Your child’s first day at child care is an exciting milestone. It’s a chance for your little one to develop relationships with trusted caregivers, make new friends and explore a new and stimulating environment. It’s a first step on an enriching early childhood education journey.
Knowing that your child is cared for and nurtured by well-trained, attentive caregivers makes the return to your career easier and more rewarding — especially when you’re confident that your child is having a fun and enriching experience.
That’s an empowering feeling, says Gina Barnes, Center Director for Bright Horizons at Illinois Medical District, a new center opening soon just west of the Loop. Bright Horizons at Illinois Medical District is enrolling for children 6 weeks to 5 years old and offers easy access to expressways and convenience for the area’s health care community.
“Know that you have made the right choice in choosing your child care provider because you have done the research necessary to pick the best fit for your family,” says Barnes.
That first day at child care is an adjustment for the whole family, so it’s worth taking some time to plan ahead for a smooth transition. Here, we share five simple tips to help prepare for that big day.
Whether you’ve circled the first day of child care on your calendar months — or just a couple of weeks — in advance, it’s always helpful to establish a routine and practice it before the day arrives.
“I always encourage parents to practice their new ‘Going to Child Care Routine’ at least one week before they start,” Barnes says. “This proves to be helpful with toddlers and young preschool children, so they know what to expect on their first day.”
Preschoolers will appreciate the chance to be involved in the preparations, too.
“It is also helpful if you allow these young children to pack their necessity backpack for child care. These bags can also contain a family picture and a ‘most-loved’ comfort item. The addition of these items in the child’s bag provides a link to the child’s home while they are at the child care center.”
This is an exciting time in your child’s education, and it helps soothe any concerns they might be feeling if you are upbeat about how that first day at child care will go. Take time to talk with your child, no matter their age, about the fun they will have and the friends they will make. Talk about the teacher’s role and say the teachers’ names at home often. Show your child pictures of their teachers — this will help them recognize them, even on the first day. Find out if you can access photos of teachers — even of the classroom and playground — on social media or the child care center’s website.
Answer your child’s questions and assure them that they will enjoy each day at child care. Talk about the routines of the day, from the time you wake up and eat breakfast to drop-off time and the various activities at child care, including play and outdoor time, lunch and rest time, even snack. Talk about any special features in their child care environment, like the three outdoor playgrounds or the indoor movement zone at the Bright Horizons in the Illinois Medical District.
“Above all, speak positively about your child care center when preparing for the first day,” Barnes suggests, adding that it’s important for your child to feel familiar with their experiences and caregivers. “Call the child’s teacher and classmates by name.”
One change at a time
While your child will likely adjust to the child care setting with little difficulty, be sure to give them the space to adapt. Try not to schedule any other major life changes just now, Barnes advises. Moving from the crib to a toddler bed can wait a few weeks, for instance.
“Children will react to new situations in their own unique ways,” she says. “Two big changes at once could be overwhelming.”
Prevent the morning rush by preparing the night before
The night before your first day, remind your child about child care and the routine for the next day, Barnes suggests. Label your child’s backpack and other personal items and put them in a special corner at home, all ready to go.
Involve your child by encouraging them to select the clothes they’d like to wear for their first day at child care.
Block off extra time in your morning schedule so you don’t feel rushed. When you’re feeling calm, your child is more likely to feel calm, too.
Check in and stay connected
Your workplace may be down the block or across the city, but you’re never far from your child at Bright Horizons. You can use the My Bright Day app to share information and see pictures and videos of your child playing and learning.
If you’d like to talk with your child’s caregivers, you’re always encouraged to check in at Bright Horizons. And, if you can’t visit because of COVID safety protocols, feel free to call. Your center’s director looks forward to hearing from you.
“I have always had an open-door policy,” Barnes says. “I encourage parents to call and check in regularly. I also encourage my teachers to send notes and pictures to the parents via the My Bright Day app.”
At Bright Horizons, Barnes says she’s proactive about communicating with families. “As a Center Director, I personally call families if anything out of the ordinary occurs,” she says. “Today, I am encouraging families to schedule Zoom visits with me in lieu of in-person meetings any time they are needed or requested.”
Bright Horizons at Illinois Medical District is now enrolling in its infant through pre-kindergarten programs. Learn more about this center and schedule a visit at brighthorizons.com.