It’s a question that many parents deliberate over – what is the best age for child to start day care?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer or formula to work this out. Every family’s situation and every child’s needs are different. Their development, your work schedules and even the popularity of a day care centre can shape your decision. 

Is There A Right Age to Start Day Care?

Put simply, no. There isn’t an age that every single child should start day care. Children develop at different paces, each has different needs and every household is made up differently. There are so many factors that make up when and how often children go to day care. 

For example, in some households, a child may have siblings that help with social skills while first-borns won’t have that resource. Some parents can stay at home longer with their children, while others may have to go back to work more quickly. 

Child interacting with father

Every Child is Different

Every child develops differently. Some of this is due to nature, some because of nurture and some is just unknown. 

Some of the main development areas early in life are language, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. A selection of babies and toddlers around the world will bring up some that are chatterboxes, some that love to run and some that love to play with hand toys. And while some seem to excel in one area and then catch up in the others, some children have a more all-round development with everything closer to being in-sync. 

Because every child is different, every child’s needs are different. 

How Do You Know If Your Child is Ready?

There’s no one tell-tale sign that your child is ready for day care. As mentioned, children develop at different rates in different areas. 

In many cases, you’ll notice that your child gets upset when you drop them off in the morning. Separation anxiety is normal in these, especially in younger children. But as they get used to the routine and start to make friends, this behaviour will stop. It’s difficult for parents, but by speaking to the educators you’ll soon realise that your child is totally fine minutes after you go. 

Many day care centres have baby rooms for younger children. Things like being able to walk and being potty trained aren’t required at this age — but in older rooms, they may well be. Services for children with additional needs are also available. 

Children having fun and socialising at day care

How Long Will Your Child Be At Day Care?

How long your child stays at day care is entirely up to you. Whether they stay for the full day, how many times a week they go and how old they are when they start and stop is your decision. Some parents start their children slowly so they can get used to it, while others need full-time support so they can work. 

Generally, children in Australia start school when they’re five. The year before they, many parents look for a kindergarten style of care as a stepping stone to that. Other options like family day care are also an option.

Age Brackets

Most children in Australia start school when they’re five years old so it follows that preschool options go up to this age. After that, there are options for before and after school care for older children. 

Day care centres are generally broken down into three main categories: babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Some centres may specialise or focus on one age while bigger centres may have separate areas for each age group, with children progressing through different rooms as they get older. 

Babies – 0 to 18 months

The youngest group of day care attendees is made up of babies. This is generally up to around 18 months, but some centres have their own rules — it may go up to 2 years or it may be more based on a child’s development. 

In some cases, children as young as six weeks can attend day care. The general consensus is that it’s better to wait until they’re a bit older, but if circumstances around work, for example, don’t allow this, there’s an option for help early on. 

While your child is at day care, they will be fed, their nappies will be changed and they’ll be encouraged to take naps. They’re also given toys and the educators will play with them throughout the day. 

Toddler – 18 months to 3 years

As your child grows and develops, they have different needs. They’ll be more independent, often walking around on their own two feet, and they have different needs to younger children. 

In toddler rooms, children will get the same basic needs met as in the baby room, although some may transition to using the toilet in this time and drop their naps from their schedules. 

Preschoolers – 3 to 5 years

As your child gets closer to school age, they’ll often be placed in rooms with activities closer to what they’d be expected to do at primary school.

Because they’re more developed than their younger peers, they’ll have a wider range of activities open to them and they’ll likely be given more choice in what they do throughout the day. 

By this stage, many day care centres will require your child have progressed from wearing nappies. 

Early learning at day care

When Is The Right Time?

As with many things in life, there is no specific time when you should or must put your child into day care. 

If possible, it’s best to keep your child at home when they’re very young so that they can form a strong bond with their parents, however there are options available to parents who can’t do this. Many parents in Australia look to start their child in day care between their first and second birthday, sometimes just a day or two a week, to help their development. 

As your child gets older and begins to hit major milestones, adding day care to their life is a great way to expand their horizons. They’ll meet new friends, prepare for school and bring back new skills you hadn’t thought of teaching them.

Finding a day care centre

Even if you’re not sure your child is quite ready to start day care, it pays to find a centre now. Many have waitlists to get your child in, so it pays to be prepared. Search for day care centres on Space today so you don’t miss out.