As we approach the fall and the return to school for some, many families are considering group care for their younger children.
The benefits of group care are endless! Exposure to same age children, preparation for a more traditional “school” experience, and the opportunity for them to have more unique and diverse experiences than they can have at home.
The list goes on! Lindsey Loucks, mother of two and former childcare administrator and teacher, is sharing some of her best tips for preparing your child for group care.
After working in childcare as a teacher and as an administrator, it became aware that most families were not equipped with information on how to prepare their babies, toddlers, or preschoolers for childcare. Having just a few tips for each age group can make all the difference and absolutely set a family up for success.
Infancy (typically 6 weeks to 15 months)
A single bottle feed a day will not lead to nipple confusion or set back a breastfeeding/chest-feeding journey if that is the path you have chosen. It will help avoid bottle refusal at daycare that will cause a lot of stress and anxiety for baby and parents!
Correctly bottle feeding your baby in both position and flow will foster bottle and breastfeeding/chest-feeding. The Bumblebaby consultants can even help you with a bottle introduction to help you get started on the right track!
Have people outside of the primary caregiver offer bottles and soothe the baby on occasion. Babies get used to how they’re held when being fed, nursed or consoled! Offering others will give the baby an opportunity to be exposed to other sounds, sensations, and even smells when being fed or soothed.
*Looking for more support?
- Bumblebaby offers bottle consultations both virtual and in-home for the Chicagoland area. Click here to book a bottle consultation with a trained NICU nurse.
- Lauren hosted a bottle refusal webinar. You can watch a recording here.
- Click here for our Correctly bottle feeding your baby post.
- See our Instagram reel on correctly bottle feeding you baby.
- Have you seen our Essentials for back to work blog post on how to prepare and prep yourself and baby, bottles and more?
Prepare for some weird naps at first! Many babies are napping in dark and quiet spaces at home so a nap in a group environment will be an adjustment. Typically, they get the hang of it in a few days but be sure to let your providers know how your baby naps at home so they can try to be as consistent as possible within their space.
There is no need to change the nap environment at home, they can adjust to sleeping in both sleep spaces!
*note from Kate: Expect a two week adjustment period for naps at daycare. Ask if you can bring a portable sound machine like the ROHM to add extra white noise. If you are doing a nanny share or daycare will allow it, a Slumberpod (use code BUMBLEBABY for discount) is a life saver and one of Kate’s favorite sleep products. Read more about it in Kate’s blog post and IGTV. Check out our tips on room sharing here.
More than occasional equipment use (bouncers, swings, etc) are typically not encouraged in childcare. In a perfect world, your child is engaging with other peers and the adults providing care. It is usually best practice for this to occur with infants in their bellies or backs in order to develop crucial core strength while also engaging socially.
If your child spends a lot of time in equipment at home it may be a tougher adjustment when they primarily have floor time at school.
Toddlerhood (15 months-3 years)
If starting childcare after infancy, the scariest component for parents is often separation anxiety. It can be really scary to leave your child with someone new and if they are upset, it’s another tough layer to work through.
It is extremely important to have a drop off routine that you are able to be consistent with each day. For some, this is a quick kiss, goodbye, and hand off to a teacher.
For others, you may want to spend some more time and you may read one or two books and then say goodbye. Ideally, drop offs don’t take more than 4-5 minutes at the longest.
Either way, do not deviate from your routine. If your toddler learns that pulling on your pant legs and crying gets you to stay longer, they will try that again and likely escalate each day creating a really difficult relationship with school and in particular, saying goodbye.
With a regular routine, they will realize over time that the structure doesn’t change and meltdowns should decrease.
Another key point to drop off success would be to assess how you behave around and talk about school. Our kids sense our hesitation and anxiety so it’s really important that you’re sending the right messaging that your child is safe at school.
Try to work in language like “wow, I bet there are so many fun toys and friends at school. You’re going to have such a fun day!”
Many schools have photos sharing or apps that can be reviewed and it can be helpful to look at a blog or picture book with your child highlighting all of the fun that they will have at school.
If these things aren’t available, try asking a teacher or director for some pictures of the group at play and or classroom environment. For very fearful children, a visual schedule of their morning routine (including drop off) can be helpful.
Older children are getting something quite different in group care. At this age, they are preparing for kindergarten and a more structured and independent learning environment.
That said, Preschool teachers are not expecting your child to come to school knowing their letter sounds or how to read.
Typically, students are expected to have basic self help skills. They should be able to or be working on putting clothes and shoes on and off on their own.
They should be able to help clean up after mealtime and participate in some personal hygiene tasks. Children usually need to be potty trained with the understanding that accidents happen. Click here for our potty training blog post.
Eliminating Flight Risks
Preschoolers should be able to walk safely with the group on a walk. It’s helpful to have them practice walking in the grocery store while holding your hand opposed to riding in the cart and to walk around the block next to you instead of in the stroller.
If your child doesn’t nap, but the program has a rest time, they should be able to sit nicely on their cot with quiet activities while allowing friends in class to nap. It is not always an option for a child to skip rest time based on classroom ratios and licensing requirements for the age group and space.
Not all kids enter group care knowing how to share and that’s okay. However, it can be helpful to give them a small preview to sharing but some role playing at home. Consider modeling toy sharing with your partner or someone in your family. “Oh, did you need the blue marker? Here, I’ll share with you” make sure you’re using the word “share” as much as you can when modeling. It goes a long way!
**For more of our favorite school essentials, check out our Amazon Store.
Other helpful blog posts:
- Back to school essentials
- Potty training tips and how to know your toddler is ready
- 5 things most parents don’t know about car seat safety
- Items to leave at grandparents’, nanny share or second caregiver’s house
- How to travel with kids
- 10 common illnesses babies + kids get
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