Please reassure us about daycare...
June 28, 2008 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Please reassure me about daycare...

We're having our first baby in a few months and budget/schedule requires that the baby will be in day care from morning to mid-afternoon during the school year (we're both teachers and have vowed that at least one of us will stay home during the summers).

Wifey and I were raised by moms who stayed at home until we were 8-10 so daycare is sort of an unknown quantity.

I would appreciate reassurance that daycare is a.) not neglectful, and b.) not detrimental to family relationships and child development.

Better yet, I would appreciate encouragement and evidence/anecdotes that day-care has some uniquely beneficial qualities and that, if done right, it can be good for our child.

And finally, if any parents would like to weigh in on "how to make the most of day care" so that we raise our child well, that would be most helpful.

posted by Alabaster to Education (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

I am a staunch supporter of daycare and so on. Having your child exposed to other people from an early stage (imho) exposes them to a variety of ideas, activities and cultures. They learn the social rules and codes that will benefit them throughout life in their interactions with others, and will both learn to share, and hopefully, stick up for themselves when it comes down to it. They will learn dirty words to horrify you with, and some other kid will teach them to tie their shoes. It's totally fascinating to see a little kid come home with stuff they have picked up elsewhere, it really makes it clear that they are their own little person. Builds a good immune system too, they will get all the kid bugs. One big pro-vote here. Make sure home is a safe place where they can chill and "be themselves" after a day of fitting in with others on the days they are tired though.
posted by Iteki at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2008

Well I'm not sure I am hitting your exact questions, but my wife and I had our first child four weeks ago so I know how you are feeling because we are there too. We both work, she is a teacher like you. My only suggestion so far is to interview them and show up and see the facility. We finally picked a day care at a woman's home who has been doing it for ~10 years. All of the references were stellar, and she seems very nice. My biggest sign that everything will be ok was on the second trip over there we observed all of the kids, including her children, and they were all very well behaved and listened to her when she asked them to do something.
posted by Big_B at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2008

Our daughter is an only child who grew up without any extended family nearby. Daycare provided her with a sense of normalcy and community/family that she would have never had otherwise. She was in private family daycare from 3 months to 3 years on a part time basis, and we have never regretted it once.
posted by Xurando at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2008

I don't think you can generalize day care as good or bad, it's more about your specific provider. My advice would be to explain your concerns to your daycare provider and ask to sit through a day with them an see what they're doing. Daycare is very similar to teaching in that the philosophy and the personality of the care givers is more important than the quality of the facilities. For newborns/pre-toddlers you want to know what level of interaction your child will receive. Babies need lots of physical interaction and attention, you want to make sure your kid isn't spending the day in a play pen or a bouncy chair, and is only directly attended during feeding and changing.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2008

Dr Lise Eliot addresses this issue (and many others!) in the excellent book What's Going On In There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. In part, based on the same study that Pater Alethias' article discusses, she states that "compared with children in exclusive maternal care, children in high-quality child care showed more advanced cognitive and language skills, while those in low-quality care showed lower ability in these areas. Of the various types of nonparental care, day-care centers tended to promote young children's cognitive and language development better than day-care home settings or babysitters." She explains that "day care or babysitter care can be enriching only if it provides an environment at least as good (safe, nurturing, attentive, stimulating) as the child would be experiencing with his mother, plus something extra (social, educational, physical, and creative opportunities)." In short, based on this study as well as others, the conclusion seems to be that day care can be neither neglectful nor detrimental to family relationships and child development, as you worry, provided that the day care in question is "high quality".
posted by bunyip at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2008

Both our daughters were in day care and it turned out fabulously. They're social skills developed very early and their immune systems firmed up very fast, too. The one thing we did, though, was make sure that we all got home, we didn't subject them to a second de facto separation from us by doing chores, etc. We came home and focused specifically on sharing our time with them. This was to the point that we postponed our own dinner making until after the kids went to sleep. (A habit that continues to this day.) One is now on to her second year of college and the other has her sights on medical school. So, no long term effects either. Oh, and we've asked them if they can remember anything of the day care and what they do remember is all very fond and happy. YMMV but our experience was very good.
posted by lpsguy at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2008

I remember the feeling well. It is scary. Here are some thoughts from our experience that go beyond the usual advice of checking credentials, complaints, etc.:

1. When selecting a daycare, don't call and setup an appointment -- drop in. A properly-staffed daycare will be perfectly capable of handling these types of drop-in visitors. If they are not - that tells you all you need to know. This also avoids the, "potential new clients on the way," clean-up and preparation.

2. Try to find a daycare that is setup with ChildrenView or something similar. It's comforting to know you can peek in on your little one via the web and see that all is well. Possibly even more important than the ability to actually do that is the providers willingness to have the system. That tells you something about their confidence in what they are doing.

3. Talk to the employees - not just the manager. The manager knows how to field the questions with all the 'right' answers. The ability of the staffers to interact and field questions will give you good insight.

4. If you can catch a parent or two in the parking lot - don't be shy about asking them if they have a minute; tell them you're considering the daycare and if they would recommend the center. Hearing reassurance from parents who have trusted them with their children can be a big help. Or, of course, you may here, "I'm currently looking elsewhere," and weigh that with your other information.

I don't want to make this too long so I'll stop here. Feel free to PM me or ask in the thread if you have specific questions. We were, like you, unfamiliar with the process and learned a lot.

Good luck - and congratulations on your new baby!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 1:37 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm pro day care too. My daughter has been in a busy commercial day care centre for the last three months, and it has been a huge net plus for her. She now does well at family functions (we have a large extended family), and can deal with meeting and greeting new people much better than she ever did before. She loves other kids and she loves having the opportunity to watch what kids are doing and interact with them. (We are too lazy to facilitate this much playtime.) In terms of motor skills, she picks up skills like using the spoon and throwing the ball much faster, since she is motivated to copy the other kids. She is also dancing now and clapping to music.

My husband and I are both happier working, so day care is great for our family relationships. My husband was at home with her for a year and he was very resentful of the arrangement; the switch to day care improved our relationships tremendously. It's also nice to have two "fresh parents" during the week or on the weekends.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2008

My daughter has been in daycare since she was 6 months old (she's now almost 3). She goes to a family home daycare (5 kids total) and it's been great for her. There are kids older than her and younger than her, so she has a range of playmates. She eats pretty much anything, she says "please" and "thank you", is very verbal and generally well-behaved. My husband & I thank our lucky stars every day that we found this woman. Our daughter happily goes off to daycare and is just as happy to see us when we come to pick her up.

Check to see if your county/city has a list of licensed family home daycares. Also look for childcare referral agencies. I was lucky in that my institution offered a childcare referral service; once we were looking, I had a few names to bounce off the referral person and she gave a stellar review to the daycare provider we ended up using.

Good luck!
posted by mogget at 1:59 PM on June 28, 2008

Lots of good advice here, especially the evidence-based research bunnyip mentions and the suggestions from Gerard Sorme.

I have a 2.10 yo who's been in daycare half-time for the last year. It's the best of both worlds, IMO (for both of us). I planned to be a SAHM for about 4 years and really, you know, parent my kids. But my son had other ideas and is waaay more outgoing and social than I am. He just loves being with other kids, and other adults, and everything from his cognitive development to his verbal development to social skills has been supported by daycare in a way that I never could. There is something really satisfying to watch them deal with their own issues. He sees kids his own age struggle with and solve conflicts, something much more effective than me following him around and suggesting he share or take turns or say 'sorry.' He also has a nurturing side that comes out strongly with kids his own age - hugs, making room for someone to sit nearby, sharing a snack, checking in when someone's hurt. A good daycare lets kids create their own "micro-community" in which they experiment on the way to becoming grown-ups.

That said, you still may find it hard on you to have your child in daycare, especially as an infant. It wasn't until toddler-hood arrived that I felt ready, though part of that was just being a first time parent. For future kids I think I'd be much more relaxed about starting daycare earlier.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2008

Childcare is suboptimal but necessary. Ideally, infants should stay at home but that's just not possible for most families anymore. From my own observation through, if a baby is receiving stimulating, respectful care they will develop happily (and a bit faster).

I've been working in childcare for over 2 years, with children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. It's astonishing how awful some centers are. Since young children can not complain, conditions can get Dickens-esque with no real motivation to improve. Go with a nanny instead. They cost about the same, especially for expensive infant care. Your baby will receive one-on-one attention, be able to go on day-trips, and avoid the stress of a new environment. I know in my state the ratio of infants to teachers is 4 to 1. Babies have very little patience and often have overlapping schedules, which makes it very difficult for one teacher to meet the needs of four infants simultaneously. This causes avoidable stress while a baby waits to be fed, rocked to sleep, changed, played with, etc.

If you choose to with daycare instead of a nanny:

Be mindful of how many infants there are in the program. My current school (mixed age, lifeways program) only takes 2 infants at a time. Some in home places will do this, bu it seems pretty rare.

Know what the teachers qualifications are. Experience does not equal a good teacher. Actual education of child/infant development is shockingly rare among early childhood teachers.

Know what the teachers are paid, and if they have benefits. You want the teachers happy, able to treat whatever illnesses your spawn will undoubtedly give them, and treated like professionals.

Look up state regulations for daycares in your state. Very, very few parents know what their center is required comply with. Many centers exploit this. It should be easily googleable.

After you choose a place/nanny/whatever, visit unannounced. It will give you a better idea of your child's actual day.

I'm not trying to scare you with this, but from what I've seen some daycares will value a parent's impression of the school over the child's actual experience. It is important to make sure you pick a genuine environment over one with a snazzy website.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I worked for a couple of different preschools/daycare centers a long time ago. I left the first one because the conditions were horrible for the children, and I refused to be a part of that. I was very sad to leave the second one for a desk job because it was a wonderful place, and I think the kids AND their parents were happy.

Some things I'd suggest checking for:

1. Stick with centers that offer a webcam service if you can. You may not be able to log in and watch your child as often as you'd like, but just knowing that the camera is *there* keeps teachers in line.

2. Ask about the staffers' training. The first place I worked for hired me before I had even finished filling out my application. I had no experience - I hadn't even babysat before. My fellow teachers were classmates of mine, and they spent their time doing their homework and gossiping while I watched over my class AND their classes, which was rather illegal. There are limits to the number of children allowed per teacher. The second place I worked for paid for and sent me to the necessary classes to obtain the required education credits.

3. Which reminds me - find out if the place is adequately staffed.

4. Every GOOD center will provide daily reports about your child. These reports note feedings, poopings, and every owie. It's as much for the center's protection as it is for you, and I suppose it's entirely possible for a teacher to fudge on their notes, but having to make those reports for every child keeps a teacher on his/her toes.

There are horrible daycare centers, and there are great centers. Just get all the info that you can, and you'll have very little to worry about.

I still miss the last center I worked for. :(

P.S. - don't put your child in any place that has a petting zoo. First place I worked for let a goat run around on the playground, and it would poop in the sand, eat kids' hair, generally terrorize the playground... but that goat was a major selling point. Trust me. Petting zoos in daycares = BAD.
posted by katillathehun at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2008

This question, as you probably realize, is very broad. It's impossible to say if "daycare" as a concept is good or bad in the same way it's not really possible to universally proclaim any particular product or service as good or bad. As with anything you are looking to spend your money on, the key is performing your due diligence to ensure your kids have a provider who you and they (the kids) feel comfortable with.

My wife runs a licensed home daycare facility our of our house, and from my observations, albeit not entirely unbiased, there are plenty of benefits, many of which have been touched on already. For an only child, a (good) daycare facility provides a source for the child to interact with other peers and learn basic concepts like sharing, empathy and socialization. For siblings, it can expose the kids to non-related peers.

Also, many daycares (my wife's being one of them) offer preschool curriculum so your child may get a head start on basic educational concepts like colors, numbers, shapes, months of the year, seasons and so on. In addition her kids are always working on fun art projects and similar activities. The parents who use her services know their kids aren't being neglected if only because of the numerous art pieces they're constantly bringing home.

You asked for anecdotal experiences to ease your mind. What I can offer is the honest observation that with my wife's daycare kids, I've noticed very little crying when the children are dropped off by their parents in the morning, but quite a bit in the afternoon when they get picked up and have to leave. And why not - they've been playing with their friends all day, engaged in fun activities like playing at the park, being read to, playing games, messy art activities, swimming, etc.
posted by The Gooch at 2:31 PM on June 28, 2008

I wanted to chime in as someone who *loved* daycare as a toddler and little kid. Only good memories. From what my parents say, it got me good and socialized. Also, if you've traveled at all in third world countries, you know that our "standard" with a baby at home alone with mom, is not really the norm. Every village I went to in Asia, for instance, had one house where a few older ladies would watch the babies and toddlers while the rest of the family is in the field.
posted by lunasol at 2:49 PM on June 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was in a great daycare, and it was great to be with kids my own age and great to go home. I still keep in touch with one of the women who worked with me there.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:52 PM on June 28, 2008

When I was a kid we moved around about every three monthes. I went to a LOT of daycares. There were good ones and bad ones, but mostly they were good. My favorite was a little school in Hawaii that had chickens and goats and cats and dogs with a huge outside play area.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2008

I can definitely throw in as a kid who loved daycare. The only kid of a single mom, I went from three months through junior high after school, with day camp and sleepaway camp all summer. It was awesome. I got to do cool shit. I wasn't bored. I wasn't dependent on my mother's socializing for company. I used to get sad on holidays when I couldn't go.

People who didn't go often worry about spending enough time with their kids or their kids feeling neglected. This comes from a caring place, but it is pretty BS. Kids are malleable. I wasn't like "Oh Katie's mom is home all the time and I have to go to daycare. My mom is mean." Instead it was, "During the day grownups go to work and kids go to daycare/camp/school/whatever. Then we all go home and do chores and eat dinner and do homework, cause that is how life goes."

Beyond that, it made me pretty independent. New meant fun, not stressful. I was outgoing. I had nice manners. I didn't flip out every time my mom left the room. So yeah, daycare is awesome.
posted by dame at 4:19 PM on June 28, 2008

"During the day grownups go to work and kids go to daycare/camp/school/whatever. Then we all go home and do chores and eat dinner and do homework, cause that is how life goes."

Yeah, that's how I recall it, as well. It was just normalized. (It also seemed normal to me to spend every weekend and a few nights a week with my grandparents... until I hit a certain age, I assumed all children spent a good chunk of their life away from their parents, and when I learned otherwise I frankly felt sorry for the poor saps who were stuck with their parents constantly.)
posted by scody at 5:06 PM on June 28, 2008

From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development is a fascinating book summarizing the research on child development (as of 2000 when it was published) and is available in its entirety online for free (click here.)

Key quotes to address your concerns, although you may also want to click through and read their description of the research in more detail:

"In sum, despite persistent concern about the effects of child care on the mother-infant relationship, the weight of the evidence is reassuring, with the possible exception of emerging findings regarding very early, extensive exposure to care of dubious quality... When child care effects are examined net of parental effects on child outcomes, parent's behaviors and beliefs show substantially larger associations with their children's development than do any features of the child care arrangement."

"In sum, the positive relation between child care quality and virtually every facet of children's development that has been studied is one of the most consistent findings in developmental science. While child care of poor quality is associated with poorer developmental outcomes, high-quality care is associated with outcomes that all parents want to see in their children, ranging from cooperation with adults to the ability to initiate and sustain positive exchanges with peers, to early competence in math and reading. This conclusion derives from experimental research on high-quality interventions for children at risk, as well as from the weaker correlational designs that assess a broader range of quality and a broader distribution of children. The stability of child care providers appears to be particularly important for young children's social development, an association that is attributable to the attachments that are established between young children and more stable providers. For cognitive and language outcomes, the verbal environment that child care providers create appears to be a very important feature of care."

It also goes on, starting around page 314, to talk about "what is quality child care?", which really comes down to good, stable relationships between the kids and skilled teachers/providers.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:37 PM on June 28, 2008

Don't be the last parent to pick your kid up from daycare. It sounds simple, but I was a day care kid my whole life and that was the only thing that ever stuck with me. The rest of the time I had lots of fun!
posted by pokeedog at 8:12 PM on June 28, 2008

Get the best child care you can find, not necessarily the most expensive. When my child was under 3, the childcare was really warm, loving and homelike, which we liked. They just loved babies and toddlers. Then I changed jobs, and onsite childcare is so very fantastic.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 PM on June 28, 2008

Child of stay at home mom here, understand the concern. My only child daughter has gone to the same daycare since she was almost two -- she's now almost eight. I've never regretted the decision, and even after six years there are still nights like The Gooch describes, where I show up and she's disappointed that it's time to go home (and lugging armloads of artwork out to the car).

Some benefits I've seen: The transition to school went very smoothly, both socially and academically. Her first grade teacher told me that you can often tell who the daycare kids are for that reason -- they're already acclimated, so to speak. That's also true immunity-wise, in my experience. Since she'd already been through the petri dish, my daughter has missed maybe one day of school each year.

Thing you can do to make the most of daycare: While drop-offs can be touch and go depending on your child's age, don't always be in a rush to leave at pickup time. Hang out sometimes. You'll get to know the staff, you'll get to know your child's friends, you'll have a better understanding of things. It'll be useful in the short term to assuage your concerns, and in the long term when your child tells you that Tyler's having a birthday party, and you know all about him already.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:51 PM on June 28, 2008

Both my girls have been in daycare, and my current daycare, a small, inhome daycare, is the best I've had, though I've had no truly bad daycare experiences (and my eldest is 11). I think the daycare center vs home daycare debate is an interesting one, with pros and cons on both sides. I've personally been really happy with our choice to do small, family settings for the baby and toddler years, and then switch to a more structured setting for the older years (for my eldest, that was the YMCA). Our youngest is two, and has been in this daycare since about 6 months old. I personally prefer a pretty casual setting for this age-the first daycare we tried was very structured, very neat and clean (always scary for me with small children around) and not particularly focused on child's needs. Our current daycare is on a small family farm. The kids (there are usually about 3 toddlers there at one time) spend huge amounts of time playing outside, watch almost no television, eat huge meals and take long naps (toddler peer pressure, I guess-they all do better than they do at home). She doesn't believe in a curriculum at this age, but does do lots of exploratory stuff and large motor stuff-climbing and playing in sand and looking at bugs and getting eggs. It's great, and my daughter rarely wants to leave when I come and get her. She was a very cling infant, who had a really hard time being away from us (completely unlike my eldest, who was perfectly content being cared for by other people), and this daycare provider committed to me that she wouldn't take another baby til mine had adjusted-and she really spent whole days basically carrying her around and looking at things and rocking.

I also suggest you go with your gut feeling about a place. Do the kids seem happy? If there's structure, is it an appropriate level for the age of the children? Is the TV on all day long? Are babies cuddled and rocked a lot? Check with your local childcare certification folks and see if there's anything they can tell you about the place.

As an aside, in my job one of the things we do is investigate abuse allegations in daycare settings, and I don't think I see any difference in numbers of complaints between centers vs family settings. The underlying issue in most family daycare allegations we investigate is just a daycare that is way too overloaded with kids-often one that is much cheaper than others, and has lots of kids coming and going and a provider who just can't keep up. The issues in centers seem to revolve more around staff turnover, and staff members who are new or not well trained and have problems. (After all, most family daycare providers are also parents, so have experience with children-doesn't mean they're good with kids, but it's something. Many daycare center employees are young folks without kids-they might have lots of energy and enthusiasm but less experience with the actual reality of being with small children all day long. On the other hand, they have other staff presumably keeping an eye on them and the benefit of some adult company to help ease frustration as the day goes on).
posted by purenitrous at 7:02 PM on June 29, 2008

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