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Weighing the Pros and Cons of Nannies and Daycare Centers

You're getting ready to go back to work. Should you hire a stay-at-home nanny, or start looking for a daycare center?
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Ask any mother whether she would choose to have a stay-at-home nanny or send her child to a daycare center and you're sure to get an earful. Everyone has an opinion, often a strong one.

This issue can confuse, even intimidate, parents trying to find the best arrangements for their children.

The solution lies within each family. Parents need to weigh their individual needs and those of each child. Then they can examine the pros and cons of each situation to reach a decision.

Getting Started
Start the process by answering a few basic questions:

  • Is my child ready to be socialized?

  • How many hours a day will I need childcare, and for which days?

  • What is my budget?
Next, set some goals.

For example, is it a priority to be part of a community of parents whose children are the same ages as yours? Are you looking for a structured environment, or one that allows your child to explore his surroundings at his own pace? Do you think your child will thrive in a one-on-one situation or in a group? How do you want to socialize your child? How early would you like your child to be exposed to a formal education?

What to Look for in a Nanny
Parents who choose a nanny often seek individualized care in the familiar environment of their home. They will most likely look for qualities in a nanny that reflect their own values and attitudes, which makes them feel that their provider is the closest thing to looking after their child themselves, according to Jennifer Oats, a placement counselor at Boston Nanny Centre in Newton, Massachusetts.

"Most parents would love to be home with their children," Oats says. With a nanny, "parents can go to work and feel comfortable. It helps them alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling."

"In addition to conducting standard background checks such as researching references, Boston Nanny requires parents and nannies to fill out an application and create a profile that both sides can review," Oats says. Interviews of the nannies include questions about how they were raised, their education, and their knowledge of different parenting styles. Parents are asked to describe their ideal nanny and explain their family values.

"Nannies are helpful to parents who work unpredictable or long hours," says Sharon Bergen, senior vice president of education and training for Knowledge Learning Corp., one of the largest private childcare providers in the U.S. "A child who is medically fragile also would benefit," she adds.

Advantages of Daycare
Even so, "most kids do great in group care, and most kids really like it," Bergen says. "While you can have the normal age range of separation anxiety, we find kids typically like coming to school, like their teachers and friends, have fun doing it, and miss it when it's not there."

Group care gives children opportunities to learn and practice skills needed to get along with children their own age, such as being patient and taking turns. Being in a group often motivates children to learn other skills, from expanding their vocabulary to sorting and categorizing items, which are the building blocks of mathematics.

Bergen continues, "When I went to kindergarten, that was our first real school, or group, experience. Kindergartens now expect children to come with those socialization skills in place."

And what about those runny noses and other ailments that can keep kids at home, scaring off some parents from daycare?

"Statistics show that children in group care tend to have more illnesses when they're younger, but less later," Bergen says. "All children tend to have the same amount of illness," she says. "It's more a matter of when, not if."

Knowledge Learning runs almost 2,000 centers nationwide, including daycares for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, through its Mulberry Child Care and Preschool chain, and learning centers for older children.

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