This is a follow up to my first post on preschool centers “And the competition starts now” dated 5 November 2012. I was prompted by a reader’s request for information on screening of daycare centers, and I realized I should write about my experience of putting Buddy in daycare.
When Buddy was almost 6 months old we had to find a daycare for him, or what is known here as “childcare”. We had initially planned for him to be cared for by my mom. Unfortunately she had to care for my premature nephew then, and he required a lot of attention. As expected we were caught in a lurch and my husband wasn’t happy that my mom couldn’t keep her promise. We had to scramble to find a daycare for Buddy then as I was returning to work in a month’s time. We were afraid we couldn’t find a daycare with vacancy near our home.
So what I did was to use the Childcare link website to find all the daycare centers within 5 km of our home. Though there are not as many daycare as there are pre-schools, the number is still sizable. We checked out all the locations to see which are the most convenient for us.
There were three centers that we made appointments for a meeting. (As far as I know, all daycare centers offer pre-school curriculum up to kindergarten.) One of them was a Sparkletots Centre located at Tampines, another was Baby Montessori and a third was one that is located fairly close to our home.
I had mentioned in my earlier post that I had a brief glance at a kindergarten group at the Sparkletots Tampines and wasn’t very impressed by the lack of enthusiasm that was observed at Pat’s School house. But I must admit I was biased then, and it wasn’t a proper observation to begin with. After all we only spent time at the infant care area. At the Tampines center , there was a high teacher to baby ratio, which if I remember correctly, was 1 to 3. The babies also had a lot of toys. In fact there was a newly opened toy box in the supervisor’s office. The facilities were also rather new since it only started operation a year ago.
A teacher explained to us on the general schedule for the babies, which isn’t structured since they are too young for it. I remember she mentioned they arranged for a child specialist who would come weekly to engage in song and music activities with the jnfants. At the end of each day there is an update report for the parents, providing information on how much milk the baby takes, the number of hours of nap, number of diaper change and pooping, and type of activities the baby engaged in that day. We liked what we heard, but the infant class was filled then and we had to be on wait list.
As for the Baby Montessori daycare, it had been established for many years and so comparatively the facilities are rather run down. It is located in a 2-storey house surrounded by a large outdoor play area, which is lacking in Sparkletots. When we arrived it was nap time for the babies (and some looked like toddlers), though not all were sleeping. They were lying on sleepers instead of cots which is the case at Sparkletots. Also it wasn’t air-conditioned, unlike Sparkletots.
The indoor play area is located on the second floor, and there is a room with a few proper cots. I guess the staff found it convenient to put all the babies together. One of the staff is a registered nurse which I thought is rather reassuring. The staff who brought us around kept emphasizing the importance of interacting with the child, and how they put in effort in this area. But teacher to baby ratio is lower than Sparkletots, and the center had a long wait list too.
The third daycare that we went to is also located on the ground floor of a HDB flat, like Sparkletots. This was the least of our preference. There were not many babies there unlike the other two centers. I found the infant care area a little too dim for my liking, unlike the bright and cheery environment at Sparkletots. The reason is because there is no separate sleep area for the babies, unlike the latter where the cots are placed in a separate room where the lights are off, but teachers can look in through the full glass windows. The place doesn’t give me the impression of having a lot of resources for the babies though they get to engaged in craft activities, and there is a record book for each of them. Expectedly there were vacancies.
My husband and I discussed and decided on Sparkletots for Buddy. My husband was impressed with the resources and high teacher to baby ratio. With more teachers around, the babies get more interaction. Besides there are a number of Sparkletots centers around our home, with two within walking distance. What more, my husband feels that it offers the best value for money.
Unfortunately our preferences didn’t have vacancies then. We put our names down on the wait list and also in a number of other centers further away. I made sure I followed up with the supervisor of our most preferred center who assured me that the wait list was a short one and likely Buddy would get a place. When I called again a couple of days later, I was given the good news. Since then Buddy has progressed from the infant care to toddler class.
Looking back, we realized that putting Buddy in Sparkletots infant care was a blessing in disguise, though we didn’t plan for it. He wouldn’t have received as much interaction and development if he had been taken care by my mom. The fact is my mom wouldn’t be able to provide the required attention Buddy needed. Though the schedule isn’t structured at infant care, he got to be involved in craft works, gym, music and reading etc. He learned to be independent, like he was able to drink from the bottle on his own before he turned one, and by the time he went to toddler class he was able to feed himself. The development continues at toddler class, where he starts to learn discipline and self control.
It is only some time after we put Buddy in Sparkletots that we realize how much resources it has. After all, it is funded by PCF (PAP Charity Foundation), an organization with high capability of fund raising. I have mentioned in a couple of earlier posts that my husband and I were amazed by the furniture and toys available to the infants. They have special chairs and tables designed for babies who are able to sit up, and numerous toys that we cannot match at home. We also like the fact that the center teamed up with the National Library Board to arrange for the mobile library called “Molly” for visits to encourage reading in kids as young as toddlers.
So if you are wondering what to ask during the introductory visit to the daycare, here are some suggested questions:
1) what is the teacher to baby ratio?
2) are the babies placed in a separate area from the toddlers and older kids?
3) what kind of activities do you provide for the babies?
4) how do you handle emergencies like the baby gets injured or sick?
5) what are the liability and responsibilities of the daycare should baby gets hurt?
6) are there CCTVs available and switched on during operation hours, and how long is the record kept?
7) what are the parents expected to provide for the baby in daycare, like milk powder, diapers?
8) other than the monthly school fee and yearly insurance, are there any other charges?
I have no qualms about encouraging parents to put their babies in daycare, but the key is to find a good one. I would be wary of those standalone providers or those using brand name as a marketing gimmick. But most importantly you have to be assured that the center will take good care of your child.