My daughter is about to start school.
As she steps into this next part of her life, I find that I’m reflecting on the road to ‘big’ school.
The first year, where the changes were so quick and so absorbing. From her first smile to her first step. From the feel of her small body asleep on my chest, to her ridiculously joyful laugh going down slippery dips, and the first time she tried to say 'kookaburra'.
A series of letting go
I think of the other times I’ve had to let go, as she stepped forward into life, as she blossomed.
When I went back to work, and felt like I was moving in a space that didn’t quite fit anymore. When I felt like part of me was missing and I would rush home, breathless and heart racing - impatient to be connected once more.
While in some ways going back to work was painful for me, it was a time of great flourishing for my daughter. In a sense, it was the start of her own path. And a different path for us together.
Don’t get me wrong - it was challenging in a lot of ways. Not least of which was actually finding a childcare place that was available on the days we needed and that felt right. Plus finding the money to pay for it. Then leaving her there in the first weeks as she adjusted to her new surroundings.
But there were so many great things too. She developed a strong connection to her caregiver Sue. They went on excursions, she made firm friends, she painted, played and had a great time.
It takes a village
How often do we hear “it takes a village to raise a child”, and mourn that the village has died? But childcare workers become our village. They join the network of trusted adults that our children need to have in their lives.
This group of adults expanded at her next daycare centre. The educators at this centre, Wee Care in Waverley, had enormous respect for the children and their abilities. It was a place that was committed to the ideal of learning through play. Every morning the room would be set up with activities - from different piles of brightly coloured gem stones, to twigs and ribbons hanging from the roof.
Leaving each of these care settings has felt like we’re leaving a part of our family behind.
Quality early learning can give kids the best start
As much as I loved the people and places where she’s been, there’s a serious side to all that my daughter has experienced in childcare. Quality early learning has proven to be one of the best indicators that a child will start school well.
Megan O’Connell is the Policy Program Director at Mitchell Institute at Victoria University and co-authored the Quality Early Education For All report. This report found that every year around 60,000 children arrive at school with developmental vulnerabilities that make it difficult for them to do well. Quality early learning can give kids the best start.
Megan says,“When talking about preschool, quality programs should help grow curious minds and support social and emotional wellbeing through play-based activities. Preschool activities should help children cooperate with others, begin to focus so they can master new skills, lay down literacy and numeracy foundations, and showcase new ideas that grow a love of learning and discovering new things.”
Life after childcare
As the first day of school looms near, the large brick building and the asphalt courts already feel very different to the warm, homely surroundings that we are both used to.
I’ve got an uneasy feeling in my stomach that’s part excitement and a lot of uncertainty.
But at least I know that the educators who have come before have helped my daughter get to the best place possible to start this next chapter.
As I get ready to ‘let go’ again, to another set of adults who will guide and care for her when I’m not there, I will try to remember how it felt when she first started childcare, and that the lump in my throat and the tightening in my chest will pass.
And I will be hoping that her experience of this new guard of educators will be as fulfilling, wonderful and joyful as the one she has had so far.
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