Daycare is only one of many types of childcare and it may seem like a daunting choice for some parents. Parents need to weigh many variables when choosing childcare for their young children—cost, hours, location, but ultimately what type of care fits their child’s needs.
What parents may not realize is that a daycare setting can enhance child development. The group environment can give children a greater sense of self confidence, independence, and more access to activities that boost their cognitive and emotional development.
Learning from kids and adults who aren’t their family can help expand their vocabulary and understanding of their world.
Here are some of the many ways being in daycare may be the best developmental boost your child needs.
Gaining General Independence
Teaching independence to toddlers and young children goes beyond putting their shoes on and the ability to entertain themselves while you cook dinner. Independence is a huge skill that is learned, takes practice, and can help your child in all aspects of their life.
Here are some common independent skills kids and babies learn in a daycare setting.
Self-feeding, holding their own bottle, and using utensils are all encouraged in babies and younger toddlers at daycare. Encouraging kids to feed themselves with confidence is the number one way to combat picky eating. For older toddlers, the communal aspect of eating at daycare can help kids explore new and different foods.
Potty training is a big hurdle for some families. It is the ultimate test of toddler independence. They need to understand their own body cues, communicate their needs, and be able to navigate a multi-step process. When kids feel timid or scared of potty training, sometimes seeing their peers use the potty successfully can help them understand their own process in learning this big skill.
Getting dressed, with minimal help is something that is encouraged in most daycares. When everyone else is stepping into rain boots on their own, your child might be more apt to do the same, or at least make an attempt with confidence.
Note that helping children with independence must be supported in an age-appropriate way. For example, a toddler won’t be able to dress themself if sent in a dress with buttons down the front. They will, however, be much more likely to build confidence in getting dressed independently if they have pull-on pants and boots.
Setting Up Social Skills
Being in a communal environment forces kids to learn the basics of group dynamics quickly. Sharing is the obvious skill that is presented every day at daycare. But it’s only one of many social skills that are enhanced in young kids at daycare.
By coming to the same classroom every day, children can develop a strong sense of community and individual identity at a very young age. Here are a few examples of social skills that are naturally presented at daycare:
Practice leadership by being the line leader or helping during circle time.
Develop empathy for peers when they are sick, sad, or dysregulated.
Foster autonomous play and peer-led play during times of free play.
Develop responsibility by passing out water bottles or craft supplies to others.
Find their own role within group dynamics.
At daycare, your child will be exposed to many more ways to problem solve. They will witness their peers and other adults make choices that will expand their decision-making process. They will be exposed to different ideas and language than just what’s expressed at home.
Following a Structured Schedule
If there’s one thing that’s true about most daycares, it’s that they follow a set schedule. This is especially true for kids older than 1 year (because they have more predictable napping and eating needs).
The skill of following a set schedule will be important as your children get to preschool and school age.
Whether it’s circle time, lunch time, or winding down for nap time, your child will get accustomed to participating in activities when they are told rather than when their mood dictates. At home parents may bend to the whim of their kid’s requests, but at daycare children are guided through transitions and a schedule of activities that conform to the needs of the entire group.
Here are some benefits of learning to follow a schedule as a young child:
They will develop listening skills, to both adults and other children.
They will practice following multi-step directions.
They will have more stamina to get through a long day of activities.
They will learn patience and be able to wait (within reason) for an activity, a snack, or a nap.
Helping with Emotional Regulation
Toddlers are fickle beings—their emotions can go from high to low in seconds. While in daycare they will get to witness different ways to cope and regulate their emotions. Some daycares will help teach them various coping strategies. By being in a group setting, kids will be able to see how their peers regulate (or don’t regulate) and choose what works for them.
Teachers may help kids with some of the following techniques:
Stop and smell the flowers. Stop what you’re doing, imagine there’s a flower in front of you, can you smell it? Take a long breath in through your nose and smell!
Puppy dog breath. Can you pant like a puppy dog? Stick out your tongue and take short quick breaths like a puppy does.
Up and down belly breaths. Lie down on your back and place a loved stuffy or toy on your belly. Breathe so big that the lovey goes up! Now let all the air out so the toy goes down.
For quieter children who are less inclined to hit or bite, and may often be the recipient of toddler aggression, they will be encouraged to advocate for themselves in these scenarios.
Daycare teachers might help them use language like “My body, please stop.” While it seems obvious to adults to move away from an uncomfortable situation, it’s a learned skill. Teachers can also help kids understand cues when they should move their body away from a situation they don’t like.
Communication and Comprehension Development
Daycare is full of great activities. Your child will be exposed to activities and concepts that will broaden their abilities and understanding.
Language that isn’t heard at home
More opportunities for problem solving
Kids will witness peers doing things at a similar pace. This is a big comprehension booster. For a toddler, watching an adult put a puzzle together perfectly the first time won’t give them the same opportunity for cognitive growth as if they watch a peer do it.
Seeing another toddler’s process and timing will be a better learning environment when it comes to certain activities.
In daycare children also develop the skill of taking in communication in a different way. When the teacher is giving directions among a loud classroom full of wild toddlers, your kid will be able to practice the skill of tuning out the noise around them and listening to a leader. A great skill to have heading into preschool.
Advocating for Themselves
At daycare kids are required to speak up about what they need. With one adult helping multiple children at a time, the kids who know how to ask for what they need will be helped faster.
This is most helpful when a child needs to go to the bathroom, has an issue with another child, is hurt, sad, or has another physical need.
By learning to advocate for themselves, children will develop the following:
A greater sense of their needs—recognizing them and naming them.
Developing clear communication strategies—at home a parent might be able to intuit what the child needs, whereas a daycare teacher may not.
Advocating for their needs is the number one preschool readiness sign—giving your child a way to learn this from a younger age will help them navigate the next step.
While daycare isn’t the only childcare option, it is a great option for many children. When looking into daycare be sure you find the right fit for your kids and your family. There are many styles of daycare and it is important to find one where your children will thrive and learn.