If you have a young child, one of your biggest parenting decisions is likely to be when to start daycare.
For some parents, your decision will already be made up for you depending on the length of your maternity leave, the need to return to work or your financial situation.
But if you have a little more flexibility, you may be wondering what is the best age to start, and are perhaps asking yourself questions like is starting daycare at 1 year old better than starting daycare at 18 months or at 2 years old?
So in this article we’ve taken a look at the best and worst ages to start daycare, so you can make the best decision for you and most importantly for your baby or toddler.
Best Age To Start Daycare
It is commonly believed that the best age to start daycare is when your child is between 12 to 18 months of age.
However, this is just a guide, and as every child is different and all family situations differ, there is no single best to put your baby in daycare, nursery, preschool or Kindergarten.
If you are unsure, it can be useful to look at research, expert opinion and your child’s physical development to help you make the best possible decision.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the research around the best age to start daycare is fairly mixed.
According to research by the National Institute of Health, one of the benefits of starting early is your child may enjoy academic benefits that last into high school.
The structure and social interaction that comes from daycare is also beneficial for infants from 6 months of age upwards.
On the other hand, research suggests that the length of time spent at daycare is what’s most important, because spending too long at daycare can be stressful for young children.
This is because children who spend all day at daycare may end up with cortisol or stress hormone levels significantly higher in the mid-afternoon, as compared to when the same children were at home, and interestingly, this increase in cortisol levels was shown to be most prominent in children under 3 years of age.
Quality Of Daycare
Many experts, including the AAP, agree that what is even more important than your child’s age is the quality of the center.
Three important indicators of a high-quality daycare are:
- Small groups of children and child-staff ratios. Ideally, examples of what you’re looking for is in a room with 4 children aged 13 to 35 months, there should be 1 trained caregiver; in a room with 5 to 8 children aged 13 to 35 months, there should be 2 trained caregivers; and there should be no more than 8 children aged 13 to 35 months in a room.
- Low staff turnover. This is important because infants and toddlers need stable, positive relationships with their caregivers to thrive.
- Word of mouth. For obvious reasons, recommendations go a long way, especially from other parents who have recently sent their children to any daycare centers you may be considering. Don’t be swayed by just a catchy name and make sure you speak to those in the know if possible.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready For Daycare
Another very important factor in determining the right age to send your baby or toddler to daycare is whether they are ready for the experience yet.
Some key signs that your little one is ready for daycare include:
- Your child can stand and walk by themselves.
- You feel they can play and interact with other children without constant supervision.
- They can play independently (even for just short periods).
- They can understand basic sequences of events and have a basic understanding of possession – these skills are acquired at development leap 8 or 9.
- They are showing signs of independence, such as wanting to decide what they eat and what clothes or shoes they would like to wear.
- They are curious about the word around them and like learning and discovering new things.
- They are beginning to express themselves and can indicate what they want by using signs or attempting to say the occasional word.
Worst Age To Start Daycare
Just as there is no best age, there is no single worst age to start daycare either.
So if both parents or caregivers must get back to work, and you find a high-quality daycare, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about sending your baby to daycare even if they are under 12 months of age.
And likewise, 12 months is not necessarily better than 18, 24 or 36 months of age.
This is because it is far better to send your child to daycare when they are ready, which may be several months or even a year or more earlier or later compared to other babies.
The wrong age or worst age to send your child to daycare or nursery therefore varies from child to child.
So parents are better off focusing on identifying their child’s readiness and finding a high-quality daycare, rather than worrying about your child’s exact age.