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By Mandy Loh
 
One of the biggest decisions facing first-time parents is the type of childcare arrangement they would like to have for their child. While family caregivers (stay-home parent, grandparents or other relatives) are ideal and would allow the child to stay in a familiar, home environment, there may be times when such arrangements are not possible. A good alternative, in such cases, would be to look for well-run and professionally managed infant/ childcare centres.
 

Childcare centres provide day care and pre-school education for children aged above 18 months and below seven years old. Infants between two to 18 months of age would go to infant care centres.

 

What are the factors to consider when choosing a suitable infant/ child-care centre for your little one? Here are a few tips to help you along in your decision-making process:

 

Practical Matters To Consider

 

Location

You should begin by short-listing infant/ childcare centres that are conveniently located . They could be near your home, office, or near the grandparents’ home (if they will be bringing your child from school on your behalf).

 

You would be able to obtain a list of infant and child care centres, categorised by location of centre, type of care required, and age of child at www.childcarelink.gov.sg.

 

You could also have a chat with friends, neighbours and co-workers who have young children, to find out their recommendations on infant/ childcare centres in your preferred area.

 

Budget

There is a wide range of infant and childcare centres that suit different budgets. For instance, international childcare centres that cater to the expatriate community tend to charge much more than the average. It would be good to think about how much you would be willing to spend on childcare on a monthly basis, and narrow your search based on this criterion.

 

The government also provides substantial subsidies to alleviate the financial burden of childcare costs, depending on the working status of the mother, as well as the household income. For example, a working mother sending her child to full-day infant care will receive $600 subsidy per month. Furthermore, if the household income does not exceed $7,500 per month, she will be eligible for additional subsidies. More details on the quantum of subsidies available may be found on www.childcarelink.gov.sg and www.heybaby.sg.

 

Operating Hours

It is important to find an infant/ childcare centre that fits your needs and daily schedule. Working parents would most likely require full day care (7am – 7pm), whereas half-day programmes might be more suitable if you have some form of family support (e.g. grandparents who can care for your child for a few hours in the late afternoon to early evening).

 

Other Essential Considerations

Once the practical matters have been looked into, you should make an appointment to visit each shortlisted centre to get a first-hand feel of the environment. In this way, you would be able to ascertain if this is the place that you would be comfortable to leave your child at.

 

Observations at the Visit

Some factors to take note of would be the cleanliness of the centre; whether the facilities are well-kept and child-safe; and whether the place is bright, cheery, and welcoming.

 

For infant care centres, it is important to observe how the staff at the centre interact with the children in their care, and whether the children are generally happy.

 

For child care centres, find out more about their teaching philosophy and methodology. There are many popular approaches to early childhood education today, such as the Montessori Method, Reggio Emilia Approach, play-based learning, thematic-inquiry approach, amongst others. While there are merits to each approach, it is the personality and temperament of your child that would determine which approach is most suited for him or her.

 

Whenever possible, bring your child along with you when visiting each centre, so that you can observe whether your child is comfortable and happy with the surroundings. If a trial class is available, consider signing up for a session so that you and your child can fully experience a typical day in the centre.

 

Questions to Ask

An administrator, teacher or principal would usually give you a tour of the infant/ childcare centre during your visit, and you should take the opportunity to find out more about their operations. Here are a few suggested questions:

  1. What is a typical day like at the centre? (Ask for an illustrative sequence of daily events, e.g. breakfast, free play, music and movement, snack time, art and craft, lunch…)
  2. How experienced are the teachers/ caregivers at the centre? (What qualifications do they have? How many years have they been teaching there? What is the staff turnover like?)
  3. What is the ratio of children to teachers within each class?
  4. What is the fee structure? Are fees paid per term or per month? Is it possible to pay through the Child DevelopmentAccount?
  5. What are the other terms and conditions? (e.g. withdrawal notice and refund of deposit, etc)

 

The X Factor

Lastly and most importantly, look out for intangible aspects, such as a warm, fun and loving atmosphere. This would be the winning factor that would help you decide on the right infant/ childcare centre for your child.

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