How should you prepare your child for their first daycare experience? The answer to this question may depend on their age. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over half of the American children age five and under are in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement. If your baby or toddler is about to join this group, take a look at the top tips that can help you prep for the first day.

How Should You Prepare Your Infant for Care?

A long talk, role-playing a school day, and a stroll through the center aren't the best age-appropriate prep options for infants. Your baby will notice the change of scenery and is likely (depending on their age) to know you're not at daycare with them. But this doesn't mean the same strategies that work for older children will help your baby to get ready for their first day in care.

Focus on the things that you can control right now. These include your relationship with the center's staff, the information you have (from the center), your baby's schedule, and the items you bring for your baby. Talk to your child's first teacher and ask for their expert early childhood advice on soothing this transition. Ask the center's staff for a copy of the infant room schedule. If this includes designated activity, feeding, and rest periods, try to sync your baby's typical day with the school's schedule in the weeks before they start care.

Along with the schedule, ask the teacher for a list of items to bring/not to bring. Infant child care items to bring may include blankets, diapers, wipes, diaper creams, bottles, formula/breast milk, a change of clothes, pacifiers, and a lovey. 

How Should You Prepare Your Toddler for Child Care?

Now that your child has a better vocabulary, they're ready to talk about daycare. Even though your child can understand most of what you say and speak in short sentences, a long lecture or jargon-filled daycare center words won't help right now. Keep your child care prep talk simple and focus on the positive parts of your toddler's upcoming days. 

Visit the center with your child and give them a chance to explore their new surroundings. They may want to play with some of the toys or interact with the teacher before their first day at school. After a center tour, role play "school" at home. Let your toddler tackle the role of teacher first and then student.

Like an infant, a toddler also needs a predictable schedule. Talk to the teacher about the typical school day and ask for an example schedule. Along with time periods, this may also include specific types of activities (such as music, art, science, story-time, or math). Create a routine that closely follows the daycare schedule to maintain consistency and make your child feel more comfortable when they go to school.