In recent years, we have seen a growing need for good early years learning through childcare services, particularly among the growing middle class both in Kampala and other budding urban centres across the country.
The reasons for this are noticeably linked to the employment attachments that many working parents have. Specifically the changed work culture favouring more working women. Although a large number of people still hold reservations about sending their babies to a designated unit such as a daycare or child minder, the growing awareness and education on child development is slowly sinking in amongst the elite communities.
For many self-employed parents, staying home to look after their little ones seems understandably the most unquestionable decision although many studies indicate a potential deprive of many skills to the child especially if home childcare is not complemented with targeted development activities.
Taking children to a day-care or nursery from an early age, as early as six months, does more good than harm to the ultimate development of the child.
Apart from the palpable reason of keeping your little ones away from the potential unwatched cruelty of the uncaring housemaids, it is now ever more important to take your children to a formalised centre given the current societal changes.
It is the balance that every parent strives for – work, life and family. On one hand, two incomes are essential in the modern age and that means for pre-school children being cared for by someone other than their parents. But on the other, it means finding reliable childcare that is professional and nurturing, and one in which your child thrives. Good childcare is not only limited to a formal unit such as a day nursery or day-care, but can also include a well-trained nanny, loving relative such as a kaka (grandma) or childminder.
A recent study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analysed children and their stress levels. And it seems that according to this latest piece, some children find the long day at nursery very stressful.
For children who were in childcare for longer than eight hours, cortisol levels peaked in the afternoon, meaning they were the most stressed. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone that is linked to the control of mood, motivation and fear.
But before you use this to compound the feelings of guilt of dropping your little one at the nursery gate or childminder, the research team says that this doesn’t mean it is negative stress. As always, there are two sides to the story…
The argument of the effects of childcare on a child’s emotional and social development have raged for years. With many women choosing to return to work after birth, from the 1990s onwards mothers were at the thin end of the wedge when it came to childcare issues. The issue has been whether leaving your child with a house-help was the safest decision given the numerous tragedies associated with either domestic negligence or simply aggravated child cruelty. These increasingly elevating the need for professional childcare over home care. As a parent, your child’s immediate unusual responses towards you at the point of re-uniting during pickup (from nursery) or at your arrival at home should be your benchmark at raising any ‘red-flags’.
Longer-term studies have found that the effects of childcare are positive for the majority of children. Finally, the argument that children became more aggressive as a result of being in nursery was put to bed once and for all.
And with parenting being seen as something both parents do, rather than ‘just mum’, the issue of childcare became less of whether it was a good idea or not to how it can be utilised to support the parenting process. What the latest batch of studies on the effects of child care on a child’s development all agree on is that it is the quality of childcare that matters.
Good childcare – how to measure it and the impact on your child
And so, as parents, we look to other people to give the care our children need to protect and nurture them when we are at work. Measuring what is and what is not good childcare is difficult, especially as it is such an emotionally charged issue.
It is hard for parents to detach from the emotional side of childcare, making the ‘right’ decision to keep their children safe whilst still maintaining and advancing their careers. It is for this reason that the government, organisations and child care providers themselves have to look at ways of measuring the quality of childcare and further make it easier for any stakeholders to measure. This is a fundamental area every parent using an external (formal) childcare service ought to consider- how does the unit measure its quality of provision?
Drop off/Pick up
There is no child who doesn’t, at some point, cry when being left. It could be when they are a few months old and being taken to nursery or when you drop them at the school door, every child at some point will be reluctant to leave their parent. For parents, the daily ‘peeling your child from your arms’ is gut-wrenching and tear-jerking – it is certainly not a great start to your day!
But experts say, rather than focus on the ‘drop off’, focus on the pick-up instead. How is your child when you collect them? Do they respond positively when you ask them about their day, the activities they have done and the people they are with?
What about their other behaviour? Are they sleeping well and eating normally? Is their behaviour consistent? Red flags are raised when there is a sudden change in behaviour. Common examples can be being clingy, when a child that has been having dry nights suddenly starts wetting the bed, or calling out seeking reassurance while at home, as these can also be signs of child stress to which both parents and nursery staff need to intervene.
As seen from the above example, childcare is individual – what suits one child, doesn’t suit another. So for how long should you persevere? If, after a few weeks, a child is showing signs of stress and unhappiness, cutting back on childcare hours could be an option. As children don’t verbalise their feelings, they show stress in other ways – a tense body, calling out, bedwetting, becoming clingier, for example, are all signs of an unhappy toddler.
It seems that the importance of an individual approach in childcare is essential and yet, for a long time, we assumed that the same boot had to fit all children. It is for this reason that more proactive parents will avoid nurseries with large populations and opt for smaller ones where personalised learning and care is more prevalent.
There have been numerous studies – and more to come! – that the quality of childcare is the singular most important aspect of childcare that is successful, whether it is from an individual at home, relative next door, childminder in their own home or at a day nursery provision.
The good child care providers that not only fit the government requirements but also go far and beyond to develop their quality of provision will be recommended by local authority departments such as Kira Municipal or KCCA’s relevant departments. However, the government’s minimum standards do not necessarily include or measure the quality of provision but rather focus on the very important component of safety of children, not to mention revenue compliance. There are existing independent organisations that offer quality valuation that nursery owners and parents can use to assess the quality of nursery/child care provision.
Essentially, as a parent, you are looking for a professional service, something that comes with qualifications and experience. When your child reaches school age, you will expect them to be taught by qualified teachers so why expect less for pre-school childcare?
For a child to feel secure with a carer, they need to form a strong bond. Look for someone who is warm and attentive, as well as affectionate and readily available to meet a child’s needs. There are other signs to look for too, such as;
-a safe, hygienic environment, plenty of good quality toys, equipment and resources, plenty of opportunities for play and learning, inside and out structured days and an organised, well-managed setting, nutritious food and enjoyable, sociable mealtimes, positive interactions – plenty of praise, encouragement and laughter, parents fully involved and consulted in their children’s care Early years learning is essential for in so many ways. Whilst we once talked of ‘mum working to support our lifestyle’, now we look at how professional child care at nurseries can be used to support and nurture our children’s development.
What to look for
Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child’s individual needs
Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful
Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space
Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children’s home life
A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups
Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children’s interests and enthusiasms in mind
Planned exercise and quiet times to relax are important
What to ask:
What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for?
What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child’s and other children’s routines?
Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)?
What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children’s behaviour?
Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies, etc. or will I need to provide them?
Maserejje is the director of Faculty Harris Academy, London UK & a senior consultant at Elimisha Education (U)