Searching for a daycare or preschool you’ll love can be overwhelming. Leaving your child, especially those who are teary, is difficult on a good day. And after a year of pandemic anxiety and extra togetherness, the thought of being apart is even harder. On the upside, New Jersey’s accredited childcare facilities have been operating successfully since last summer, adhering to all COVID safety precautions and regulations from the state and CDC.
Despite the mom guilt that is too often felt about putting a child in daycare, this decision is entirely up to you since you are the one that has to manage your personal family situation. “Working is taking care of your family,” says Rachel Robertson, vice president of learning and development at Bright Horizons. “It’s not only 100 percent okay for you to work while you raise children, it’s good for both of you. Learning about the positive impact of early care and education will prepare you for questions from well-meaning family members and friends who may have made different choices. It will also help you feel confident about your decision, and know it’s a positive one for you and your child.”
COMMUNICATE YOUR CONCERNS
Normally experts advise visiting a facility during the day to get a feel for how the staff operates, but that’s a challenge now with COVID restrictions keeping parents out of buildings. That’s why you should ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations and make sure to talk to the directors of the facilities about their experience and philosophies. At the end of the day, know that all accredited facilities have your child’s best interests at heart.
“I totally understand how scary it is to drop your child off at a building’s door,” says Bridget O’Brien, owner of SuperKids Childcare and Learning Center in Summit. “For many parents who are starting for the first time they have never been inside nor do they have a relationship with the staff. That must be terrifying. [I tell them] to take advantage of the internet viewing systems that most centers have which allow parents to login from any device and see the classroom live [and that] they shouldn’t hesitate to call during the day to check in with the teacher.”
Don’t be afraid to communicate and talk to the teachers if you’re feeling nervous or worried that your son or daughter isn’t adjusting. “We recognize what a huge responsibility it is to be in charge of such incredible little people,” says Sara Wasserman, early childhood director of the Blaustein Early Childhood Center in Bridgewater. “The way we can do our jobs well is by truly becoming partners with the parents and caregivers, and when school becomes an extension of the home.”
Robertson agrees, and says making teachers and daycare directors your ally is secret to a stress-free experience. “Feeling concerned about something? Ask,” says Robertson. “Open communication is key. Take advantage of open-door policies to talk to directors, teachers, and other staff members (virtually or, if available, in person); engage in regular parent-teacher conferences; and join into relationship building events and volunteer opportunities when available.”
LESSONS IN INDEPENDENCE
What about COVID restrictions and masks? Most directors agree kids have had little to no problem with adjusting to the new rules. “The children are incredibly resilient and adaptable,” says Wasserman. “Separation looked a lot different this year with a car line for drop-off in the morning, but everyone has really adjusted well. The children were thrilled to come back.”
O’Brien says SuperKids hasn’t had mask compliance issues, even among its youngest kids. “We have seen so much more cooperation and positive behavior in the classrooms,” adds O’Brien. “But what we have been most surprised at is that since we haven’t been able to allow parents in the building, we have seen unbelievable constructive and responsible independence in the children, even as early as 18 months old. We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and in all honesty, I’ve never seen them so confident. We assist and are next to the children at all times, but even the Waddlers and Toddlers want to carry their own bags and walk right to their classroom.”
Given the capacity limits on classrooms from the state, make sure to start looking well in advance of your planned start date and get on waitlists for centers you like as soon as possible. Happy searching.