While many parents start looking for a daycare as soon as they find out they are expecting some parents are delaying preschool or daycare and are choosing to start with a nanny. Before the age of two babies can get a great deal of social interaction from just their immediate family and a caregiver. Eventually, parents start to look at daycare to provide an opportunity to truly practice playing with others.
With the onset of COVID-19, many parents have been forced to delay their toddler’s entry into daycare or preschool. Also, with fewer in-person classes and storytimes available, toddlers are missing out on valuable opportunities to practice their social skills and interact with other kids their age.
A big concern for parents who are delaying preschool or daycare is that without the typically structured setting of a daycare or class their child is going to fall behind. However, there are things you can do at home with your child to help mimic some of the things they would learn at daycare. Practicing these things right now will help your child be more prepared when you do feel ready to send them.
Keep a Schedule or a Routine
Daycares tend to follow a routine or a schedule at all ages. This helps the child understand what to expect and not be taken by surprise when it’s time to end one activity and transition to the next. Parents can implement a similar routine at home. Every minute does not have to be planned out but having fixed times for meals, snacks, rest, and free play can help establish calm and order at home. It also helps kids gain independence as they begin to anticipate what’s next and take pride in knowing what to do next.
Let’s say you’re coloring with your toddler and he or she demands the red crayon. It can be easy to quickly hand it over to avoid a massive tantrum but that’s not going to teach your child how to interact with his or her peers. Instead, tell your child that you are still using it and will hand it over when you are done. Then take 10-15 seconds to finish up and give your child the crayon. They will start to learn how to ask and how to wait when someone is not done using an item they need.
Establish Mealtime Rules
It might be ok for your child to walk around the house with a snack in one hand and a favorite toy in another but at daycare, it’s expected that they sit down and eat nicely with others. Snack time and meal times are a chance to connect with others in a different way than they do when they play. Create a routine where you eat meals together at the table. Perhaps serve certain items family-style so that your toddler can help practice serving themselves and others. You can even infuse math into snacktime by helping your toddler count crackers or pretzels for both of you!
At daycare, your child will be one of several which means that they will not be able to ask the caregiver to do everything for them. Find ways to help your child become more independent. Here are a few skills to work on:
- Can they take their shoes on and off or can they at least bring you their shoes and socks?
- Can they put on their coats themselves? (Tip: Google “coat flip trick” for an easy way to teach this)
- Can they throw out their own trash?
- Do they help clean-up when it’s time to end an activity?
- Do they help with chores like putting away laundry or wiping down a table?
- Do they know how to ask for help?
- Can they wash their hands with soap?
Practice Using Messy Materials
As a parent, we often avoid activities that have a high likelihood of making a mess. That includes things like glue, paint, glitter, markers, etc. While parents love receiving a homemade craft from their child they also love it when their child makes them at daycare and they don’t have to be the ones to clean-up. However, it’s important that you give your child plenty of opportunities to practice using messy materials. Learning how to use things like glue and scissors is an important milestone in childhood development. Teach your child how to make a mess responsibly by putting down a mat or using a tray to help contain the materials. Invest in a child-sized smock or keep an old large t-shirt handy when doing things like painting. Lastly, make sure you are not cleaning up alone. Your toddler will love the opportunity to wash brushes in the sink and sweep up sequins (warning: there is no magic vacuum that is able to pick up all the sequins).
Delaying preschool or daycare is a tough decision for any parent. But you shouldn’t focus too much on how much your child is missing right now due to COVID-19. Providing a safe and loving environment at home will help your child grow even without the presence of peers. Remember that most parents are going through the same thing as you so it’s likely that being around peers will be a new experience for many children. Lastly, children are incredibly adaptable and will quickly get up to speed when they do have the chance to be more social.