Seven years ago, as first time parents, we had no family support. We struggled, oh we did. We tried various ways of making it work: from hiring maids whom we thought we could entrust the baby to after I resume work, to sending the baby all the way to my late Grandma’s house at the far western side of Singapore every morning at 6.30am…But reality has it that none worked. Out of desperation, we sent our 4 month-old Dana to an infant-care centre 15mins’ drive away from our home.
As first time parents, it was natural that we were very apprehensive. Looking back, did we have any regrets? No. In fact, our daughter Dana blossomed in infant-care under the loving care of the teachers (but we must also admit we chalked up hefty medical bills from the monthly pediatric doctor’s visits after she started infant-care).
Seven years later, today, it was Alexander’s turn. I had assumed that having ‘been there, done that’, I would be able to manage Buddy (and myself) better but how very wrong was I. It was so much worse this time round! The minute I carried him into the infant-care room, he tensed up and it then degenerated into a full meltdown (of crying and screaming) when I waved goodbye. My heart wrenched. It was such a lousy feeling to make your child feel like you have abandoned him. I should have known better. Buddy is by nature, a more reserved and insecure baby; he takes very long to warm up to strangers and have never been away from our presence for extended periods of time. My Mom has been coming over to look after him in the mornings while I worked so we had delayed his enrolment into infant-care till we absolutely felt the need to. This meant that he has little opportunities for social interaction outside of home (and church).
The arrangement was working quite well until last week, we made a decision that it’s high time for Buddy to go to infant-care. I shortlisted a few infant-care centres with vacancies and we finally settled on one with seemingly good reviews. Here are a couple of reasons why we have decided to send Buddy into infant-care, two months before he turned 18 months old:
Home sweet home? Well, not quite. For an active boy like Buddy (whom we spotted climbing out of his cot and playpen and walking out of the bedroom on his own), the home can be the most dangerous place. Occasionally, we read of one too many tragic accidents occurring from home involving young children. From falling from windows, to poking into electrical ports; climbing chairs and benches to entering kitchens and bathrooms unsupervised. As much as we child-proof the home, it is not 100% accident proof. Safe from putting barriers in every nook and corner and lowering every chair and furniture console to a Liliputian’s height , honestly, there is only so much we can do. We also do not want him to grow up in a ‘no-touch’, ‘no-go’, ‘no-freedom-to-toddle-around’ home, where everything is out-of-bounds and ‘NO’ is the only word he hears day in and out.
At Dana’s previous infant-care centre, we were won over by the safe, cheery and conducive environment where she could roam and explore, freely and safely. From pretend-play utensils to toys and other play equipment, every item was hand-picked and most importantly, safe for their age. Even the nutrition of the meals and preparation of food were not neglected.
At the infant-care centre, Buddy will have dedicated time for play and learning, under the watchful eyes of trained teachers. This will stimulate his growth. It is well-researched finding that the neuron synapses within a child grows and connects at an exponential rate from years 0 till about 3. Anything you’d want the child to be exposed to (such as experiences, values etc.), it is best maximized within the early childhood years. It tapers off close to adulthood (sad).
This infant-care centre that we have enrolled Buddy has weekly music, gym and Chinese lessons incorporated into the curriculum, which is a bonus since we have not sent him for any baby classes yet (poor 2nd child!). Picking up nuances in language, mastery of psycho-motor skills and responsiveness to music and sound are important in any child’s development. This was quite evident in Dana, who was athletic, musical and effectively bi-lingual from a very young age, thanks to the exposure she received in infant-care and childcare.
One of the most observable and important developmental skills we hope Buddy can acquire in infant-care would be social skills – the ability to interact with others in his surroundings and adapt to various social settings. It is our desire to see him grow into a more sociable, confident and happy child.
At the infant-care centre, Buddy will have opportunities to socialize with new friends and teachers. If Dana is any gauge, then we sure hope Buddy would be able to verbalise and talk in no time (he still hasn’t called Daddy, Mommy or any of us yet). We also hope he would learn to be more resilient and patient, knowing full well that he has to wait his turn, and wait for teachers to attend to him rather than have his needs and demands met that very instant.
My Mum-in-law had told David and I outright when we first had Dana (and subsequently Buddy), that she won’t help to care for our kids because she ‘wants us to experience what it is like to be a parent’. While that threw us off a little then, in retrospect, we have her to thank.
Apart from experiencing the rite of passage as a parent, the energy level of a Grandparent (as much as they love their Grandchildren) cannot be a match for a growing lively child. In fact, the child’s energy level is just going to grow so exponentially while the Grandparents’ would be going the other direction. In the case of Buddy, he was ‘caged up’ almost everyday in the play yard just to keep him out of harm’s way and for the poor Grandmother to catch her breather.
This would invariably lead to the Grandparent, in our case, my Mum, using the TV to keep Buddy entertained. Research has proven that extended exposure to the screen have been linked to ADHD and attention deficits disorders. Moreover, addiction to a screen (any screen, be it TV, Computer or iPad) at a young age is not healthy for a child as it will lead to other behaviorial and learning problems in the future. So between child-minding and childcare, there’s a huge gap to bridge.
Having said that, packing our young children off to infant-care/childcare at such a tender age comes with its own set of challenges, some unexpected ones. I thought I was ready to send my 2nd child to infant-care but I have become one of those parents who demonstrated severe ‘parental separation anxiety’! Gosh, what exactly happened to me? And I thought I was strong!
Apart from distance, vacancies and fees (which are the 3 most important considerations), David and I also thought long and hard on these other factors:
The Child’s Health:
This was the main reason why we delayed sending Buddy to infant-care: the propensity to fall ill. Buddy has rarely seen any PD, aside from his mandatory immunization visits while his sister Dana, by this age, would visited the pediatrician at least once a month, usually from runny nose or related ailments caught from a bug passed on by her friends in infant-care. To boost her immunity, I fed Dana with Vitamin C, Sambucol, Omega-3 Oil and Echinacea (which I ordered from iHerb) each day. These days, I also apply Young Living Thieves oil on her soles before sending her to school.
When she was finally old enough, we reminded her to watch her hygiene habits. Gentle reminders like washing hands before mealtime and after going to the toilet, not picking up food from the floor to eat etc. go a long way because the teachers and parents can’t watch over her 24/7. The center itself also plays a very important part in keeping germs at bay. We asked the Principal and Centre Manager on the frequency of cleaning and sanitization. Whether there are air purifiers, hand sanitizers in the classrooms etc.
Despite how wonderful her infant-care teachers were (they really were very caring), after about 2 years, we needed to take her out. Reason? Air-conditioning. Yes, the entire infant-care/childcare centre was air conditioned. It was one of those that takes up an entire floor level inside a commercial building. As a result, she bathes, eats, sleeps, plays and sweats inside an air conditioned environment. It was just illness waiting to happen and it did…many many times.
When we decided to switch childcare centre, we looked for one that has an outdoor play area. Children’s nasal passages are more minuscule than ours and not as robust. Therefore, low temperatures for an adult could be manifold colder for a baby, whose skin is much thinner. This was a theory supported by our pediatrician.
So Buddy’s infant-care centre, like his sister’s 2nd childcare, would be one that has a garden and outdoor play area. We have also decided not to let the teachers bathe him to reduce the chances of catching a chill.
The other factor we considered would be the mess and the noise. Don’t get us wrong, mess, not filth and good constructive play noise is GOOD! We have visited established childcare centers (not new) that have professionally printed posters around without any of their children’s work! Yes, children’s works are messy, they may look unkempt but then they are toddlers and kids, what would we expect? A good infant-care/childcare centre should show off their kids’ work proudly without being too hung up with tidiness to the extend of being ‘clinical’ and ‘sterile’.
Likewise with noise. We have stepped into and left a potential childcare centre early because yes, it was way too quiet. Children were not sleeping but were quietly sitting. The place was spartan and clean but there was nary a sound. Something’s not quite right if a childcare centre is so silent. Children should be lively and engaged in learning and play, full of laughter and life.
Therefore, one advice we have picked up is to pay the centre a visit during their normal operating hours (not on Saturdays or Open Houses) so that you can observe the authentic children-teacher and children-children interactions.
Finally, we also asked questions about the curriculum as this provides the framework for all the experiences that Buddy will be put through.
- Is there one?: You’ll be surprised. Some just scantily scribble them on a white board that is no longer so white, or photocopied upon request while others have it nicely printed in a parent’s handbook and presented to you in a folder.
- Is it detailed? : Look at it carefully. Ask questions. Are there lesson objectives? How often is the curriculum reviewed? Is it planned by large blocks of time or detailed in smaller chunks – the latter might suggest a more well-planned curriculum.
- Is it diverse?: What are the activities planned for the children? Is it just one free play to another? Does it include Mother Tongue Language, Music, Art, Gym, Dance etc.
- Is it monitored?: We prefer a childcare where there’s a committee of sorts who oversees the review and standardization of the curriculum rather than one that is devised and managed by one person, namely the owner and de-facto centre director for obvious reasons: quality and accountability.
- On this note, ask also how do they train their teachers? What qualifications do they hold? How experienced are they? Are they full timers or part timers? How often would you receive feedback about your child from them? All these would ensure the quality of preschool experience your child will receive.
A New Chapter Begins…
Over the weekend, as I was packing his belongings and labelling them one by one, I was already feeling emotional. It was a resigned reluctance to see your baby grow up too soon too quickly and that familiar sense of unease whether the teachers will take good care of him.
I took childcare leave to send Buddy in this morning. He wailed, screamed and protested from 8.30am to 10.30am (for 2 full hours while this Momma stood outside the infant-care centre, helpless and quietly shedding tears). It was only at about 11am after I met with the Principal and given assurance that he is in good hands that I decided to take a step of faith to leave. The Principal told me that on average, the children in their infant-care classes take 2-4 weeks to adapt to the new environment so I should rest assured, let go and let the teachers do their job. I pray this arrangement will turn out well for our dear Buddy boy, that he will soon pull through this transition and grow to love his newfound friends and teachers.
My two most precious gifts from God: DJ, 7 and AJ, 1