care.com you can check not only profiles but also reviews from families, and even get in touch to ask for references.
  • Communication. If I can’t communicate easily with a person, I don’t want them taking care of my child. Period.
  • Price. A full time nanny can be expensive, specially depending on where you live. In the Bay Area, the average cost per hour can vary a lot from one place to another e.g. $15 in Mountain View and $20 in San Francisco. The amount of experience of the person will also have a great impact in the cost.

For the day care, these are some of the factors that we took into account:

  • Personal recommendations. Personal recommendations are always your best option for obvious reasons. Depending on where you live (e.g. San Francisco), it can get you to skip the waiting list. Extra points for that.
  • Search online. If you don’t have any personal recommendations, you can always go to the Internet and find online reviews. Winne.com has recently launched a search for day cares and pre-schools in the Bay Area where people can share their experiences and opinions.
  • Location. If possible, find a place that’s either close to your place, or close to your office. You won’t regret it.
  • Ratio adult-child. For infants, 1:2 or 1:3 is a good ratio. For toddlers, 1:6 to 1:8 seems to be about right. Here’s a link with more information on adult-child ratios in California.
  • Price. Day care is not cheap, but the good news is that it’s cheaper than a full time nanny. Same as with nannies, in the Bay Area prices can be significantly different from one city to another (even half the price if you compare San Francisco with the suburbs).
  • Methodology. This topic could probably have it’s own blog post (and I’ll probably write about it at some point). For us, the most important thing was finding educators that cared. Apart from that, we prioritized age mix and good variety of activities (see below).
  • Activities. Do they have their own backyard / patio? Are there any playgrounds near by? Do they have specialized teachers coming to play music, sports, or any other cool activities? Do they provide any kind of exposure to additional languages?
  • Meals. Do they provide meals / milk? And if so, what type of food? Nut free?

There’s a lot more that could be said about getting yourself and your child ready to start going to day care. However, this should be enough to give you a solid starting point. If you think I’ve missed something important, please share below.

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