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When Is Your Child Ready for Day Care?

day care basic info

For parents, it’s a notable milestone when their child can finally start in daycare. However, there’s often a dilemma when it comes to deciding about the child’s readiness. Although daycare centers are meant to foster children’s development, sending kids too early may come with more risks than benefits. There are chances it may result in poor parent-child attachment, behavioral issues, and may even cause stress — which all defeats the purpose of learning while having fun.

Hence, it’s important to truly understand when your child is ready to go to daycare. But aside from them being ready, you’ll likely also think about your own readiness as a parent and wonder how you can help your little one prepare for the big day socially and emotionally.

You can ease your mind as this article tackles these questions and more, one by one.

Is there an ideal age for daycare?

Most daycares recommend starting kids at 12 months old. Because at this age, most children can walk with stability, navigate their immediate space, and interact with the environment. Having said this, not all children will have the same pace. That’s why there are daycare centers that cater to children as young as six months old.

Recognizing the signs

If you think six months is too early for your child, it’s perfectly fine to wait a few more months until you’re sure you’re both ready. If you’re in Spring Hill, Tennessee, check out Spring Hill Early Learning Daycare and Preschool. The minimum age for their toddler curriculums starts at 15 months of age. 

If you feel unsure, it’s best to gauge your child’s readiness without relying on their age. Here are the most reliable signs you can go by:

  1. Curiosity and exploration

When your little one’s curiosity starts growing, they may show interest in learning by doing the following:

  • Attempting to read learning materials like books or pointing out illustrations

  • Playing with educational toys like building blocks

  • Trying to write or draw

  • Participating in imaginative play

All of these activities mean your child is ready to explore some more, which is a great sign!

  1. Independence

Once your child can crawl, sit, walk, and support themselves even while holding on to furniture, they have acquired a level of independence that will help them interact more with others. This movement means they’re beginning to exercise their agency as a person, which is a perfect time to nurture and encourage their independence. Give loving and motivating words to your child whenever they cover a longer distance than usual.

Here are more definite signs of their growing independence:

  • Walks without assistance

  • Plays with other children with less supervision

  • Chooses their own clothes and puts them on by themselves

  • Attempts to form words

Independence also includes the capacity to understand the relationship between cause and effect and make decisions from it. For example, knowing that flipping a switch will turn the lights on or off.

  1. Adjustment to new routines

If your child is used to sleeping and eating at certain hours of the day, try to include spending time outdoors if the weather allows it. The best time is early mornings when sunlight isn’t too strong yet, so it doesn’t burn their delicate skin. You can go to the park or visit neighbors and friends near your house to introduce new faces to your child. 

In each new routine and with all the new people they meet, pay attention to how they adjust and react to the changes. If they appear scared or anxious, they likely need more time to adjust and prepare for daycare.

On the contrary, if they’re more relaxed and curious than anxious, it’s a good sign that they’re more open to new routines, new people, and exploring new environments.

  1. Concentration

Although daycare sessions are all about learning through play, children will need a good level of concentration to truly learn and make the most of their daycare experience. So, if you’ve noticed your child is able to concentrate longer on a task, it’s a positive sign that they may be ready to start daycare.

You can confirm this by giving them easy, short tasks like coloring books and solving small toy puzzles. If they can finish them without a hitch, you can gradually give them longer tasks to see how well they can concentrate. 

  1. Spending time alone

It’s normal for younger children from six months old to have separation anxiety. If they easily get anxious when you leave their side, they may not be ready for daycare yet. However, you can ease their way out of it by teaching them object permanence through books or playtime. Playing peekaboo and hide-and-seek are the best examples.

On the other hand, if your child can be alone for longer periods without crying, it’s a sign that they’re growing out of their separation anxiety. To test this, try putting them under someone else’s supervision in a separate room without seeing you for a while.

  1. Interaction

When your child plays with other kids, observe how they interact with them. If they can share their toys and talk to kids their age without issues, it’s a good sign of preparedness for daycare.

You can enhance their socialization skills by encouraging teamwork and active communication when they’re with their playmates.

If you’re friends with families with children of the same age, try to schedule a sleepover or attend a children’s party to see how well they can interact with other kids, especially new ones, for longer periods.

  1. Energy levels

Children can easily get cranky when they’re low in energy but can’t get a rest. If this is your child, it may not be a good idea to enroll them in daycare just yet. Remember that they’ll be doing activities in daycare for hours, and break times are often scheduled, so if their stamina isn’t up for it yet, it’s best to wait and work on preparing them first. 

Ideally, they should be able to last longer in playtime before needing a nap. This also means staying in a good mood throughout the activity and not feeling irritable, which is usually a sign of getting tired.

  1. Inquisitiveness

Questioning and figuring things out on their own is a sign of eagerness to learn. So, if they start asking a lot of questions, be patient and thoughtful with your answers. 

Encourage your child to explore and discover new things and allow them to learn on their own first before intervening. As long as you’re guiding them to make sure they’re safe as they explore and learn independently, they’ll eventually become more confident to learn more on their own.

  1. Self-regulation

Kids will sometimes have a bad day in daycare, and that’s inevitable. Do not look at this as a negative, though. It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to regulate their emotions. But while we shouldn’t expect children to have this skill down pat, it’s best if they already know how to try to handle and control negative emotions on their own.

If they’re still not able to self-regulate, they should at least know how to respond to authority. So, if your kid cannot calm down on their own or listen to you when they’re having a meltdown or acting out, you need to work more on coaching them through tough situations before sending them to daycare.

Preparing your child for daycare

If you feel your child is of age already but are unsure about their readiness, there are preparations you can make until you’re confident enough that they can handle daycare activities even without you by their side.

  1. Encourage open conversations

With all the soft skills your child needs to develop for a productive daycare experience, the best way to start is by having proper conversations. Avoid baby talking and speak to them like little adults. Use language and concepts they can easily understand and be open and patient with them.

Prepare them emotionally by setting their expectations. Start with a discussion about what they’ll be doing in daycare and what a typical day there would be like. You can also talk about how they can handle unwanted scenarios and emergencies, like if they’re suddenly not feeling well or if a classmate has done something they don’t like. Teach them how to communicate with their classmates and caregivers in such scenarios. 

Lastly, don’t forget to tell them when they can expect you to pick them up at the end of their classes and what to do in case you’re late.

  1. Practice routines 

Children feel safer and more confident when they’re following a familiar routine. To practice for daycare sessions, gradually build a routine starting with how they should prepare for it by waking up early, eating a healthy breakfast, taking a bath, brushing their teeth, then putting on their clothes and brushing their hair. You can also teach them how to pack their bags to help encourage independence.

Goodbye rituals for when you drop them off in daycare will also be helpful in their adjustment. This could be a simple but meaningful hug or a short goodbye song before you wave them goodbye.

When practicing routines, do not rush them into getting the hang of it in a short while. At this stage, you can begin the concept of discipline while forming new routines. Once you’ve established one set of routines, begin gently including another (e.g., reading stories at night or listening to music). This way, your little one will be accustomed to constantly adjusting to new activities. This will greatly help when it’s time to leave them at the childcare facility.

  1. Improve concentration

Some daycare activities may require kids to focus for longer periods. If your child has a short attention span, guide their focus each time they start getting distracted. Begin with simple instructions and avoid overloading them with too many directions all at once. It may also help to set a timer for each activity to give them goals that they can strive to reach.

When you move on to more complex tasks, help them break down the instructions first. As they work through their tasks, take notice of what works better for them. Children may learn differently, and as a parent, it’s helpful to find out what type of learner they are so you can use this to their advantage. 

  1.  Prepare for the transition

Schedule a daycare tour with your child at least a few days before the start of classes. Introduce them to the caregiver, walk them around the premises, and show them the rooms they’ll be in. If the center allows it, take photos of the primary areas, like the entrance and their classroom, so you can continue to discuss them when you get home and help them remember better.

It would also help to advise their caregiver or the childcare worker of their temperament, mood cues, personal preferences when it comes to eating and napping, and how they’re best pacified when they’re crying. These will all help them care for your child better, so they don’t have to make guesses when handling your child in challenging scenarios. 

  1. Start a checklist 

Organize a list of what to pack in their bags. Here’s a list of the essentials you shouldn’t forget:

  • Milk bottles
  • Diapers
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Lunch bag
  • Change of clothes
  • Sunscreen
  • Weather gear

Using waterproof name labels on all their items is also recommended to avoid losing or misplacing their personal items. Pack separate bags for their daily and weekly supplies, so you can leave the weekly bag in the daycare, replenish as needed, and not have to bring a heavier bag every day.

Lastly, consider how to dress your child for daycare so they stay comfortable throughout the day. It’s also recommended to let your child bring a transitional object like a family photo or a small favorite toy to help them cope when they feel sad.

Preparing as a parent

Sending your child to daycare also entails changes in your routine as a parent. Aside from that, you may feel anxious and worried for your child as they start to explore the outside world without you.

Here are tips to help you prepare:

  • Do thorough research when choosing a daycare center.
  • Adjust your schedule in advance and consider times for preparation, drop-off, and pickup.
  • Write a checklist of tasks and items you need to complete the night before their first day.
  • Visit the daycare every now and then to see how your child behaves in their classes.
  • Prepare a backup plan for when things go awry.

As a parent, feelings of worry and anxiety are normal, especially if it’s your first time. Acknowledge the feeling, transition with your child, and seek support from your family or social workers if you need help. It’s also helpful to build a relationship with their caregivers and discuss your child’s progress with them periodically.


Your child will require soft skills in concentration, socialization, and independence, and must show eagerness to learn and adapt to new routines before they can be ready for daycare. If you feel they’re not ready yet, work on building a routine that will help them gradually prepare for daycare. Be patient but firm—when both children and parents are prepared, their daycare experience will not only be fun but also fulfilling.