According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data, 1.5 million Australian children who usually attend childcare spend an average of 17 hours a week in care. For many parents this conjures mixed emotions and can lead to self doubt, making them wonder “Is my child okay at childcare? Am I doing the right thing? Did I pick the right centre?”
I’m no different. I returned to work when my baby was eight months old, and asked my mum and mother-in-law to help out. But when this arrangement became too difficult to sustain I enrolled my one-year-old in childcare.
The decision to enroll her in formal care was a big one, and one I was hesitant to make. I know choosing a good childcare centre – over, say, simply the one closest, or the first one that would take her – would make a big difference to all our lives. The words of provisional psychologist and early intervention specialist Julie Co echoed in my head: “Research has shown that good quality childcare has positive short and long term outcomes for children in relation to their social, language, cognitive skills and development, as well as their ability to maintain attention.”
“The key is for parents to ensure they choose a high quality childcare that demonstrates clear and open communication,” she says. “Children should be considered as individuals and specific tools/strategies/intervention may need to be considered to maximise the child's engagement at daycare.”
Choosing the right place was a daunting task, and my daughter’s first day of child care was one of the hardest days of my life. But I took comfort in the fact that she had a strong connection with a particular teacher, Miss Gemma.
Child psychologists have presented findings that indicate that a child’s social competence at childcare is linked to having emotionally supportive teacher-child interactions. And as a teacher myself, I know how important it is to make children feel safe in your care. Miss Gemma offered all that. She was warm and welcoming, and had a genuine gift for working with children. She also offered useful feedback; she knew my daughter well and made her feel like she had potential, the way great teachers do.
Research also suggests that children attending childcare between the ages of two and four tend to perform better at school when they form strong relationships with both their peers and teachers. I felt so much more secure and happy in our choice knowing that my daughter had an amazing bond with her teacher.
But that all came to end last month, when my daughter became despondent and sad, and not her usual happy self. Then one night told me, “Miss Gemma go on holiday.”
The next morning, when I dropped her off at daycare, I noticed there was no sign of Miss Gemma. I asked the supervisor when she’d be returning, but was told that she'd left the centre.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’d recently had my second baby and my hormones were all over the place, but I spent the ride home sobbing. I was so affected by the absence of this teacher, and felt terribly guilty for leaving my child in daycare when she was unhappy. I knew she wasn’t getting the same level of support and attention Miss Gemma had once given her.
It all made me reassess my daughter’s attendance at this particular childcare centre. I wondered if my little girl was better off at home now that Miss Gemma wasn’t teaching anymore.
After much consideration and endless discussions, my husband and I decided to take our daughter out of childcare. A new baby brother and the absence of her favourite childcare teacher were taking a toll on our little girl – she just wasn’t herself. And luckily we were in a position to be able to make it happen.
I’m still not sure if we did the right thing, but the experience has taught me that one childcare teacher can play an integral role in a child’s overall wellbeing. With more parents working longer hours, there’s a need for quality formal care – and it’s time we valued the impact a good childcare teacher can make.