Starting child care: planning ahead

Preparing children for their first day in child care will help them settle more easily. It’s a good idea to start several weeks before the big day.

Getting your child used to the child care daily routine is a good first step. To do this, you can ask the child care setting for a copy of its daily schedule and make this part of your child’s routine at home. If you try to follow the setting’s lunch, play and nap times, your child might take less time to adjust when care starts.

Young babies will usually follow their personal routines in child care settings.

If your child knows who will be looking after her, it might make things easier. In the weeks before starting, you can find out who your child’s main carer or educator will be. If you can get a photo of this person and talk about the person by name, this person will be more familiar to your child.

You and your child can also get to know the new child care setting and carers by making short visits together to the setting. Your child will get used to the new smells, toys, sounds, faces and voices. You can gently encourage your child to play with the toys and do some activities while you’re there.

Reading or telling stories can be a safe way for your child to explore strong emotions and understand new events. You could try picture books about starting child care or making new friends. Your local library might have some suggestions. Or you could make up stories to share with your child about the experience. It’s good to include all the feelings and experiences your child might go through – for example, happiness, fun, friendship, sadness, anxiety, apprehension and tiredness.

And talking positively with your child about the new environment, friends, carers and activities will help both you and your child feel positive too.

Preparing for child care: the night before

Organising practical things the night before can save you from a last-minute rush in the morning. This can help take the stress out of the first few days and weeks at child care.

Here are some tips for the night before starting child care:

  • Try to ensure your child eats a healthy dinner.
  • Get your child into bed  in enough  time to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep.   If your child doesn’t sleep well, this might affect his experience the next day, so let the carers know.
  • Make sure all items that your child is taking to child care are labelled with your child’s name – for example, bottles, comfort items and clothing.
  • Pack all the things your child needs, including bottles, formula, nappies, hat, spare clothes, food (unless provided by the child care service), medicines and medical record. Packing special comfort items if the setting allows them – like cuddly toys, blankets or books, or a family picture – is also a good idea.
If you need to pack food for your child to take to child care, there are a few things to remember. You should transport meat or dairy products from home in an insulated lunch box with a frozen drink bottle to keep the temperature below 5ºC. At the service, the food should go straight into a fridge. You can transport expressed breastmilk in an esky with an ice brick to keep it chilled.

The first few weeks at child care

If you can, it’s good to ease your child into the new care program.

You can do this by staying with your child for five minutes for the first few days. You could try reading a book together or watching your child do activities. As you and your child become more comfortable at child care you might take your child in and leave more quickly.

When it’s time to go, let your child know you’re going and when you’ll be back. Give your child a hug and a kiss, say goodbye to the carer and leave.

Your child is more likely to feel safe and secure in the new child care setting if she sees that you have a good relationship with the carers and educators, especially her main carer. If your child can see you trust the carer, she’s more likely to trust the carer too.

If your child is still breastfeeding, and if it’s possible for you, you might want to think about visiting the centre during the day to give your child a feed. Many centres encourage breastfeeding mothers to visit, and it might help your child settle into care.

If your child is generally happy to go to his child care setting, shows you things he has made there and talks excitedly about his day (if he’s talking), chances are he has settled in well and is enjoying his new environment. Your next challenge might be getting him to come home!

Settling a child with disability

Some children with developmental delay or disability  find it harder to express their feelings about starting child care.

If you have a child with disability, these ideas might help your child settle more easily:

  • Tell the child care setting about your child’s disability or special needs when you fill out the waiting list form.
  • If you get a diagnosis later, let the setting know when they offer your child a place. Make time to talk with staff so they know what your child’s needs are. This gives them time to prepare for your child – for example, by getting specialist equipment or training staff.
  • Spend time with your child’s new carer and your child in the setting, so you can show the carer how to look after your child’s special needs. You might need to support the carer to learn new skills – for example,   by getting specialist equipment or training staff.
  • Use a detailed communication book to share information between your home and the care setting.
  • Talk with your child’s carer about how you expect your child to behave.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) requires that early childhood services are inclusive – that each child who attends can take part in a service’s regular activities and routines, and that each child feels confident and secure.

You might need to look at a few different child care settings to find one that meets your child’s needs.