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What’s in a name…navigating the world of child care programs

Working your way through the land of child care programs can be a bit confusing. There are daycare centres, child care centres, nursery schools, family child care programs, group family child care programs, early learning and child care programs,  and preschools. What do all these titles mean?  Where should I enroll my child? What is going to be best for my child? I want my child to be ready for school do I need to send them to a ‘pre’school or ‘nursery school’ or is daycare enough? Oh, decisions, decisions!

Basically, these are just names. They speak to the space they inhabit, the hours they operate, and the regulations and ratios they are required to follow.

The real difference is in their philosophy and mission statements! What are the values of the program and are they portrayed by the actions and interactions of the staff? What do they believe about children? How do they think children should be treated? Do they value families? Do they understand developmentally appropriate practices and follow them? What is their vision of quality child care? Do they keep up with new advances and practices in the child care field? Most importantly, do they talk the talk AND can they walk the walk?

With our shortage of child care spaces so many parents feel they need to take the first space that comes along no matter where it is. I also feel some parents don’t always realize there is a difference in the way individual programs offer care and operate. Each time I talk with a prospective parent and give them a tour of my program I work hard at making our philosophy and our values visible. I use this short time I have with them to give parents a bit of an education about not only my program but child care programs in general. I want to empower parents!

I make it very clear to parents that before they accept a spot in my program they need to come for a tour, see the space, and hear about what we do and what we believe. I also want them to know that we need to fit their values as well. Parents need to understand we provide a child-lead play-based program, encourage independence, engage in lots of nature play, and support risky play. I want them to feel comfortable in saying, “No, this program doesn’t fit our family.” or “Yes, this is exactly what I want for my child”.

I believe parents need to feel comfortable asking questions and they deserve clear answers. I also believe they need to have a choice! There is so much to consider when choosing a program… oh, decisions, decisions.

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