Friday 19 October 2018

Yvonne Hogan: Why I’d opt for a crèche over a childminder any day

A new study shows that children in formal childcare settings are better adjusted than those cared for at home. It’s no surprise, writes working mum Yvonne Hogan

Yvonne Hogan with her daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months)
McCarthy at Eloise’s nursery. Photo: Mark Condren
Yvonne Hogan with her daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months) McCarthy at Eloise’s nursery. Photo: Mark Condren
Yvonne Hogan with her daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months) McCarthy at Eloise’s nursery. Photo: Mark Condren

Yvonne Hogan

New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health linking attendance at a crèche or nursery with better psychological development than being looked after by family, friends or a childminder at home in early childhood comes as no surprise to me. We chose a local, independently owned Montessori nursery in the Dublin suburbs for my eldest daughter Ava, now almost six and in senior infants, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

I decided on formal childcare because I liked the transparency. I wanted Ava to be able to mix well with others and I had looked briefly at the research available which supported my hunch that a good crèche was probably the best option in terms of socialisation. Mostly though, I copied the local pharmacist who had two children in the establishment and seemed to know what she was doing. I arranged a visit and as soon as I was welcomed in the door by the manager, I was sold.

In her four years there, Ava was loved, nurtured, educated and socialised into a confident little being who is very sure of her place in the world. Being with other children from such an early age has made her very sociable and outgoing — the confidence with which she approaches others and asks them to play never ceases to impress me. She will address adults she has never met and ask them questions. As a woman reared in Cork in the 70s and 80s, I find this both enchanting and terrifying, and regularly have to quell my instinct to tell her to ‘stay in her box’ and ‘stop running after people’.

She knows how to share and take turns, something she would never have learned at home, being an only child for almost five years. She looks out for others, particularly younger children, as she was taught to do in her latter years there as one of the ‘big kids’.

And the breadth of the education she received was something neither I nor a childminder could ever have given her. She learned about art, music, ballet and was introduced to many languages and cultures.  She learned to behave responsibly and feel safe around animals through regular visits to the nursery from farm animals and other creatures.

Parents were encouraged to attend concerts, something that wasn’t always convenient with a busy full-time job, but it created a sense of community among the parents and the staff, and my husband and I made some strong friendships with them and other parents there, which continue to this day. And Ava was encouraged and invited to come back to visit.

There was a reunion party for her class the October after she finished and we dropped in to say hello many a time when big school became overwhelming and she wanted a bit of familiarity. I will always love them for that — it made her feel so reassured that her old universe was still available to her.

So when I learned I was expecting my younger daughter Eloise, the first thing I did was put her name down for a place. I wanted the same advantages, connections and loving atmosphere for the new baby, even though — if I were to go on pure practicality — a childminder would be an easier and possibly cheaper option for us.

The snots and sneezes and the subsequent days out of the office that come with a new baby in a crèche aside, getting two children up, fed, watered and delivered to two different geographical locations is a logistical nightmare. As is picking them both up, from different locations — Ava now attends a wonderful after-school programme in a place equidistant from our house but in the opposite direction — before 6pm.

But give me twice the amount of hassle and I would still choose a good crèche over a good childminder. Bringing Eloise in on her first day was a happy occasion. Of course I was sad that I wouldn’t be spending every day with her, but having been through the journey with Ava meant I had none of the niggling doubts that I had first-time around when handing my baby over to the care of others. Even in the four weeks that Eloise has been there, we’ve seen massive leaps in her development. She is more comfortable with people who aren’t me. She has gained independence — she refuses to sit in a high chair and be fed, she will only sit on a tiny chair at a tiny table and insists on feeding herself.

Previous to this, she spent most of her waking and sleeping moments in my arms, so much so that I thought she would never last 10 minutes away from me, not to mind a full working day. How wrong I was — she goes in every morning wriggling with excitement.

Investing in early childcare such as this should be top of the agenda for the Government. They should support good crèches and nurseries as part of the fabric of a child’s education and development, and not treat them merely as a babysitting service to enable the herding of parents back into the workplace.

All establishments responsible for children should have properly trained staff equipped to nurture and educate appropriately. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because the rewards — which include, according to this latest research, better psychological development, and fewer social and behavioural problems — could end up saving the State millions in the long run.

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