The last few weeks of maternity leave may be looming, and with that comes a list of options; do you stay at home or go back to work? Will that be full time or part time? Are you still interested in climbing that ladder? Can you afford childcare costs?
Childcare is almost certainly a topic that crops up in conversation in your household. Personally, I have been involved in many discussions surrounding the subject; I think it’s because I’m a childcare professional myself. This doesn’t mean my views are right and others are wrong, but I do see a variety of parents on a day to day basis who use childcare settings differently.
There are parents who use settings for their child from just a few months old, 5 days a week, and also parents who wait until their child turns 3 and they want them to gradually be exposed to a learning environment before starting school. These aren’t the only examples of course, childcare is used for a whole range of reasons and for varying time scales.
I’m going to try and guide you through those first few weeks of settling in to a nursery provision, because this is where my childcare knowledge lies.
Choose a Nursery provider that fills you with confidence at the first meeting
Gut instinct is key here. If you don’t feel comfortable walking around a setting on your visit, you probably aren’t going to change your perception of the place unless you have 24 hour surveillance at hand. That’s not realistic. On a Nursery visit, you will most likely meet the manager, owner or a member of staff in a senior position and these people influence the actions and decisions of the rest of the staff. Factor in the vibe you get from the staff, when choosing the Nursery. You could really get on with the manager and other staff whilst visiting the Nursery but be put off because the pre school room looked trashed when you walked in. The mess should be secondary to how happy the staff and other children look. Let’s face it, some days your little rays of sunshine just want to play with every toy on sight and other days they won’t touch them; it’s a raffle with what you’re going to get on the day!
Establish your accounts and payments to Nursery a few months in advance (especially if you’re returning from maternity pay)
Many nurseries require you to pay monthly fees upfront e.g. you pay for the month of March on the first of March. Obviously if you are going back to work, you need to put the little one into Nursery straight away; meaning that you have to give up a chunk of your wages a month before you get them. It softens the blow if you have the money set aside. Advice I should really take myself!
Once enrolled at a Nursery, arrange settling in sessions
Settling in sessions at Nursery are put in place for you, your child and the setting to build relationships and get a feel for each other. On your first day, you will most likely get paperwork to fill in and it will be an opportunity to write and record any information you feel necessary to tell the Nursery. You will talk about routines, family celebrations, dietary requirements, allergies, medical conditions and interests. It will make you feel a lot better once you’ve described your day to day life on a few pieces of paper. Nursery staff follow your routine from home and the stability usually makes the transition for your child a lot easier. Babies and children thrive off routine so it’s good to have a little bit of structure and consistency between settings. It gives them extra security and confidence when not in the presence of the main carer.
One thing I’ve noticed to be 90% true is that the second settling in session is the hardest. Children know they are going to be left, so they anticipate this before you’ve left them. They will pull on your heart strings and cry right up until you close the door behind you! So, don’t be fooled by the fantastic first Nursery session because once they know how to make you feel bad, those little tikes will do what they can to make you stay. What I’m trying to say is; book at least two settling in sessions and if it turns out to be disastrous then you know you can always book more until the official start date!
Get to know your child’s key person initially and then branch out to other staff (at any opportunity)
These people are looking after your pride and joy. It’s good to have a bond with your child’s key person because this makes communication so much easier between home and nursery and any sensitive issues can be addressed immediately without either party feeling uncomfortable. Once you have got to know the staff in direct contact with your baby, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge other staff in the corridor and get to know their names because these wonderful people know your child and although they don’t work directly with them, they will have some impact in the little ones lives at some point.
Use first settling in sessions to establish a routine that works for Nursery and your child
It isn’t necessary to have your child in a routine, but it does help to give the Nursery some guidance into day to day life, for you. Discuss when you normally have lunch and dinner, when you give snacks or bottles and warning signs for a tired baby meltdown! If you can discuss your routine in full and any feeding or sleeping queues that put you one step ahead, this is a great help. Nursery staff want to meet your child’s needs alongside all of the other children in their care so talk through something that works for both of you.
Have confidence when handing your child over to staff
If you are comfortable when handing your child over then they will feed off this energy. Be hesitant, so will they. They will sense your nervousness and then act on it, leading to a longer and more awkward handover.
After session one, do the drop and run
When all of the paperwork is put in place and the Nursery knows what routine they are following and what your child enjoys, they will be for you to hand over quickly and briefly. As long as you inform them of how they have been in themselves, any medication they may require or have taken at home and if somebody different is picking them up that day, you can leave swiftly. Nursery staff are trained to deal with upset children at handover and they aren’t lying when they say ‘he will stop as soon as you leave the building’. Your children like to make you feel bad for leaving them. If they are happy when you pick them up then you can guarantee they’ve been happy all day!
Always have time for a handover
Handover at the end of the day is crucial. You find out what has been going on in the Nursery day and you can ask any questions about development or play ideas if this is something that will benefit you. You also get to find out all of those cute little things they do with their buddies that you wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise.
Trust the amazing staff who look after your precious ones
They don’t work alone, they have a wealth of knowledge and senior staff available for extra support and advice. Nurseries have policies and procedures in place to keep your children safe and they are revised regularly. Nurseries employ those people that will be the right fit to join their already fabulous team and managers are usually a good judge of character, so they’ve handpicked these people to give your children the best care!
Relax! You’ll be back soon
It’s not long until your baby is back in your arms for the day and you’ve finished your chaotic day at work. It soon becomes routine and you’ll forget what it’s like to wake up without an alarm. Your children will take to their new routine in no time and they will love it too!
There’s so many benefits to using a childcare provider for you and your children, and these are evident as time goes on. Remember, it is healthy to spend time away from loved ones and your children blossom when given independence in the right doses. The guilt of leaving them does ease, but it’s only natural to miss them a little bit or feel bad because you don’t miss them as much as you think you should. Children enjoy their time away from parents, believe it or not, they adopt personality traits from their peers and learn things to teach you. It’s a great time for them and you, embrace it!