Given the bewildering array of options available, it can often be difficult to choose childcare. Quite often, the decision will be based on what fits conveniently into your commute, and which is most reasonably priced.
All else being equal, Irene Gunning of Early Childhood Ireland, says that before choosing a daycare centre: ”A parent should always visit and pick up on the atmosphere. You are not expecting a quiet school-like atmosphere. You are expecting a certain level of noise and play and there is a messy element to it.”
Positive signs include ”a well laid out room, well defined areas which children can move about in, choose things and become deeply absorbed in their play”. It’s also important to observe the other children and see if they seem content, active and happy in themselves. She says that while different members have different philosophies as to childcare, most run a play-based curriculum. If choosing a childminder, parents are advised to rely on word of mouth and to ask for references. With nannies and au pairs, the agencies will normally conduct background checks, including police checks. Many Irish childcare workers will also be Garda vetted.
Once all the practical factors are taken into account, a parent must ultimately go with their instinct. Whichever option you choose, the advice is to very gradually introduce your child to the environment, especially an infant. Perhaps go there for an hour with them the first day, then go for half a day together, then leave them on their own for a couple of hours, before eventually working up to leaving them for a full day.
Ms Gunning says that it can be an emotional experience for parents and that it’s vital to ”build a relationship with those who will be looking after the child”. Many centres will have a key-worker system, where a particular person primarily looks after your child, which is especially important for young children.
While the first few weeks can be a difficult adjustment for children and parents alike, and some have to try more than one option before finding the right fit, most families will eventually find a place where their child thrives and is, above all, happy.