Understanding what a Day Care centre is and what exactly they do is important. Our Day Care article will give you this information and answer a lot of your questions.

What is a Day Care Centre?

Education and Care centres (as they are officially known) are licensed and/or chartered early childhood centres that offer either all day or part day teacher-led services. We know them more commonly as ‘Daycare’or ‘Childcare’. They include church, workplace and childcare centres and can be run by either community or private owners.

Some of these services may be based on a certain set of beliefs or even beliefs around, or about, education. Montessori or Rudolph Steiner centres are examples of these.

Where can I find a range of Day Care Centres near me?

Click through to find a range of Day Care centres near you.

Who works at a Day Care Centre?

During open hours there must be a registered teacher or teachers in charge at these centres. A registered teacher is someone who holds a Diploma in Teaching (ECE) or a similar qualification. There will be other staff at the centre and they may have different qualifications or experience.

When can my child start?

The age at which your child can start at these centres is decided by each particular centre. Some accept children from birth through to school age while some take children of specific ages only, such as Under-Two’s.

How often can they go?

Most centres of this nature require you to enrol your child for a set number of hours or days per week. They may also have a minimum number of hours or days you need to have him/her enrolled for. Check these specifications with the centre you are interested in as they can vary. Casual centres however may take children when you arrive on the day.

What will it cost?

Again, costs will depend on the centre you choose. The amount of the fees will depend upon many factors including

  • whether or not it is an established centre;
  • the number of staff employed; and
  • whether or not the centre is run as a private business.

Individual parents have to make decisions about value for money.

Low fees do not indicate poor quality any more than high fees mean good quality.

You need to make sure early on in the piece that the hourly rate is one you can afford. For the most part you can expect to pay anywhere between $4.00 and $7.00 per hour. If a centre provides lunch and/or snacks in their service, the hourly rate they charge may be greater and vice versa if you are required to provide this food for your child.

Some centres may have capped daily rates. This means if your child is there for at least 7 or 8 hours per day, you pay a set rate for that day.

Similarly centres may have a weekly charge as opposed to a daily or hourly rate if your child attends full time. Make sure charges are on your ‘need to ask’ list when you phone or visit the various centres.

What to look for in a good daycare

A good daycare will be a ‘smooth’ running one. There will not be a great deal of angst or ‘hustle and bustle’. Obviously there are many children and they are very busy places but there should be enough staff to care for all the children so that individuals can be talked to and interacted with when they need to be. Some daycares will choose to employ more than the minimum number of staff required by law which means inevitably there are more adults available to children.

The staff should be spending time with children exploring ideas and language with them in ways that encourage their learning and continue to stimulate them. The children should also be free to move from activity to activity as they choose, they need to be able to move to the ‘beat of their own drum’. This means being able to complete an activity if it is important to them.

How are the age groups sorted at daycares?

Babies and toddlers have different needs yet they often attend the same daycare centre. This is why the majority of centres have areas that are designated as Under-Twos and Over-Twos.


The staff responsible for the care and education of the children in this area will be very hands-on. The ratio requirement of adults to children in Under-Twos areas is testament to the fact that children this age need a great deal more care and attention than they do when they reach the Over-Two areas.

The space that is provided for Under-Two’s at a centre will be an area that is safe and stimulating for children of this age.

There should be soft, carpeted areas on which babies can crawl, explore and play. Carers will spend a great deal of time on the floor with the children. the toys they have to play with will often differ from the Over-Two’s. They should be age appropriate.

Look for indicators of this by taking notice of much time do the younger children spend in highchairs. Do they need to spend that much time in them?

It is important for younger children in a daycare to be able to continue routines that suit them. The Under-Two’s area allows the carers to feed and put to sleep the children as they need it. This means they’re not having to eat and sleep when everybody else does.

Some daycares will designate a particular carer to each Under-Two child in their care. This promotes the forming of a relationship between the adult and child. It is often more effective for one person to know the child’s routine, sleep and hungry signs. This person also becomes the one the child turns to when feeling unsettled or in need of some TLC. The higher adult child ratio with Under-Two’s allows this to work.


Several things become important once children reach the Over-Two stage. Daycares work on establishing routine, exploration and experimental learning and relationships with others at this age and stage.

There should be plenty of room, both indoors and out, for the Over-two children to learn, play and explore. Over-twos will have many activities available to them that encourage and allow them to learn for themselves.


Routines are important in every young child’s day. In daycare centres everything that happens from when the child first arrives until the child leaves is part of the programme, even without their realising it. It may be a routine as simple as their parent labeling their ‘fridge food’, placing it in the fridge and placing their bag in the cloak bay.

In early childhood there is no specified class or play time. Part of what children learn is how adults organise their days for them around familiar routines. The routines at a daycare are fairly loose, lunch around a certain time, some quiet time around a certain time, tidy up around a certain time and so on. Children need to feel secure in knowing roughly how the day is going to pan out for them.

A flexible routine enable adults to respond to children, to take notice of the message and build upon it. Good carers will see where a child’s interest lies and will attempt develop it by ‘nudging’ them towards a similar activity or one that follows on from what they have been doing; learning that is unable to occur if the routine is too tight.

Daycare may look like chaos but it should be organized, calm chaos…is there such a thing???

Questions to ask about routines:

  • Do children seem to be familiar with the routines?
  • Are the staff required to keep to tight schedules?
  • Do children have to be hurried to complete activities?
  • Are children kept waiting while things are got ready?

Exploration and experimental learning

Children learn important skills and concepts while they are playing. They are keen to know more and often learn more when they encounter problems and find a solution to that problem. Staff in a good daycare will recognise this and give children access to a wide range of interesting materials which they can use themselves and experiment with.

There will be many activities for children to take part in at a daycare set up for this learning. Objects and materials should be easy for them to move around in order to problem solve and experiment. They should be able to help themselves to these things easily.

It is important as a parent to recognise that projects children may work on at daycare may come home looking incomplete. Learning is about ‘doing’ at this stage and not all ‘doing’ will result in a finished product.

Children also need to have variety and change which cause them to explore skills and ideas further. Doing an “activity” selected by the teacher may be useful for introducing new materials and skills but children need the opportunity to go on exploring and experimenting in their own time.

Questions to ask about the learning programme:

  • Can children choose to play with things that interest them?
  • Are the children free to go and get things for themselves? Or do they have to wait for adults to offer them?
  • Is there a range of materials that would interest your child?
  • Do most of the children, particularly the older ones, seem interested and active?
  • Are children required to complete ‘activities’ that adults have planned? Can they choose not to?
  • Do all children have to have something to take home? Do you think that this is important? Why?
  • Do children have to spend time in large groups?
  • Do interesting things happen from the child’s point of view?
  • Are small groups formed for reading and talking?
  • Are children encouraged to be creative and innovative? Or is there only one right way to use the material?
  • Do the infants and toddlers have an interesting environment that they can explore safely?
  • Are children allowed to be as independent as you feel comfortable with?

Relationships with adults and others

Daycares will work on the premise that everyone, whatever their age, is welcome and that they can be accommodated in whatever is going on. Everyone has a right to be there. Being a group member is a valued and important experience and one daycare’s will encourage your child to be a part of. This may the first place where your child has really had to deal with sharing and dealing with other children his or her age en masse.

Staff in good centres allow children to make real decisions and choices – even those children who are quite young and do not have much control over their world. They give children the opportunity to be as independent as possible letting them do as much for themselves as they can, even though this may be a bit slow or a bit messy.

Staff will take the time to understand what a child is communicating. They will ask a lot of questions of the children and try to interact with them on their level. Watching how adults speak with children shows what the relationships are like in a centre. Do adults allow children enough time to communicate their ideas and their wishes? They should also consider carefully what children say in reply and build a conversation that has substance and meaning for both child and adult.

Questions to ask about relationships between adults and children:

  • How do staff handle children fighting, crying, being uncooperative, not waiting for their turn?
  • How do staff manage the demands of ‘housework’ and childcare?
  • Are staff so busy with cleaning, making meals, folding the washing, tidying up that they don’t pay real attention to children?
  • Is most of the staff’s time spent responding to children?
  • Are children given responsibility for carrying out real tasks and routines?
  • Are children entrusted with the responsibility for feeding themselves, taking themselves to the toilet and washing their hands?
  • Do adults help children to explore ideas and materials?
  • Do adults interact with children in ways that promote problem solving and curiosity about the world?
  • Do they ask questions that need one word answers only?
  • Who talks more in conversations- the adult or the child?
  • Do adults sit or kneel so that they are at the child’s level?
  • Do adults talk more to some children than to others

How do I know what my child has been doing and learning?

Good daycares will keep a record of your child’s time with them. This is likely to take the form of a ‘learning story’, a folder/book compiled by the staff at the centre that will tell you what skills and ideas you child has displayed while doing what activities.

Some daycares will also write stories to accompany this record and included photos. Ask at the daycare you choose how they keep parents informed about these things.

As with anything, asking and talking to those who spend time with your child is the best way of finding out about what goes on and how your child is doing.


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Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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