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Choosing an early childhood provider
I owe, I owe, it's off to work I go… but who will look after baby? We outline your childcare options below so you can choose what best suits your family.
Most parents use some kind of childcare in the pre-school years, whether it's one-off baby-sitting by Grandma or going the whole nine yards by hiring a live-in au pair. And if you are looking at starting work keep in mind that the type of care that's best for your child depends on everything from your line of work to the age and personality of your child. We offer pros and cons about the most common options available in New Zealand.
Have you got a grandmother, relative or perhaps a friend or neighbour who you could swap childcare duties with? If so, you're one of the lucky ones.
- The cost is likely to be low
- You know what you're getting and your child will be less likely to have settling-in difficulties with someone he knows already.
- If you work sporadically, perhaps because you're a freelancer or contractor, then thee flexibility of an informal arrangement is a huge bonus as most childcare facilities require you to commit to certain days and times each week.
- Potential conflict over your expectations and their style of childcare could be harder to resolve because of the informal nature of care.
- Your "carers" are less likely to have formal childcare qualifications.
If you'd like your baby to have one-on one-care with a dedicated caregiver then a nanny is a good option.
- Nannies will have all the required qualifications and tend to offer high-quality care because of one-on-one nature of it.
- The nanny will usually have a driver's licence and be able to take the child or children on outings, or to kindergarten etc.
- Depending on the arrangements you could expect a small amount of housework as well, perhaps she could make the children's dinner for instance, and take care of their laundry needs.
- Having a nanny who comes to your home will also save you time on a busy working morning.
- You will need a back-up for childcare when the nanny is sick or unavailable. It's expensive, costing around $18-23 an hour, although you could look at a nanny-share situation with another family.
- Nannies may not stay long (particularly if they're young). So you'll have to be prepared to find a replacement, and for the subsequent settling-in period.
An au pair lives in your house, and earns a nominal weekly sum, (from $180 for 40 hours of childcare per week, source: Au Pair Link). They are often from overseas, spending time in New Zealand on a "gap year" before university.
- It's one of the cheaper childcare options, and with the right au pair, your children can develop a very close relationship with them.
- If you have someone from overseas they will be exposed to another culture and language.
- Au pairs live in, so will be available and if you give them access to your family car then they can drive the children to their various playgroups, kindergartens or other activities.
- An au pair would certainly work well if both parents work full-time.
- Space. You will need a spare room, or perhaps your children will have to share a room while you have an au pair living in.
- There could be difficulties in settling in, especially if your au pair feels homesick or isolated.
- Some au pairs will be with your family for less than a year - eventually they will go home, and you'll have to again start the process of finding one and settling him into your family.
- Au pairs are not a good option if you're reluctant to share your personal space with strangers.
In-home cares, or educators, are similar to nannies expect that your child will go to her home rather than yours, and she looks after up to four children at a time. Agencies such as Porse, Home Grown Kids or Barnados, run these services and they can be a great alternative to a childcare centre, particularly for younger children.
- The cost is much lower than the cost of a nanny and in some cases it's lower than private daycare.
- In-home care offers a home environment with small groups of children rather than big rooms full of children and noise.
- Depending on the arrangement, your carer may be happy to feed your child, so you won't have to supply food.
- The staff are likely to be trained or qualified carers' and if you use an agency like then they'll also take care of payroll.
- Most agencies will also offer visits by a programme manager who will offer guidance and quality control, and playgroups. Particularly good for the early years when babies and toddlers will appreciate more one-on-one time.
- If your carer is sick, you'll have to take your child somewhere else. Some agencies offer you an alternative but your child may not settle with a different carer so easily.
- You'll have to drop the kids off and pick them up so the round-trip from home to work will be longer.
- In-home care usually offers less stimulation and educational opportunities than daycare.
The traditional daycare centre is a private centre run with qualified staff, offering a range of half or full-day options.
- It's often the cheapest option.
- Because there are so many of centres around now you're likely to get one close to your home or work.
- It's an opportunity for lots of socialising and activities and if you get a good one you can be confident that the staff will be qualified and happy in their work.
- A lot will offer cooked and nutritious meals, so you can be sure your child is getting at least one healthy meal a day, and that can save you money.
- They don't close during the school holidays - a major advantage over kindergarten for working parents.
- The good ones can be so good that you'll need to put your baby on a wait-list very early to secure their place.
- Your favourite staff may leave. Check staff turnover rates, because that can give you a clue to an unhappy workplace.
- Strict opening and closing hours apply - some centres will charge you a fee if you are late to pick up your child - so you may not have much flexibility over working late.
- Daycare centres tend to be busy noisy places which many not suit all children.
Playcentre is not strictly childcare, it's a community-based model where children, alongside their parents, learn through play. Depending on where you live, playcentre may allow you to drop and leave occasionally, or you may be required to be there with your child for every session. Parents are strongly encouraged to come along to playcentres and in fact are required to undertake a Playcentre-specific qualifications.
- The centre is managed by a co-operative of parents so you will have the opportunity to have a say in the running of the centre. It's cheap, from nothing up to $50 a term.
- You will gain skills in child education.
- Playcentres aren't really an option for working parents (although your nanny may be able to take your child), so don't view it as a childcare option, rather as a more formal playgroup.
Most kindergartens are public, not-for-profit centres with qualified staff. Kindergartens offer pre-school education for three to four year olds with a focus on learning through play.
- It's a great way for children to learn to socialise, especially if they attend a kindergarten close to where they will be going to school at the age of five. You can claim the 20 hours of ECE subsidy, with the kindergarten asking for a nominal donation per session, so it's one of the cheapest options.
- Some people consider kindergartens the best for preparing your child for school.
- Although some kindergartens have in the last few years opted to offer full-day sessions, most still work on a sessional basis, so it really isn't an option for working parents, unless you have the flexibility of working from home. If your kindergarten still operates on half-day sessions, then your three year old will likely begin with a two or three hour afternoon session three days a week, and when they turn four they will attend five mornings a week.
- They will close during school holidays, so what will you do then?
Other factors to consider…
- Where will your child go to school? Will they be able to make friends before they go.
- 20 hours Early Childhood Education subsidy is available for three to four year olds for all of the above, except the informal care. But you are best to check with your carer or educator first.
- You may qualify for a WINZ subsidy.
- The Education Review Office (ERO) conducts regular reviews of childcare centres. You can access these reports from their website, www.ero.govt.nz.
- Think about your child's personality - is he very social, or does he like to be away from loud noises and crowds of other kids?
- Talk to other mums in your neighbourhood, friends and colleagues to get ideas on what childcare options worked (or perhaps more importantly didn't work) for them.
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