Originally posted here.
Whether you’re eager to rejoin the workforce or anxious to be leaving your child for 8+ hours a day—or a little of both—the time has come to find a high-quality environment to entrust with your child. And quality truly matters—brain research proves that children are born learning, and that their first three years can drive later success in school and in life. So finding a high-quality early learning setting is essential for parents who work and seek child care.
You’ve done your research and found the perfect child care setting, whether it’s a center-based program to home child care to a relative’s house, now how do you prepare your infant or toddler for her new environment? Building on our 30 years of expertise in early learning, here are eight steps recommended by our teachers and staff at the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Educare Chicago school that you can take to pave the way for a smooth transition:
Visit the child care setting
To help your child get to know the new environment, visit the child care center with your child before the first day. You and your child can meet the caregiver and the other children. Take photos of the route to the center, the center entrance and the room where your child will spend the day. You can assemble the photos as a book, which you can use to talk to your child at home about what their day will be like and where he will go.
Talk to your child
To help prepare your young child to go to out-of-home care, explain using language and concepts he will understand where he’ll be going and what he’ll be doing. Talk about how he will meet new children and participate in fun activities. Always mention that you’ll be back at the end of the day to take him home.
Build a relationship with the caregiver
Your young child may not be able to talk, but she can observe your actions. She’ll form her opinion of the caregiver based on your reactions. Make time each day to talk to the caregiver and begin building a strong relationship. Caregivers at quality early learning programs see parents as partners and will want to develop a strong relationship with you, your child’s first and most important teacher.
Share information about your child
Talk to the caregiver about your child’s cues, likes, dislikes and temperament. How does she like to be fed, soothed and put to sleep? Your tips will help the caregiver know how to best care for your child without having to guess which methods to try. You can also explain what developmental skills you’d like your child to learn. Ask for daily updates about your child’s progress from the caregiver.
Create a morning routine
Routines help children feel in control of their surroundings, which eases anxiety. Create a morning routine so your child knows what to expect before going to the child care center. Find out if the center provides breakfast so you know whether or not your child needs to eat at home.
Develop a goodbye ritual
Create a goodbye ritual so that your child starts to feel comfortable with her caregiver when you leave. Your ritual could involve feeding your child, changing a diaper or interacting together with a toy before you leave. Whatever activity you choose, make sure you take time to talk to your baby about what’s happening and don’t rush the process. Once your child becomes used to the goodbye ritual, she’ll be better able to regulate her emotions so that she can calm herself more easily when you go. Learn more about separation anxiety.
Bring a transitional object
Your child may feel more at ease in a new environment with an object that reminds him or her of home. This could be a photo of your family that’s laminated or a stuffed animal that your child enjoys. The child can hold the object during the day as a reminder that this new environment is temporary and that you will come back to take him or her home.
Ask what you can do at home
To extend your child’s learning, ask the caregiver what skills the children will be working on during the day and what related activities you can do at home. The reverse is also true: share information about what activities you are doing at home that your child is interested in and ask if the teacher can do something similar in class.
While they may not stop you from wanting to reach for the phone every 15 minutes to check on your child during those first few weeks in a new child care setting, these tips will help your child make a smooth transition. The more relaxed and stress-free your infant or toddler is, the better her brain is able to grow and develop.