What is the best age to start childcare?

Blog Image for article What is the best age to start childcare?

Parents thinking about childcare will be well aware of all the decisions that need to be made along the way. 

Care for Kids provides information on all the care options available and the pros and cons of each type of care, it can even help you source a childcare provider, however, you will also need to think about the best time to place your child in care and what sort of care will best suit your child as they grow older.

Some people say that in-home care is best for babies, and childcare centres are best for toddlers. Other people say that family day care is the ideal compromise between home-based care and centres and is suitable for children of all ages. 

Like every decision you make about childcare, your decision concerning timing should depend on your unique circumstances and the needs of your child.


Exploring your options

To help you make the right decision choosing childcare for your family keep the following points in mind.

Babies - 0 to 18 months

Babies thrive in situations where they have a lot of one-on-one attention from a single caregiver and home-based care is great at this stage. However, childcare centres can work well if there are a small number of babies per carer allowing the carer to respond quickly to the baby's needs.

Continuity of care is the most important aspect at this stage. Babies need time to develop an attachment to and trust in their carer. Babies also need a clean and safe environment as they start to explore the world around them.

Toddler - 18 months to 3 years

Babies and young toddlers have similar needs when it comes to childcare. Toddlers respond well to low carer-to-child ratios and require carers with lots of patience and energy. This is when children begin to test their limits and they need carers who can help them understand the parameters of the world they live in.

Toddlers are extremely active and need a safe environment that allows them to explore while limiting the potential for bumps and bruises. Home-based care, such as nannies and au pairs is excellent for children at this age. Childcare centres and family day care with low carer-to-child ratios and good staff retention can work well too.

Another benefit of centre and family day care for children at this age is that they offer toddlers a chance to socialise with other youngsters and offer them the opportunity to participate in activities they might not be able to do at home.

Preschoolers - 3 to 5 years

The advantage of putting preschoolers in center-based care is that it allows them to practice their language and learn social skills. Three to five-year-old children are keen to build peer relationships and play with their friends. A quality childcare centre can be very beneficial in helping children at this age learn many early skills and provide children with the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities they might not be able to do at home.

Home-based care is also great for preschoolers, provided they have access to age-appropriate resources and games and have frequent contact with other children their age. An in-home carer can supplement care with community activities at a local library or park, play groups, or other group activities like swimming lessons.

What age is appropriate to begin?

Choosing the best time to participate in group activities or put your child in care will depend on their personality as well as your family's work schedule. There is no perfect age and each child will adjust to the care environment differently.

You know your child's personality better than anyone else – consider the following questions as you go about choosing when to put your child in care:

  • Is your child confident with new people and quick to make new friends?
  • Does he or she adjust well to new and/or unfamiliar environments?
  • Is your child easily overwhelmed by noise and activity?
  • Is your child a physically active little person who wants to take part in everything or more of an observer?

When thinking about care for children under five think about group size and the level of stimulation. Ideally, the younger the child the smaller the group should be, so that noise and activity levels can be moderated.

Think about the consistency of the group – if your child's care environment is comprised of carers and children who are the same week after week it will enable your child to develop lasting friendships and relationships and a comfortable foundation for personal development. Children in less stable care environments spend more time meeting new people than they do building lasting relationships.

For the sake of socialisation

Even if you are a full-time stay-at-home parent, it can be helpful for children to gain experience in a group care environment before they start school so they are comfortable being looked after by adults other than their parents.

Remember that there is no such thing as the perfect age to put your child in care as it varies for everyone. When choosing childcare try and relax into your decision and your positive approach will have a great effect on your child.

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