Preparing your child for the transition to daycare is extremely important, and all enrolling families are advised to implement these tips at home to assist in your child’s adjustment to daycare.
Have your child nap in his/her crib (or bed) at designated times
Your child will not be able to sleep in a swing, car seat, carrier, stroller, in the caregiver’s arms, nursing/bottle feeding to sleep, or with the caregiver laying down with them nearby. It’s imperative that your child learns to sleep on their own in a crib or pack-n-play. For infants, this also means without anything else in the crib (stuffed animals, blankets, Boppy pillows, etc.) if you feel your baby needs it, a wearable blanket is a safe option. Make sure you start the transition to a crib for naps early on.
It’s vital that a child of any age 0-5 have a “rest time” each day, generally for 2 hours. Choose a time and have this be a required time of rest, be electronics-free (books and small quiet toys are ok), and for your child to stay in their bed/crib/pack-n-play for the duration of the rest time. If they sleep, great. And if not, that’s ok too. Daycare has a required rest period, so getting used to this is important.
Recreate the same sleep environment the child will have at daycare
Make sure you always place infants under age 12 months on their back for naps. Make sure the nap time is not a silent time because in order for a child to sleep soundly at daycare, they must be used to sleeping with some noise. A sound machine is a good idea to help with this, at home. A time of rest is required each day at daycare, so children should be encouraged to lay down/rest at home, even if they no longer take naps. Having some quiet book time is a great solution.
Find ways to foster independence in your child of any age
Even infants can be given independent floor play time. Tummy time (directly supervised) is a good way to help infants develop neck and back strength. Older infants can have free reign to explore toys, a covered area outdoors, small toddler climbers, playground balls, and infant building toys. Once a child can walk, it’s a great idea to take them to a park weekly to have them explore, climb, and learn that it’s ok to not be right next to their parent. Parents can encourage their child to go play and to approach other friends at the playground. There are also numerous local playdates (like at a gymnastics center for 2 hours) and indoor playgrounds where children can engage with peers and new toys.
Once your child can walk steadily, show them how to bus their dish after mealtimes and put the bowl/plate in the sink after scraping food in the trash. Encourage your child to use words to tell you what they need (or incorporate some Baby Sign Language).
Give your infant a bottle on a regular basis if breastfeeding
It is essential that your infant can drink from a bottle consistently throughout the day. Nobody wants an infant starving and screaming because they aren’t used to drinking from a bottle. Practice this early (1 month before starting daycare) and often (3+ times a day). Make sure to mention how much per feeding and how often your infant eats.
Don’t use all your sick leave on maternity/paternity leave
As much as we all hate illness, children are bound to get sick not just at daycare but interacting with anyone who they see in day-to-day life (and shopping cart handles are culprits too). While illnesses help build up immunity, we don’t want illnesses spreading all over the daycare, so most child care settings have strict illness policies. You may be spending a few days at home with your sick child throughout the year.
Expect your infant to be clingy and extra hungry in the evenings
If your infant is extra hungry and clingy the first couple of weeks of starting daycare, don’t automatically assume they aren’t receiving quality care. Infants often will eat less at daycare so they can eat more at home and bond with parents. They also will have missed you.
Limit the use of tablets and TV at home
Children that are used to having tablets or TV a lot will be unsure how to act in social settings. It’s also imperative that children are able to participate in our play-based environment. TV is not watched here, but we do listen to child-appropriate music throughout the day. Avoid using TV/tablets but if you do, have a limit of 1 hour a day for your child (even educational programming).
Self-feeding should be encouraged
Infants as young as 6 months old may begin eating solids at daycare using baby-led weaning (eating real food off a plate, not pureed baby food) and self-feeding. It’s essential that you let your child learn to grab food and to feed themselves, even if it is extremely messy. You’ll want to be sure that foods are properly cooked and to not give unsafe foods (hard veggies, chunks of meat, whole round fruits like grapes (unless sliced in ¼ pieces), etc.). Around the time your child is a year old, introduce children’s silverware to them for practice and encourage them to try to use it. By 1.5 years old, they should be able to be pretty self-sufficient with silverware. Avoid the temptation to spoon feed your child because it’s faster or easier- these are skills they need to learn and there may come a point where they refuse to feed themselves if it’s been like that their whole lives.
Have regular meal and snack times at home
At daycare, we have set times for meals and snacks and children aren’t allowed or able to “graze” or to have constant access to snacks and food. It’s also equally important that children sit at the table or in a high chair to eat their meal/snack. It’s best to avoid having your child routinely sit on your lap to eat since that cannot be replicated at daycare. Encourage and work on your child remaining seated during mealtimes (minimum of 10 minutes, even if they don’t eat, but 15 minutes if you can) before they can be dismissed. After eating, have your child bus their dish (scrape food in the trash then place bowl/plate and utensils in the sink) then wash their hands and face with soap at the sink. Towel dry.
Get a kids table and chairs for home
If you don’t already have a kids table, it’s encouraged that you get one. It’s good for children to get used to sitting at a table their height and to have them get onto the chair and off the chair by themselves. We do mealtime and art/activity time at a kids table and this helps them build self-help skills. It’s also a great place for your child to do play d’oh, art at home, and other similar activities.
Don’t hold/carry your child too much
During daycare, there’s anywhere from 4-8 children being cared for, changed, fed, bottles fed to babies, cooking of meals, clean-up, etc. and we have a fairly busy day with activities, outside time, table activities, and art. So, it’s important that your child be used to having independent time to play/wander/walk around or crawl/lay on the floor (or in a pack-n-play for young infants). Not only is this good for children of all ages, it helps them develop their strength in their bodies, independent play and thinking, lets them engage with toys and partake in activities and play that they are interested in. It’s a tough adjustment to go from being held a lot at home to being in daycare where there are multiple children who all have varying needs during the day.
Take your child on outings (the park, local events, playdates)
Part of the benefit of socializing with young children is that they learn how to get outside of the self-centered mindset that they have and begin to think of others. They’ll begin to learn how to engage with other children, play together or next to others, learn how to manage disagreements, cooperate and coordinate their play, and learn that they can socialize and have fun with other children and that mom/dad is nearby if needed.
If at the park, let your child do the climbing by themselves with you nearby in case they need advice or help to figure out how to climb up or do a certain thing. Avoid doing it for them but instead verbally guide them and explain simply how to do it: “You put your foot here, then climb up”. Children love encouragement and acknowledgement, so if they do something fun or cool, be sure to say/do something to let them know (ie: saying “yay!” and clap).
Encourage your child to speak and “use their words”
If your child has a habit of grunting, pointing, whining, etc. when they want something or need something versus talking, it’ll be hard to know what they are trying to communicate. You can introduce the use of Baby Sign Language (very simple hand gestures to communicate words) coupled with verbally spoken words to help at first. Then later, when your child is closer to 1.5 years old, you can say things like “do you need something? What do you need?” and encourage them to tell you by saying “if you want some milk, say ‘milk please’.” Then follow-through and encourage them to say basic sentences like that to get their needs met.
This is not something that happens quickly but if you’re consistent with it and do your best, then your child will grasp these things and be using words and/or sign language quicker than you know it!
Encourage your child that it’s ok to be messy
Stains on clothing and dirt on hands or shoes can easily be cleaned off, so it’s a good thing to get kids used to being ok with being messy. Daycare is also a messy time with self-feeding, outdoor time, art and crafts, etc. so you’ll want to be sure that you remind yourself that it’s ok that your kids get messy. At Holly’s Petite Maison, we use washable art materials, so there’s no worry of staining as long as the items get laundered within a few days.