Day care or other forms of childcare or early education can be a lifesaver, especially for parents who cannot take a lot of time off from work and whose families are out of reach. When searching for the best solution for your child, start by understanding what your options are.
There are multiple types of early education and childcare – how do you choose the best one for your child(ren)? Although similar in the types of activities they undertake, you should pay close attention when choosing an early learning centre for your child, as each of them comes with its own particularities.
Below you can learn more about the different types of education and care for early childhood, as well as the most important questions to ask before choosing a service.
Types of early childhood education and care
Most care services are regulated under the NQF (National Quality Framework) and include:
- Family day care
- Long day care
- Kindergarten / preschool
- Outside school hours care
These regulations are put in place to ensure your child is safe and given appropriate opportunities to learn and develop. Services must meet a range of laws and regulations to operate, including national quality standards. Services are given quality ratings to help families decide on the best service for them.
You can learn more about each regulated service check their quality ratings and find a service in your area on the Starting Blocks website.
Download the fact sheet on the different types of services.
Besides NQF regulated services, there are other services like crèches, occasional care, mobile services and some school holiday care programs. Even though these services are not regulated under the NQF, they may be regulated under other state legislation.
How can you tell which service is regulated and which isn’t? The best way to learn this is by asking the service representatives.
General guidelines on choosing a service:
As exciting as it is to get ready for preschool or kindergarten, it may also be an overwhelming time for you and your child. To make things easier, it is better to prepare for this ahead of time: the earlier you start preparing, the better.
- How long? Think about how many hours or on what days you will need childcare services.
- What? Know each type of available care services, and decide which suits you best. It should be in tune with your lifestyle, but at the same time a good fit for your child: day care, long day care centres, preschools, outside school hours care etc.
- Is there a waiting list? Most care services have a waiting list, therefore choose several day care solutions and enlist in more than one. Thus, your chances of finding a service you are happy with are better.
- Visit. Have you found a service that works for you? Don’t make a final decision until you visit the place: ask questions about the service, request details. A service that is perfect for others might not be good for your family, so look around and put your options in balance.
Key questions to ask:
- What hours do you operate?
- What times can I drop off and pick up my child?
- Do you close throughout the year and how long for e.g. Christmas or Easter time
- Will I be able to visit my child or call them at any time?
- Will I be charged fees for public holidays or when my child is not there?
- Do you provide things like nappies and meals, or do I need to bring them from home?
- What is the ratio of staff to children?
- What skills, qualifications and experience do the staff have?
- Has your service been quality rated and what was the rating?
- What ages do you care for? This is important because you might need to think about future childcare options if they only provide care for children aged from birth to five.
- How will I know that my child’s learning and development will be encouraged?
- What are your internal policies and procedures?
- Will I be eligible for any subsidies or other financial assistance?
Is there financial assistance to help with childcare?
CCB, or Child Care Benefits, and CCR, or Child Care Rebates, are two types of payments that can help you with the costs of childcare.
They are provided by the Australian government, and you can get back as much as half of the costs with CCB, up to the annual limit. The maximum amount you can get with CCR is $7,500 per child per year.
There are some regulations with these benefits and rebates. If you want to learn more about CCB and CCR or see if you are eligible to receive these funds, please visit:
Child development programs and the value of play
Play is one of the most important activities in a child’s life. It teaches them skills that will be invaluable to them later in life. Quality services will offer a program that promotes and extends your child’s learning and development through play.
When your child attends a care program, it is important to make sure that:
- The staff at the service spend time interacting with the child
- They spend time observing your child’s play to determine their interests
- The staff uses a variety of tools and methods that combine indoor play with outdoor play
- The staff uses other resources such as cardboards or blocks to develop your child’s imagination
Read the Starting Blocks fact sheet on programs for children in childcare.
You can become a proactive parent by getting involved in your child’s play activities. When you first attend the care centre, you can share information about your child’s learning and development with the care staff. You can suggest that this information should be taken into account when the staff interacts with your child.
Standard level of education of child care educators
The better prepared an educator is, the better the chances of your child learning more and enjoying their time at the care centre more. Proper training is essential when working with children; therefore, it is a good idea to ask the centre director about the qualifications and experience of their educators.
There are three types of early childhood qualifications:
- Teacher – requires a bachelor degree or above
- Diploma level
- Certificate level
These qualifications are established by the National Quality Framework.
Can children with additional needs attend care centres?
Choosing a care centre or early education service for a child with special needs is even more challenging.
Parents who have a child with additional needs might feel stressed about how their child will adapt to the new environment and how they will interact with others their age. Others may also worry about how their child’s specific needs will be met at the care centre, or whether the care centre can manage a child with special needs.
Nonetheless, if your child has additional needs, you should know they could benefit greatly from attending a quality care service. The interaction with multiple people as well as with children their age has the potential to enhance the child’s learning skills, social skills, development and experiences.
It can also provide your family with the peace of mind that your child is safe.
What to expect from care centres when your child has additional needs
- Work collaboratively with you about your child’s specific needs and how these can be supported
- Respect and accept your child
- Show that they see your child as a whole person, not only in terms of their needs
- Take the time to get to know your child, their strengths and interests, as well as their areas of need
- Use your child’s interests and strengths as a basis for planning activities
- Adapt planned activities and daily routines to support your child’s participation, where possible
- In a sensitive way, help other children and adults to understand your child’s needs and include your child in daily activities
- Acknowledge and uphold your family’s and child’s rights to confidentiality
- Provide you with regular information about your child’s progress and experiences, as well as any concerns or issues that arise
- Record daily information about your child e.g. details relating to toileting, eating habits, and their behaviour with other children etc.
There are many things you can share with the educators at your service to help your child’s inclusion:
- What your child’s main needs are and how these affect their daily lives and experiences
- Their interests and the things that they do well
- The strategies you use to support your child at home and elsewhere e.g. ways to calm or distract your child when they are upset
- The situations or routines that can cause physical or emotional challenges for your child
- The signs to look out for to see if your child is distressed or is having difficulty coping
- Details about the support or other therapies your child is receiving and encourage contact between these services
For more information about choosing a childcare/early learning service for your child, visit startingblocks.gov.au