Helen O’Callaghan hears how to pick the best quality care.

WITH more than 170,000 children attending early years education in Ireland, Barnardos has launched a parent guide for choosing quality childcare.

Quality Early Years Care and Education has been written by Barnardos early years experts.

It tells what to expect in a quality service and gives parents topics and questions they can discuss with staff.

“High-quality early years’ education is very important for children. It leads to better outcomes — poor quality can lead to poor outcomes or even harm children,” says Heino Schonfeld, early years development manager at Barnardos.

He cites recent OECD research that highlights how children with a year or two of good-quality pre-school do much better aged 15 than peers without this early experience.

Schonfeld cites other research that finds parents almost uniformly have a high perception of the quality of the service their child is attending.

“Yet, if the quality is measured objectively, it can be very varied.”

Choosing good-quality childcare isn’t just about convenience and price, he says. 

“Some say it’s even more important than choosing a primary school. It sets the foundations for future learning.”

The new guidebook explains what children should be learning before they go to primary school. 

They don’t need to be able to write, recognise letters or count but, says INTO president Rosena Jordan, they do need to “be encouraged to develop good listening skills — instruction is part of life at school — to be sociable, share and take turns, have respect for others, be aware of others’ feelings and have good level of independence”.

In this context, quality of caregiver-child relationship should be a priority when choosing a service. 

Also vital is the activities programme. It should focus on best interests of the children, their needs, be attentive to the way young children learn/develop, importance of interactions and ensuring all children are/feel included.

Schonfeld advises observing relationships when dropping or collecting your child.

If your child is due to start the free pre-school year, begin researching several months ahead and visit more than one facility.

Schonfeld recommends checking the facility’s performance in Tusla ( www.tusla.ie/services/pre-schoolservices ) and Department of Education and Skills ( www.education.ie ) inspection reports.

Look for...

* Quality interactions with other children, adults, things and places.

* Surroundings that encourage play, exploring, conversations between adults/children and children/children, as well as adults and children collaborating.

* Balance between activities adults decide on for the children and activities chosen by children themselves.

* Play and hands-on experiences, indoors and outdoors.

* Adults who keep an eye on what children need, who understand.


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