Some of our little ones have started daycare for the first time this year. Thankfully they’re loving it, and we’re amazed at how much we can now get done in a day! Whilst we are definitely not experts, here’s a few tips on how we handled the process.
Find the “right” centre
It can be totally overwhelming, embarking on this journey of sending your little one off for the first time, and finding a childcare centre that you feel comfortable with is the first important step. We all know the challenges of waitlists and centre availability, so it’s a great idea to start the research process early on, well before your return to work date. Visit a few different centres, ask your network for recommendations and most importantly, trust your gut! There’s going to be so many feelings you’ve got about sending your little one off to daycare for the first time, but Mumma, you’ve got this, and ultimately you’ll know when you’ve found the right place.
If your little one has never spent much time apart from you, it’s a good idea to ease them into it (and you!) If you’ve got family or close friends you are comfortable leaving your baby or toddler with, it might be helpful to do a few short babysitting stints so they get familiar with Mummy not being around ALL the time. No matter how young your child is, before starting daycare, it’s important to communicate, tell them what’s going on, take them to visit their new centre, and ensure there’s a gentle orientation process that you feel comfortable with and one that gets your child used to the educators and the new environment before their big ‘first day.’
Two words: label everything! It’s near impossible for educators to keep track of every child’s belongings AND care for every child at the same time, so make their life easier (and give yourself the best chance at not losing every single sock you send off), there’s lots of great name label businesses like My Name Label (best to get a mix of stick on and iron on to cover all bases). Depending on which childcare you go with, some provide meals and nappies, others require packed lunches and nappies to be supplied by you. If you need to send lunch, we love the Liewood Kids Lunch Box Set, the lunch box has multiple compartments and comes with a matching drink bottle. It’s a great idea to have a spare sleeping bag and a "secret" spare comforter that stay in your child’s daycare backpack, that way you’re not having to juggle washing and remembering to repack everyday. When it comes to choosing the right backpack, this is why we created The Mini Society Kid’s Backpack! You’ll need a backpack spacious enough to fit everything they need, but compact enough that your toddler is able to carry it themselves. Our kid’s backpack is the perfect size for everything your little one needs for a day at childcare, we love having two drink bottle holders so it’s easy to pack a water bottle and a milk bottle without having to worry about them spilling through the bag. Another hot tip...have a daycare wardrobe! Keep the cute dresses and designer threads for non daycare days, and assign a drawer at home for daycare clothes, ones that you don’t mind getting paint, mud and rough and tumbled, and remember to pack a couple of changes of clothes for each day.
Getting everything ready the night before helps the morning run smoothly, especially if their first day is also your first day back at work! Hopefully you’ve had a few visits to the centre with your little one and you can help them feel excited about this big step (even though you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed and emotional yourself!) It’s a great idea to pre-arrange with your boss to expect you in a little later, and if possible, to arrange a shorter work day for yourself for the first day or 2, so you’re not feeling rushed through daycare drop off and so you can give your little one a slightly shorter day as they transition. Day one actually might go super smoothly, your little one might be so excited by the new environment that they actually don’t seem that bothered when you say goodbye (meanwhile you will get back to your car and cry, totally normal!) Most centres will be more than happy for you to call and check in during the day, and some often call parents on the first day or two anyways, to let you know how your child is going. Day two can often be a shock, your child who was carefree and happily sent you off on day one might now realise goodbye means they’re not going to see you all day (and depending on the age, they might be fearful you may never come back!) As much as you want to stay around and whilst it’s ok to stay for a little while and reassure your little one, make sure they understand you are coming back and try to get them as comfortable with an educator or involved in an activity, it’s important not to hang around too long, in most cases, their tears are short lived (and in reality they’re off playing before you’ve even got back to your car). Again, you’re always welcome to call shortly after you’ve left to reassure yourself that they are ok!
There are so many feelings involved in this milestone, there’s times of that self imposed Mum guilt, for others it’s a sense of loss as your baby moves to toddlerhood. The reality is, you’re doing a great job, you’ve nurtured (and continue to nurture) your little one and they’re now gaining more independence, learning, developing and having broader social interactions. You will always be their home and their safe place, but it can be an important (and for most families, a necessary) step in their life journey. Try to enjoy the positives (perhaps it’s a hot cup of coffee when you get to work, or a different sense of achievement in returning to your career) and it’s true what they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder, the joy you feel when you go to pick your child up at the end of the day and the days off that you spend with your little one, they start to feel even more treasured.