Daycare is the go-to childcare choice for a lot of parents, and not just because it can be one of the more affordable options. It has a few distinct advantages:
- Structure: A daycare center provides its own existing structure: a set space, outfitted with age-appropriate toys and games; set hours for drop-off and pickup; a staff that has been vetted by the administration. A lot of parents like the clear boundaries: They know what’s expected of them, how much they will pay, and what days and hours they are assured coverage. And if one of the teachers is sick or leaves for another opportunity, the daycare center will be able to cover the absence: Parents don’t have to scramble to deal with it themselves. This security can be incredibly comforting.
- Oversight: Because daycare centers are licensed by the state, they must meet minimal standards of health, safety, staff training and nutrition. This is no guarantee of stellar care, but it is comforting to know that at least there is a basic level of oversight. Also many parents find it comforting to know that their child is in the care of a staff with many eyes, rather than just one person.
- Community: A daycare is a great way of building a community of families with kids your kid’s age. You can get to know other parents at pickup and drop-off, and share your parenting experiences (they’re dealing with some of the same things you are). This can be a godsend to new parents, who can sometimes feel isolated in their baby bubble. Your child will be able to make friends, too.
- Training: Good daycare centers hire staff members with early-childhood education training so they know exactly where your child should be developmentally and can help nurture age-appropriate skills. They may also be able answer questions you have about your child’s growth, which can be a great resource for new parents.
- Activities, stimulation: Many high-quality daycare centers offer activities during the day: singing, dancing, storytelling, art projects – even gymnastics, yoga or cooking. Instructional projects and organized activities can stimulate your child, excite his or her curiosity and encourage exploration at an age-appropriate level.
- Social skills: Your child may learn early to interact with others, share toys and negotiate play.
But like other child-care options, daycare centers also have their disadvantages:
- Lack of control: The thing about a daycare is you have to follow the established rules. That means you need to drop off and pick your child up on time or the center may charge you a fee. You also need to find your own backup care on days the center is closed. (The centers may take some days as holidays that your employer does not.) And if your child is sick, you need to keep him home and arrange for care.
- Sickness: Because your child is around other children, your child may get sick more frequently than children kept home in a nanny’s care.
- Lack of one-on-one attention: Even if you’re at a high-quality daycare center with a low caregiver-child ratio, your child won’t get the one-on-one attention that you give him or her or that a good nanny would. Many parents – particularly parents of babies, who seem to require more than one person at a time to satisfy their needs! – consider that a crucial drawback.