Are little lives that little less ordinary in crèche?

Donna Hartnett might have been over the top in her description of crèche-going children as ‘caged hens’ but Claire O’Sullivan agrees that it’s not a normal childhood for smallies. (COMMENT ON THIS STORY)

IF I WAS to have another child, I wouldn’t send it to a crèche for childcare. There. I’ve said it. Straight up, I’d look for a childminder.

It’s an honest opinion formed over years that nonetheless will be derided by some as it won’t tally with their PR message while for parents of crèche-going kids, it will make them feel uncomfortable. But I bet my bottom dollar, they’ve all had the same feelings too.

My eldest son went to a crèche for five years. It was a great crèche, staffed by an efficient young woman (later a mother herself) who was scrupulous about standards and some really lovely girls who cuddled, kissed and clearly adored my son. Every evening, we’d get the run down from one of five different staff members on the duration of his naps, what he’d eaten for midmorning snack, for lunch, for mid afternoon snap.

If they’d administed Calpol for a temperature, we’d have to sign for it afterwards, if he fell while playing we’d have to fill out an incident form. All was it should be, according to HSE and the then National Creche and Nursery Association (NCNA) guidelines which enforced even more strident standards of childcare.

I’d chosen this particular crèche as a friend knew a staff member who had just taken a job there and was seriously impressed by its commitment to quality.

The structured aspect of a crèche also appealed as it meant we could be certain that he’d be mentally stimulated whereas with a childminder, he could just be plonked in front of Bob the Builder for half of the day.

Thirdly, I liked the fact that a crèche is somewhat public childcare so I believed it would be more difficult for a one-year-old with limited language skills to be maltreated in any way.

And so Son Number One attended the crèche four and five days a week for five years until he went to primary school. And there were never any incidents.

When number two son came along, the exhorbitant cost of crèche care for two ( which I am fully aware is warranted by the high staff levels needed to meet HSE staff/child ratios) meant we had to consider other options, namely a childminder. I decided that if anything was remiss in the house, my elder son wouldn’t be long letting me know but I also knew that my concept of childcare had changed over the years.

I realised that a well recommended childminder who enjoys children and isn’t just minding kids for the handy cash income was the nearest thing I was ever going to get to me being at home with my kids.

I had realised that while mental stimulation was important for a toddler, much of toddler development is achieved effortlessly in a regular family setting: whether it’s by a childminder handing a child a wooden spoon and saucepans to play with as they clean out kitchen cupboards, by the same woman chatting to your child as he sits in a trolley and they waltz around the supermarket together or by just being the person, they will instinctively run to for reassurance when they fall and gash their knee in the back garden.

New parents often fixate on the formal benefits of structured childcare but to be honest, much of it is baloney.

With the best will in the world, if you’re at home with your children you won’t spend hours honing their fine motor skills, their problem solving skills or their language development.

You’ll keep the child occupied rather than ‘stimulated’, keep them fed and cleaned, take them for a walk so you can get out of the bloody house and you’ll chat back and forth with them during the day and that’s how most children build their language skills, trust in adults as well as confidence.

To be fair, you’ll probably be doing very well if you read to them at any other time other than bedtime. And you know what, being plonked in front of the box for an hour or two never killed a child, especially one that needs some downtime.

With a good childminder your child will not be part of a management system or a timetable: when the weather is sunny or even just mediocre they will be able to play outside for hours and not just the allotted 45 minutes per day, they will be able to sleep for an hour if they want to or for three if they were up teething the night before, they will be able to play dress up if they feel like it or just have a quiet day and they will have the enormous benefit of having one carer totally in tune with your child.

When Donna Hartnett spoke in her viral letter about her children “being in childcare centres like caged hens”, I immediately knew where she was coming from.

I still remember the faces of the kids that were dropped off at 8am every morning and weren’t picked up until nearly 6pm, five days a week, of thinking how exhausted that family must be and how both parents and children only saw the dregs of each other during the week.

Every Friday, my husband would collect our son from crèche at about 5pm and he’d fall asleep on the way home. He never woke until 8am on Saturday. Five days of full time crèche is not a gentle life for a child.


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