Saturday, 13 March 2010

Transitions: starting nursery

The previous two weeks have marked a big transition for Cubling. She has started nursery. So far, from when I had to return to work (she was 5 months at the time), she was cared for 4 days a week by a childminder. Looking back, it was the right choice. Cubling is a spirited child, which, as a baby, meant that she would have difficulties settling and did not like being separated from me. A walk in the pram? A nightmare. Bouncy chairs? You must be joking. Lying under a play gym? If you want wild screams, go for it. Instead she wanted carried and nursed rather a lot. The thought of putting her into a childcare with various carers for a rather long day just didn't seem right. At least with a childminder, there was one continuous carer, which really worked better for my daughter.

Interestingly, of all my friends who work, there is a clear pattern. If childcare is required for up to 3 full days, parents tend to opt for a nursery. If it's more than that, the choice is often for a childminder. I'm not sure how concious people are of such decisions, but research does show that while nurseries and childminders often have a positive impact on the development of young children, this benefit disappears or is reversed if the child is in care for long hours, particularly if this is at a nursery and the child is younger than 2 years of age.

In fact, from the perspective of a child, nursery has a definite benefit from the age of 3, and this benefit is most pronounced if the child attends half days only. Before the age of 2, research has shown that a one-person childcare setup is generally better for the child than a nursery set-up, with the length of hours spent in childcare having an impact too. The longer hours, the worse the nursery fares. Even if parents don't read the research, there's something intuitive about this.

We did consider to transition Cubling to nursery when she was 2. We even gave the childminder notice. And then we got cold feet, our instincts still told me that we weren't happy for her to spend 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, in a nursery with multiple and changing carers. Yes, she was more settled, and a sociable little girl, but it still felt wrong.

Just before her third birthday, we finally have embarked on the big step. For the past two weeks, she has had settling in days at the local authority nursery where we managed to get a place for her. I was keen for her to go to a city council nursery, mainly because of the better reputation of such centres. However, it was hard getting a space in an all day centre, because the way it works around here is that city council run nurseries usually offer half days only from the age of 3 - which is great for the kids but useless for working parents. So we got a space, but it's for 2 out of the 4 days needed only, and it's miles away, definitely not in walking distance. However, it's a nursery with glowing reports, and with so much good stuff that I value that there was no way we could have said no (and hoped to get a space in the nursery around the corner from us, you know the one where Cubling has been on the waiting list for 2 years now without success).

Of course, the way city council nurseries are set up are with the child in mind. It goes back to what's got the most impact on a child. From the age of three, half days, with an educational focus. This is what's good for our children, but unfortunately this doesn't fit in with a world of work that really doesn't give a shit about pre-fives. And how I felt this last week. Our world of work makes us work 9-5, 5 days a week. If we get part time hours, we can count ourselves very lucky indeed (when I was looking for a job, going part time would have meant a 35-50% drop in wages). For our children, shorter hours are proven to be better, longer hours can lead to behavioural issues and aggression that lasts into adulthood. So it's not actually good for young children to spend 10 hours a day at nursery. Yet it's also been shown that working parents seem to have a positive impact on children. The perfect scenario, I suppose, would be a situation where a parent worked just half days and the child would spend half days at nursery.

Just that this is not what the working world wants, a world that has no interest in what's good or bad for our next generation.

Looking back at the past two weeks, both Mr Cartside and I had to bend ourselves double to accommodate the long settling in process. Cubling, of course, did smashingly. I kept moaning about why it was such a slow process, and why we could not just try full days and see how it goes. Again, I was responding to what work expects of me, which puts me under pressure, and in turn, I put my child under pressure.

Thankfully, I relented and we didn't push it. And all went well. So, as of next week, it'll finally be 2 full days, and we'll also start the second nursery which will be a forest kindergarten. Cubling is so excited by it all, she can't wait to climb trees as she says. I'm not sure if she realises that this means she won't see the childminder very often from now on.

I was close to tears (ok, I'm very hormonal and burst into tears very easily at the moment) when I came to pick her up from nursery and found her enthusiastically playing a sleeping and hopping bunny game with all the other children. This is the girl who usually refuses to partake in group games or photographs, the girl who stands back and does her own thing. There she was, so enthralled in it that she didn't even notice me, so joyously playing the game with the biggest conviction there could be. I'd never seen her like this in a group of children. Something felt very right, even if the hours, to be fair, are still very long for a little girl.

At least I'm satisfied that we've found the right balance in difficult circumstances. Childminder up to 3 years, and now the combination of indoor and outdoor nursery, giving her the opportunity to explore very different worlds, while she can spend time being the active and intense girl that she is. I really hope that we've made the right choices to support her personality without changing it, to let her be herself for as long as possible. She will be going to two excellent nurseries which complement each other, and the time spent at home will give her yet more experiences.

This time, the time seems right to change. And so far, she's taken on the transition in her very own stride: Confident, enthusiastic, strong-willed, and with a very big heart.

(picture: Cubling in the driving seat)



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