It is amazing to see the variety of available child-care options that are available to working parents. For our family, we carefully considered all options when I was pregnant with CindyLou. I was a resident, with very limited maternity leave (unless I wanted to prolong my residency training...I didn't) and my husband was moving up in the finance industry. We had no family immediately available, and, I am not sure if I saw one too many "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" -type movies, or what, but I was not comfortable bringing a stranger into our home to raise, shape, and mold our precious young child. What can I say (the lady tried to *breastfeed* that kid!!!)? I'm an alarmist, but Mr. Whoo felt the same way. So, we settled on out-of-home care, or, the dreaded "day care." I felt that the group setting held certain safety and social advantages over home care. For us, looking at certifications like NAEYC helped us to stratify centers, then we carefully would visit and observe. CindyLou's first day care was in a church-run facility. They had NAEYC accreditation, individual door codes for each child and family, and an "open door" policy. We loved the staff, and, as much as a small infant could, CindyLou thrived there.
After residency, we completely lucked into a top-notch facility, meant mainly for government workers, but they would sometimes open slots to the slovenly masses if they moved far enough down the food chain. This place was like Fort Knox, and you needed 24 hour security clearance (with armed guards at all entrances to the property) just to get onto the campus. Needless to say, we felt she was safe there. In addition, we were really impressed with the facility, staff, and, get this, curriculum. Who knew that day care could have a *curriculum?* We fell into the habit early of calling day care "school" and her care providers her "teachers." She was learning so much, it was easy to do. Socially, we felt that the exposure to different children and personalities was a plus for our outgoing child. Academically, we felt she was always challenged and she came home talking about things that she had learned we would have otherwise thought beyond her level. There were daily progress reports and periodic "parent-teacher" conferences. We always felt well informed about her day to day life in "school." Some downsides were the strict regimentation of protocols, and, as a Gubment agency, an inordinate amount of "days off" that were not necessarily days off for me. Fortunately, once the Bean came along, siblings were given priority, so he was also placed in the same center. We never felt badly leaving them in the care of the staff of the center, and over the 4 years we were there, they, the other parents, and other children came to feel like more of a family. It was a sad day when we had to leave them.
Now, here in Newville, CindyLou is in Kindergarten (for which I feel she was well prepared due to her day care "curriculum") during the days, and after school goes to a private program in the same pre-school in which the Bean is enrolled full time. In her after-school program, she has structured homework help, a place to go on those odd "holidays," and, in the summer, a fun, camp-like experience with lots of activities and field trips. This facility prides itself on being called a "school" rather than a "day care" so it gelled well with our overall philosophy. However, it is quite a bit more expensive (to the tune of $300 extra a month, and that is without CindyLou being enrolled as a "full time" student), but we can also attribute that to the area of country to which we have moved.
After several unstructured weeks off, and being out of the routine, the structure of the school-like environment was a welcome change for all of us. After a week or so of separation anxiety, we have finally gotten back into the daily groove. Bean can't wait to tell us each day how he loved reading books, playing outside, Spanish class (!!), and, most of all, playing with his friends. So, for us, careful research and quite a bit of good luck have lead to an all-around favorable experience with out-of-home care. For our family, the social interaction, structured learning, varied daily experiences, and caring staff members have made leaving our little ones behind as we make our way in the world just a bit more bearable.