As your maternity leave comes to an end, you may be apprehensive and even upset at the thought of leaving your precious baby with a caregiver other than yourself.
We don’t blame you. Horror stories of child abuse and cases of neglect highlighted in the news is enough to give any new parent cold feet about sending their precious bundle to an infantcare facility.
Yet, such scary incidents are usually isolated. Do your research well and you should be able to a suitable and trusted infantcare centre.
Putting your little one in an infantcare centre offers a number of advantages. For example, most centres have a structured educational programme for your baby, which continues into nursery and kindergarten. It may also be cheaper to place your baby in an infantcare centre (depending on whether the centre is government-funded) than hiring a babysitter. Another advantage is that your baby will get to interact a lot with other babies and little kids.
Infantcare centres in Singapore also have to adhere to a strict set of rules and conduct set by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
So how do you choose a quality infantcare centre for your bub? Here’s what to look out for.
Of course, safety is paramount when it comes to finding a good infantcare centre. Go for a tour of the centre to find out what the environment and class setup is like. Ask how babies are put to bed, and whether safe sleep guidelines are followed. For example, infants should be sleeping on their backs on a firm surface, without pillows, blankets or toys in bed with them. The cots should be clean and comfortable as well.
When touring the centre, also check if the sections are properly segregated to allow space for infants at various stages to explore safely.
Your ideal centre should have good teachers too. According to ECDA regulations, every centre should employ either a certified infant care educator or a State Registered Nurse (SRN). This person must have training in first aid and at least two years of experience.
Check that the centre’s teachers have the necessary qualifications, understand a child’s development milestones and know how to keep them safe. You might also want to ask about their years of experience and where else they have taught.
Teachers should be willing to regularly update parents and listen to their concerns. When chatting with them, see if they really take the time to connect with you and answer any questions you may have about the school.
#3 Staff-child ratio
In addition to having experienced, caring teachers, staff-child ratio matters as well. The ECDA stipulates that the maximum staff to child ratio for infantcare centres is 1:5.
Lower staff to child ratios means that each child will enjoy sufficient interaction, physical contact and individual attention.
It’s no secret that infantcare can be pricey, with fees being especially high for private centres. Do your due diligence and choose a centre that best suits your financial ability. Government-funded infantcare centres are typically more affordable as parents have access to various subsidies.
Subsidies are offered based on your employment status and the type of childcare programme your child is enrolled in (e.g. half-day or full-day). Check out our handy guide on how to pay less for infantcare in Singapore.
There are also various types of infantcare programmes on offer in Singapore. You may wish to choose the one which is most in line with your values and the kind of learning environment you want for your child.
The different types of programmes include:
- Relationship-based learning: Helps a child to learn how to relate with adults and other children. They also learn how to connect with the environment.
- Play-based learning: Based on child-led and open-ended play. It helps children develop social skills, motivation to learn and even language and numeracy skills as they get older.
- Montessori-based learning: Developed by physician Maria Montessori, this method is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play.
- Whole-brain learning: Maximises every learning opportunity. Every child’s needs are met, and they get sufficient individual attention from the educator.
Where the infantcare centre is located is one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider. Some parents may prefer one that is close to home, while others prefer that the centre is near their workplace.
In Singapore, many infantcare centres have various branches all over the island, making it easy to find one that’s near the location of your choice.
Another consideration is the amount of space in the centre. The ECDA requires each child aged between 2 months and 18 months old to have at least 5 square metres of space at the centre, and that the indoor activity area has to be separated from the older kids.
You’ll want to make sure that there is sufficient space for your baby to sleep, play, and have his or her meals, without feeling too overstimulated. Also, note that your baby will soon become a mobile toddler, who’ll need room to crawl, practise walking and explore ― so, the centre will need to provide a conducive environment for them.
#8 Fittings and facilities
A stimulating environment will also be good for your child at this age. Is the centre stocked with age-appropriate toys that are well-maintained? Are there books placed within the reach of babies and toddlers? Is there an outdoor area they can also explore?
Since feeding and sleeping routines are an important part of babycare, check out these facilities. Are there high chairs in good condition, where your peewee will eventually learn to self-feed? Are the cribs placed in a calm, non-stimulating area where he can get adequate naps?
Hygiene is also critical to caring for an infant. Because of the proximity of the children, babies in an infantcare centre tend to fall ill more often. Hence, it’s extremely important that the caregivers follow strict hygiene routines.
Ask the staff about their protocols when it comes to washing and sanitising their hands, and how often the toys are disinfected. Check if the indoor and outdoor areas are clean and well-maintained, and whether there are rules on using one’s own cot sheets, towels and bedding. There should also be strict rules when it comes to food preparation and breastmilk storage.
#10 Food and nutrition
Depending on your baby’s age, the infantcare centre should let you know what his feeding plan is. For instance, if he’s exclusively breastfed, find out what’s the best way for you to deliver your frozen breastmilk to the centre, and when he will be fed.
If your baby is starting to wean, you’ll want to know what kinds of schedules the centre sticks to, in terms of introducing new foods, as well as what’s on the menu.
#11 Schedules and routines
Babies and young children thrive on routines, and it’s especially important for the centre to keep parents involved in the routines that they introduce to their babies. For instance, feeding, napping and diaper-changing routines should be adequately communicated to parents, so that there’s a smooth transition for the baby, especially on weekends when the child is at home.
By establishing proper routines and rituals, your baby will feel a sense of security and stability, which will help develop his confidence.
#12 Play and discipline
It’s important that you visit the centre to get a feel of the style of caregiving, especially when it comes to play and discipline (for the older kids). Watch how to the staff encourage the children to develop their own skills, such as dressing themselves and self-feeding, to figure out if you’re comfortable with their approach.
When it comes to play, do the staff get down on the ground with the little ones, make eye contact and engage them? Are the babies allowed to freely but reasonably explore their surroundings, and touch and feel the toys around them?
Good babycare practices are important, but you’ll also want your mini-me to have fun at the infantcare centre and love his caregivers.
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